All students will achieve their maximum potential by becoming responsible, productive citizens and life-long learners.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Work Now; Succeed Later

The impetus for this post comes from my oldest son (again) and his current fascination and drive to play football.  I wrote it a while ago, but never published it.  As his football season is progressing and he (#93) was selected to do the coin toss the other night, another story with him made me go back and reconsider, but that is for another time.  The original writing of it follows…

He has been running for the 4 weeks leading up to summer camp.  I would be dishonest if I did not say that some days were much harder than others and required a lot of motivation (and patience) on my part.  He is after all eight and constantly bombarded by the instant gratification (contrary to me and my wife’s constant battle in the opposite direction) around him.

How often in today’s society, especially education do we not only notice, but encourage the notion of instant gratification.  Kids expect their grades to be instantly raised if they do some homework; parents rush to lessen consequences for a discipline issue or bad grade.  Many times students are rewarded for mediocre performance because “we don’t want them to feel bad or left out”.

They give out performance trophies after each day in camp.  These are not the attendance type trophies so wonderfully stood up against by James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  It is announced at the beginning that they are for superior performance and that they hope to give it to the same players every day if it’s deserved.  I cannot explain how bad my son wants one.  I waited for the fallout when his name was passed over every day and then at the end when they gave the overall trophies.  We walked to the car in relative silence.  After removing his pads and getting in, my son looked at me and said; “I was really close today daddy.  Maybe if I keep working I will get one next year.”  I stared at this little boy trying so hard to be older (wait; grown up) than he is and while suppressing any sadness I had for him having come up short, began to smile at something much more valuable.  He was beginning to understand the value and long term success of hard work. In education the popular tag for this right now is “failing forward.” As more conversation occurred, it became clear that he had somewhat of an idea of where he fell short and what he has to do to get better next year.  Consider that life lesson learned; or at least well on his way to learning it.

Working hard to achieve a goal often isn’t a short term endeavor. Rather, it is a drawn out process that when successful, is a greater accomplishment than originally planned.  Would I have liked him to receive a trophy because I personally know how hard he has worked? Absolutely, but it makes me 100 times more satisfied; no proud, to see that he is beginning to understand the value of hard work for the sake of personal gain further down the road.

While I continue to learn from my sons on a daily basis, I continually look for ways to help them and other students realize that success in life has little to do with luck, being in the right place at the right time, or something that someone else can give you.  Rather, it comes from perseverance, hard work, and determination.  If you do not encounter obstacles on your journey with which you must struggle, you are not growing to your potential.  Any sports, academic, or military program only reaches a level of success equal to the toughest obstacle they needed to overcome.  If the willingness to push forward is never tested or even worse; absent, we will never withstand true resistance when it is most needed. Success comes from the ability to get to the other side of adversity…even when you don’t get a trophy for getting there.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Leave a Legacy

The inspiration for this post came as I sat to write my annual first day back thank you letter to my teaching staff.  I tend to be wordy about most things, but cannot seem to ever express that gratitude I have for teachers and the difficult often thankless work they do each day.

I have included an introductory piece, the video I emailed them and the thank you note in its entirety.  The three together may be long, but are needed to get the full picture.

You are many things to all, but all things to many.  You have chosen a path in life that is hard.  You will struggle because at one time or another all of your students will struggle with not just the content or the rules, but with themselves as they grow beyond their expectations.

There will be days and years where everyone knows better than you, but that isn’t what matters because you do better.  No matter how great the struggles, it is in those quiet reflective moments that you realize you are making a difference in this world.  When you have left this profession, it is you who will have bestowed upon the collective society a gift greater than any other; educated minds with an understanding that they as individuals can succeed no matter the obstacles they face.  

The legacy you will leave is that you helped children aim high even if they missed because that is better than helping them aim low and hit.  That is the legacy of a teacher.  That will be your legacy.

I know you have so much more to do before the students come in your door.  There will always be one more chair to move, lesson to tweak, and activator to plan.  So please take a second either when the dust settles or you need a break to reflect on why you are so deserving of this note.

Thank you for:
·        Getting up early and staying up late just so you can be prepared after adjusting your lessons to meet the needs of the students.
·        Working weekends correcting and making more of those plans that you will need to change later during the week.
·        Providing and taking advice even when you don’t want to.
·        Making these sacrifices day after day and week after week, because you do have families and lives to live.

Thank you for:
·        Inspiring students to do more and be more by believing in them and making them believe in themselves.
·        Shaping the future generations by contributing to the greater good of society.
·        Being that person who has the chance to fill many of the gaps and crevices that appear in every child’s life at one point or another.
·        Being the heart of the school.

Finally, thank you for: Settling for the idea that YOU HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE even though you rarely get to see it because you have, you do, and you will continue to do so by being you.

Have a great  year!

We are Seekonk and We are Warriors!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

When Resilience Runs Its Course

The impetus for this blog was an experience I just had with my youngest son at Cub Scout camp. It was a poignant lesson for me in the importance of reflection when we talk about resilience.  The whole grit movement is great. Finally something I heartily believe in, but was never able to quite articulate has been receiving its proper credit.  Additionally, I firmly believe grit, mental toughness, character, resilience, or whatever you label those qualities that allow us to succeed in the face difficulty because they are what have helped me succeed.  So naturally, I impart these lessons to my sons.  This is where this post begins.

One of the activities they do is a BMX bike ride on a dirt path.  There are few rules with the exception of take turns so that all get some time on the bikes.  The kids grab any bike they can get on and any helmet that fits.  There are some hills, turns, and shortcuts as the boys get a taste of that freedom born from controlling the bike along the path. My son has just started riding his bike at home.  He is six and sticks to the relatively flat pavement on his own Ninja Turtles bike.  It’s a little different than this experience.  Nevertheless he grabbed a bike and asked me to push so he could jump on and start peddling.  I felt proud as he raced down the first stretch.  My job was to go to the far turn to offer any help for the kids. I had just arrived when I saw Scott come around the corner and crash his bike.  He had started to go off the road and overcorrected; causing the handlebars to turn completely sideways.  The end result was the bike tipping forward to land on Scott. He has crashed his bike before and gotten right back up, so I was not very worried.  Then the other four bikes came around the corner and ran into and over Scott and his bike. I helped all those involved back to their bikes and the riding continued; including Scott who was in need of some Band-Aids when he decided to stop.

This scene (minus the running over) replayed itself a total of 12 times by the end of Scott’s turn!  I wish I could say I didn’t cringe each time it happened, but knew it was my duty as his parent to pick him up, brush him off, and tell him to get back on the bike.  In all honesty, the last four times I asked him if he still wanted to get back on the bike.  I tried to figure out what the problem was, but all I could see was the overcorrection leading to a crash.  At about the sixth crash, Scott looked up at me with tears streaming down his dirt caked face and kept repeating, “Daddy, I’m not doing anything wrong and I keep crashing. It’s not fair.”  My reply was that he must be doing something, but we just don’t know what it is so we had to figure it out. After his last crash, knowing time was almost up (and my heart breaking just a little), I asked Scott if he just wanted to call it a day and walk the bike back.  This time his answer was different. He wiped the tears away and said, “I got it. The wheel turns too easy and too far.” Looking at him and thinking of how proud I was because of his resilience I replied; “You fell a lot.  You got one more try in you?”  He looked at me and said; “I got it Daddy. I got it. Can you give me a push?” I watched him as his back left my hand and he took on the small hills. I watched him as he rode all the way to the end of the course, got of his bike, did a fist pump, and gave me a “thumbs up” with a big, dirty smile.

Take Away
I learned a big lesson that day courtesy of my son.  How often can we as adults ask children to keep getting up if there is no solution to their struggle?  Should they keep getting up? Absolutely!  But, how often can they continue to follow that age old saying that is indicative of success; fall down seven times, get up eight.  Our children are constantly surrounded by a society that offers instant gratification by ensuring the easy road is always open.  Couple that with a growing sense of moral relativism and we are crippling our children by not teaching them to endure hardship not for the sake of enduring, rather for the sake of learning a better way.  Endurance or resilience is only as good as the education or reflection that allows a person to learn ffrom the experience.  Every one of us can only be resilient for so long before breaking.  The trick is to reflect on the problem and adjust our approach before that moment arises because once a person has quit they very rarely have any meaningful reflection.  It becomes excuses for failure rather than ways to succeed the next time.

As the adults and educators it is our duty to stress that reflection piece.  That comes in letting our children and students experience failure as long as we continue to guide them through the process.  That is not to say we should take the sting out of the failure, but instead encourage children to keep pushing through as they question what is occurring and how to make it better.  Trust me, I wanted to make it better for my son as he struggled.  I even caved after the last crash, but in the end it was my son who taught me.  Next time, maybe I will help him continue his struggle and focus more on the reflection.  It is hard when we are personally attached to the situation, but as we all know; resilience is key and a major indicator of long-term success no matter the odds.

It Comes Down To This

As they grow older, I want my sons, when confronted with the question; “Why do you always take the harder of two roads?” to answer; “Why do you always assume I see two roads?” If we really want to teach resilience we need to confront the urge to take the path of least resistance.  That is only done by focusing on the bigger picture; being purposeful, acting with integrity, and building character.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Another Year Has Passed

This was originally a post on Facebook and Google+, but multiple people have urged me to put it on my blog.  This worked for me because a short post such as this is better than no post because I have been so busy closing out this year.

So in line with less typing, more posting...

To all those educators out there...Thank you for everything you do. Another school year has passed and you have affected so many students. The hours you put in planning, correcting, guiding, modeling, and teaching so much more than just curriculum pays in ways you can only hope to see later down the road in life.

Your "job" is exhausting because it is so important. Educators are the most important members of any society. They are the ones who impart valuable knowledge and skills, offer a stable environment for students who have nowhere else, and help students believe in themselves.
Educators not only light the fire within students, but fan the flame and care for it so that it may continue to grow as time passes. Educators literally hold the future of individual human beings in their hands. They have the power to build confidence or destroy it; instill curiosity or downplay it; and continue a love for learning or extinguish that flame.

I have met the spectrum of educators, but have been blessed enough to know and realize that almost all of them care so much that they work extremely hard to instill the passion of education into the lives of children so that it is inscribed in their hearts forever. They often do this at the expense of their own health and loved ones because they realize the enormity of their task and relish in the successful application of their practice. Your influence is enormous and rings through the generations.

This video brought it home for me; made it concrete.  Please take the time to listen to the words. Every one of us has that child inside; the one who is anxious to learn, experience, and grow.  But that child needs the guidance of someone to explain that everything is going to be alright.  Educators are those people.

Continue to find that child in every student you lead. Continue to influence future generations.  Continue to do what you do best…teach.

Thank you for another year.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Snowflakes and Herring

Achievement in life isn’t about opportunity and luck; but rather force and commitment born of and wielded by strong character.

The inspiration for this piece came from two different things my six year old son Scott told me. If you are a regular reader you may be able to tell that I believe in the value of individuals and their potential from my posts. You would also know my thoughts on character. The great thing is that it took one of my sons to bring it home to me as only the perspective of a child often can.

It was a cold day this winter when my son said to me from the backseat; "Dad, it's snowing again."
In his excited I need to share something with you voice he said; “Daddy, can I tell you something?”
“You can tell me anything.”
“People are snowflakes. You wanna know why?” He asked with a tone that told me I was sure to get his explanation no matter my reply.
“Why buddy?”
“Because they’re all different, but special just like snowflakes.”

I thought about that for quite a while, but the amount of snow we received this year coupled with an old saying about making a difference really drove home how true that statement was and how powerful it becomes when we as individuals, believe and act in accordance with it.  Snowflakes, tiny and wonderful in their uniqueness as individuals can comprise some of the greatest forces in nature.  When put together, they can:

·         Create a beautiful scene to behold,
·         foster an exciting afternoon of fun, or
·         cause major accidents and damage.

Much like human beings, their power lies within, but is amplified when collaborating with and serving others.  In contrast, the aspect that separates them from human beings is their lack of ability to decide the outcome.  People have the potential to be infinitely powerful, but also decide the positive and/or negative consequences of that power.  Therein lays the importance of purpose, integrity and character.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when my son was talking to me about our visit to the herring run.  We had gone to see the thousands of fish swimming up the fish ladder to get to their pond for laying eggs.  On our way home we purchased (and later that night read) a book that was geared toward children with its simple sentences and colorful maps of the area.  This was a normal series of events for us that I didn’t give much thought until a few days later when my son was talking about how he liked going to the herring run.  He asked me if I knew what it was about.  I (of course) began to explain why they swim up river when he stopped me and said that it was about love. When I asked him what he meant, Scott (my son) explained (in very similar terms) the following:

The herring go through all that work out of love for their kids that aren’t even born yet. They escape bigger fish, they swim against the current the whole way, they jump up a ladder, and some of them die just so they can keep their kids safe. That’s because they love them, but they don’t even get to see them. They just make sure they’re safe.

How often in life do we do things out of love?  Love in its purest form is a commitment.  It comes in many forms. Commitments to our children, jobs, ourselves, people around us, and hopefully…our character.

Character helps us face the forces we encounter whether they are good or bad; right or wrong.  No matter what our goal: athletic performance, academic excellence, career advancement, or enriching other people’s lives; we experience many forces both negative and positive.  It is out of commitment that we move forward.  Most importantly our character above all else is about the marriage of force and commitment enacted with integrity.

How is it that:
·         my six year old can explain this so simply by watching snowflakes and herring,
·         I can explain it by writing it,
·         but to walk this path consistently on a day to day basis seems a battle that is it times beyond me

So think:
What are you committed to? Does your character allow you to push your way through all the forces you encounter along the way to fulfilling that commitment. Do you temper the force you use with your integrity?  How can you get better?

The End Result:
We must all make a commitment to act with integrity and use or resist any forces possible to improve not only ourselves, but those around us so that we may experience true success!

As always…
Be Purposeful, Act with Integrity, and Build your Character

Thursday, January 15, 2015

In the Words of Others

This entry came to me as I was reading a something from another individual who always adds to my capacity to perceive and think.  She had commented on a post from James Altucher and it started me thinking because of its value to a larger conversation concerning life and our ability to live it fully. It is fantastic and I offer a link to it in its entirety at the end of my post!

I found it really fits with my mantra of Be Purposeful, Act With Integrity, and Build Your Character.  That coupled with what I experience every day led to this post.  I realize it doesn't follow my normal set up, but hey that's how things go sometimes.  I have italicized the quotes from the post and then placed my thoughts after them to lend the most credit to the post for provoking the thoughts.  Enjoy…I did.

1.      "It’s how you view the life inside you that creates the life outside of you. Every day.  Don’t get locked in other people’s prisons they’ve set up just for you. Personal freedom starts from the inside but ultimately turns you into a giant, freeing you from the chains the little people spent years tying around you."
·         We spend way too much time worrying about other peoples thoughts, beliefs, actions, and how they reflect on us.  We need to identify and know who and what we are so that we are able to respond to situations rather than react.

2.      "Push instead of focus. Push is the ability to get up every day, open up the shades, and push through all the things that make you want to go back to sleep. Compound life is much more powerful than compound interest."
·         When you look at success it is never one giant leap.  That one moment of triumph is the piece we remember rather than all the failures it took to get us there. The vital piece to success is the willingness to keep pushing through all the obstacles.

3.      "The average kid laughs 300 times a day. The average adult…5. Something knifed our ability to smile. Do everything you can to laugh, to create laughter for others, and then what can possibly be bad about today?"
·         As a society, we are actively taking the laughter out of our lives at a younger and younger age.  Our children are being forced to grow up at a quicker, unhealthy pace at which they are given large amounts of leeway to act with very little responsibility to help them succeed.  The result is an increased amount of social/emotional issues based in an inability to manage feelings or cope with hardship that grows as the child ages.

4.      "Getting out of your comfort zone frequently and randomly is a way to boost your anti-fragility. Do something that might not work. Be around people who challenge you."
·         You don't grow unless you stretch.  The greatest solutions in history have come from disagreement, argument, and debate.  If you want to get better at anything in life you must be with people who are better than you.  It’s the only way to increase your skill level.  If you aren't pushing yourself, you're coasting.

I consistently talk and write about some very important issues that continue to arise in society today; specifically, mental toughness, perseverance and resilience, responsibility versus accountability, and character.  My position affords me the opportunity to view the existence (or not) of these traits in both students and adults on a daily basis.  My fear is that we are moving more and more to a default position where students are taught that:

·         What we think of ourselves is secondary to what others think of us.  This results in an inability to understand the vital role morals and ethics play in a fulfilling life.  Therefore, we let others define who we are and what we may become.

·         Success comes from getting lucky or that one big break that someone else provides for you.  This type of thinking makes any failure (real or perceived) much more damaging and permanent.  Success is only achieved by learning from and pushing through our failures.  The age old saying...fall down seven times, get up eight.

·         They are ready for adult situations and decision making. Kids need, want, and succeed when they have structure.  This structure needs to be restrictive early and loose later when kids are able to exercise responsibility.  We need to be more comfortable with "no" and let kids do and worry about kid things until it is developmentally appropriate to take on more.  I just reminded my 7 year old the other day that I am not his friend.  I am his parent and therefore, responsible for his growing into a good, responsible young man.

·         If it isn't easy, find something that is.  Too often I hear people upset about someone else's success.  This is voiced through claims of it being "not fair" and "I deserve it more."  What ever happened to looking at someone who is successful and saying; "I want what they have.  Let me go find out what I need to do to get there."  We need to put more emphasis on acting rather than being entitled.

The good news is that this can all be fixed or improved with the right mindset no matter a person's age or position.  What follows are the points in the post that stood out the most to me.  Yours may be different.  Either way...take the time to read the post here.