About a teacher: Not just a “Regular Guy”

What is your earliest memory?   I vaguely recollect riding on the monorail with my parents at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow, Queens.  

The monorail was one of three attractions at the Fair from the Disney company (the other two were It’s a Small World and the Carousel of Progress which are now in the Disney theme parks).   

5389061157_0ea83de785_b

I’ve since been to Flushing Meadow Park many times because I have brought my own kids to visit the Queens Museum which houses the Panorama of the City of New York which is a scale model of the entire city, also a World’s Fair exhibit.  When I first went there I used a pair of binoculars you could borrow to locate my own house, 1530 Albany Avenue in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

 

Last spring I had the opportunity to attend the world premiere of a film by a young and astounding filmmaker. Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion is a documentary about the

Movie Poster1 (1)

Film Poster used with Permission by Matt Silva

history of the 1964 World’s Fair and especially the New York Pavilion.  The filmmaker is a teacher from our school, Matt Silva.  Matt teaches technology and also videography.  His students create professional quality videos that support numerous school initiatives.  Each year they produce a video to accompany our bully prevention kick off that is the centerpiece and a highlight of the day.  The subject of the documentary was the New York Pavilion, a structure originally built for the 1964 World’s Fair.  The Pavilion remains in the park today and is slowly deteriorating.

 

 

 

Matt was originally inspired to create the documentary when he took students in his middle school technology class on a trip to visit the Highline in Manhattan.   The Highline is a unique civil engineering accomplishment.  It’s designers repurposed the dilapidated Westside Highway into an elevated urban park that runs from 19th to  33rd Street on the west side of Manhattan. As a child I rode  in a car on the Westside Highway with my family on our way to my grandfather’s bungalow in Upstate New York.  Such was the state of the highway’s disrepair that my dad joked, “It’ll be a miracle if we don’t fall through this thing before we get there.”   I was scared!   

highline

Highline NYC

Matt planned the trip to the Highline so that his students would understand how urban planning works, how architects and engineers can re-purpose a structure to make it more useful for its present environment and context.    Matt understood how important it was for his students to see firsthand the results of an urban planning initiative.  He also invited Architect Frankie Campione, the principal engineer of CREATE Architecture Planning & Design, to come to school and discuss efforts to preserve the Pavilion.  Field trips and guest speakers are among the most powerful and memorable learning experiences for middle school kids.  They allow students to grasp the relevance of concepts they learn in the classroom and they cement connections between the curriculum and the world in which we live.

 

On the way back from Manhattan on the day of the trip, Matt had the bus pull off the Grand Central Parkway to visit the former site of the 1964 World’s Fair and see the New York Pavilion, which sits in it’s original location next to Flushing Bay in Queens.  Inspired by the visit, Matt challenged his students to create a plan for the repurposing of this aging and dilapidated structure.  Matt kicked off the activity by reading a quote by the late activist and preservationist Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who, in the 1970’s, when she stood up to fight against demolition of one of New York’s finest architectural landmarks, Grand Central Terminal remarked:

“Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud moments, until there is nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future?”

Students used computer-assisted design tools to create the plan for their vision. They imagined and designed amusement parks, aquariums, museums, shopping malls and community swimming pools that were organic to the Pavilion structure.  It was a fantastic example of middle school project-based learning.

But Matt himself became hooked on the project.  He was intoxicated with the idea of preserving and re-purposing the Pavilion in a way similar to what was accomplished with the Highline in Manhattan. Serendipity gave way to commitment as Matt became a supporter of efforts to preserve the Pavilion.   Along with several like-minded individuals, Matt formed an organization called the People for the Pavilion whose purpose is to raise awareness and educate the world about the rapidly decaying New York Pavilion.  From Matt’s passion and his association with the organization came this superb documentary.  

 

At the film premiere, a member of the preservation society introduced the film by saying, “Our relationship with landmark spaces begins with a powerful story.”    Matt’s documentary created a powerful narrative about a structure that occupies an enduring space in the imaginations and memories of generations of people.   Matt interviews many of the key figures in the history and the preservation of the pavilion and tells the story of its place at the Fair and in the history of design and architecture.  I am a fan of the documentary form. I love documentaries by Ken Burns, I have enjoyed his series on baseball, the Civil War and especially Jazz.  Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion can hold its place with any of these fine works. What is most astounding to me about these efforts is the fact that someone who I know, a regular guy, could have accomplished what he did.

 

But in truth… Matt’s not a “regular guy” — Matt’s an amazing teacher.

 

Here are a few things his story illustrates about AMAZING teachers:  

 

  • They find ways to involve their personal passions in their teaching.  And it’s reciprocal, their teaching ignites passions beyond the classroom!

 

  • They pursue their enthusiasms and realize that every single one of us can make positive changes in the world.  Their kids are inspired to do the same.

 

  • They aren’t afraid to pull the bus off the parkway if they think there’s powerful learning someplace.  If Matt hadn’t taken that detour on the way back from the Highline, the New York Pavilion might still be a pile of rusty steel.

 

  • They dream big and they aren’t afraid to pursue their ambitions.

 

  • They understand that enduring understanding comes from authentic experiences.  The Highline and the Pavilion are real places built by real people.  Young adolescent learners can grasp their importance and place in history and become excited about their preservation.  There is no substitute for the power of this kind of learning.  

 

  • They make connections with people both inside and outside their schools to benefit their learning and the learning of their students.

 

So… if you’re inspired by Matt’s (@SilvaB612) work, connect with him yourself, and be AMAZING! Your kids deserve no less!!

[Since doing the small scale “Ideas competition” with his students, Matt co-founded People For the Pavilion, produced the documentary and this has lead the organization to partner with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to organize and launch a full scale International Ideas Competition.  More info can be found at: www.nyspideas.org ]

Posted in Best Practice, Educational Focus, Inside the Middle School, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

About a song: What does it “mean”?

As principal, I make it a point to do informal
walkthroughs for at least 40-60 minutes each day (well, that’s the plan anyway).  It is the best part of my job to learn alongside teachers and CZ6Kr_PWEAETayW
kids throughout the school.  I stopped by one of my teacher’s (@bess_murphy) classrooms this week.  I’m going to call her Bess, (cause that’s her name — Bess).   

Bess was teaching students about measures of central tendency.  She modeled a problem at the board and demonstrated how to find the mean, median, and mode.  She asked kids to tell what would be the best method to find the measure of central tendency for a new data set that she provided.  They were to pair with the student next to them and work it out together,

Bess then cued up this song and it played for about 40 seconds.

Get it?  Mean… the song is called “MEAN”…TAYLOR SWIFT   MEAN  Lyrics    YouTube

Like the arithmetic average… the MEAN !

As the song played, some kids got it and some kids didn’t, but it was so inventive and so much fun.  The students got right down to business.  

I only joined the class for about 10 minutes but from this snapshot I gleaned several takeaways:

  1. This little instructional moment was quite natural for Bess to pull off… she didn’t make a big deal out of the song… she  just had it queued up and it played in the background as the kids started to work.  Awesome teachers naturally integrate innovative and engaging approaches into their practices organically.  This is especially important for adolescents with their finely attuned sense of “corny”.   Don’t “over-sell” it … let it happen.

  2. There’s always room for music;  we don’t use it nearly enough in teaching.  Bess does.  It’s been written that music may help structure the intense feelings of adolescents into a beat and a pulse and hence make them primed for academic work  (Brewer, 2016).  EVERYBODY loves music, it speaks to our minds and our souls.  Music is mathematical, and this was a math lesson so —  why not?

  3. The lyrics in this song contain a great lesson for kids:

But someday I’ll be living in a big ole city

And all you’re ever gonna be is mean, yeah

Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me

And all you’re ever gonna be is mean

Why you gotta be so?…

They speak to an adolescent’s insecurity and fragile self-image, to asserting one’s identity in the face of a bully.  Developing students’ social-emotional literacy (SEL) and resiliency doesn’t mean dispensing with the stated curriculum to do a “special SEL lesson”, good teachers integrate SEL into the curriculum.  

I’d remark that I hoped the kids looked up the lyrics when they got home but I suspect I was the only one in the room who wasn’t singing this song in my head as it was playing.  And this brings me to my next takeaway….

CavFLZcWIAAvVMs

4. Awesome teachers are “with-it”.  They are in touch with the music and the fashion and the expressions … the CULTURE of their students.  Anytime a teacher can chime in with something insightful about song choices, movies, games or a fashion statement, they gain instant credibility and build rapport (Barnes, 2015).  By playing a Taylor Swift song, Bess was communicating an important message to her kids, they are important enough for the teacher to pay attention to their interests and passions (and that she likes Taylor Swift also).  

This was only a brief snapshot of a terrific learning moment but I promised myself I would share what I observed because, at our school, we are all LEARNERS!  Thanks Bess!

References

Barnes, M. (2015). 5 Things Cool Teachers Do – Brilliant or Insane. Brilliant or Insane. Retrieved 30 March 2016, from http://www.brilliant-insane.com/2015/03/5-things-cool-teachers-do.html

Brewer, C. Does Teen Music (Rap, Rock & Roll) Belong in the Classroom?  (2016).Songsforteaching.com. Retrieved 31 March 2016, from http://www.songsforteaching.com/teachingtips/usingteenmusicraprockroll.php

 

Posted in Best Practice, Educational Focus, Inside the Middle School, Leadership, Personal Best, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

About an ordinary life: Encyclopedia entries

Somebody recommended this idea as a cure for writers block.   Amy Krause Rosenthal wrote a neat little book titled Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.  The book flap states that she “ingeniously adapted the centuries-old format of the encyclopedia to convey the accumulated knowledge of her lifetime in a poignant, wise, often funnyIMG_1221, fully realized memoir. Using mostly short entries organized from A to Z.” It’s the kind of book you can leave lying about and dip into any time you need a laugh.

I wouldn’t quite refer to my blog slump as a “block” but I need a jumpstart so here are a few of my contributions to an encyclopedia of an ordinary life … for some reason,  I started with the letter “B”.

 

Broken Glass

 

When a glass breaks in my house, I always wrap in it a layer of newspaper before putting it in the garbage.  So the trash collection men won’t cut their hands.  My mother taught me to do that.  It makes me feel like I’m a good person when I wrap up broken glass and throw it in the garbage.  I’m not sure I AM a good person all the time, but at least I do that.

 

Brain surgery

Just read a great piece about brain surgery… with accompanying lurid photographs and even video.  Surprising.  I was under the impression that the brain was an elusive thing that couldn’t be touched, even delicately, without causing great damage… BRAIN damage!  Not trpln2ue.  The doctor in the piece goes jiggering around in there like he’s scooping out ice cream and making a sundae.

I’m not saying that that we should all become amateur brain surgeons but maybe “brain surgery” should cease being the “metaphor” of choice for describing complex cerebral tasks.  Instead of saying, “Hey, it’s not brain surgery” we need to say, “Hey, it’s not
_______ (something that’s not brain surgery)”.  Hmmmm … what could that be.  Lemme see..

Lemme see..

ALGEBRA! … algebra is kinda tough, “Hey, it ain’t algebra over here.”

But what do we say if the complex task IS your son’s ALGEBRA homework… Then I’m stumped!

 

Bicycles

The magic of the BICYCLE is something I didn’t appreciate until I was well into my 30th decade (extra points to those of you who are surprised to learn that I am well past my 30th decade).  IMG_1217

When I was 11 I had a bike and I rode it places… but I didn’t recognize how fortunate I was to have a bicycle. I would get on my bike and ride all around my neighborhood. I’d ride to my friends’ houses, to the park to play,  to the stores… I rode everywhere.  When you’re 11, you’re to be forgiven for not appreciating the fact that you don’t have to make car payments; you’ve never had to make car payments.  At 11, the fact that your bicycle frees you from car insurance, buying gas, looking for a parking spot, or getting stuck in traffic somehow eludes you.  

For me, bicycling was love at first sight (sit?).  The minute I saddled up on the bike that I bought with my own money for my grown-up self, I was in love with the feeling of freedom and self-generated power it gave me.  The sublimity of observing life while walking has been described by poets from Wordsworth to Whitman, but for me, cycling offers the perfect speed at which to observe the world.  

 

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

About my #OneWord: Nurture

My one word for 2016 is Nurture, as in relationships. For 2016 my goal is to reflect more on and devote greater energy to the relationships I have with everyone in my life…

One of the most powerful mentors in my life, my friend and former principal (now retired), Bob Kaufold, frequently reminded me, “Don, always stay in touch with people.”  And Bob consciously followed his own advice.  He was always meeting somebody for lunch, exchanging letters with friends, getting together for dinner with branches of his family.   Every year he reaches out to me on my birthday to wish me well and several times a year he reminds me we need to get together for lunch. And at least once a year, we do.  He is fantastic at cultivating relationships. I suppose I always thought this was for the good of the other persons, for the health of those relationships, but I’ve come to see how valuable this practice is for your own wellness as well.  Thanks Bob!

This is a plant of unknown variety that my daughter and I grew from seeds a few months ago.  She was excited to go to the nursery and pick out the seeds and the little pot.  plantWe grew two plants, the other one died.  But this one persists, despite our neglect.  I’d nearly forgotten about it until we put away our Christmas decorations.   It’s hanging in there but it’ll perish if we continue to disregard it, if we do not nurture it.  

It’s not that we’re abusing this plant.  You can also do THAT to a relationship of course.  When I was in high school biology we learned about the scientific method by growing two lima bean plants in paper cups.  One was the control, the other was the variable.  The control was to receive water and sunlight, the other one – -we were directed to experiment on.  Some of my classmates kept their plants in closets, others watered theirs with apple juice or put them in the refrigerator.   Ultimately, most of our experiments died a quick death or, at the very least, failed to keep pace with the plant that had been given sunlight and water regularly.  Simply put, like a plant, a relationship will wither and die if not given attention. It doesn’t take much for a plant to thrive, it just takes a little bit of care.  To use a most hackneyed metaphor, like a garden, we need to nurture relationships or they will not grow, given time, they’ll expire.  Even though Juliet and I haven’t abused our plant, it’ll die soon if we don’t stop neglecting it.  

Similarly, I don’t abuse relatioIMG_9795nships, in fact I love them.  Ask anybody who’s ever sat in a meeting with me, I prefer the energy of the conversations to actually accomplishing anything — every time — and it shows!  Nevertheless, relationships can be a challenge for me because I’m not wired to pay attention.  When people talk about attentional issues they tend to focus on forgetting to do important things or remembering where they left things. But difficulty paying attention tends to affect relationships also.  At work I get distracted by the engagement of constant interruptions that are the sine qua non of the principal’s existence.  At home the constant pull of household chores (whether or not I actually do these chores) and the interminable needs of children drown out the deeper presence of relationships.  In short busyness is the enemy of relationships for people who do not pay attention.  And boy am I BUSY… all the time!  These conditions have always posed problems for me but through the use of checklists and other accommodations I have reduced the number of occasions when I leave the house without my wallet or leave my phone in a restaurant to a few times per year.  So I’m optimistic that with the focus of my ONE WORD for 2016 I can get better.  

 

We can talk about initiatives and plans to achieve things… but at the end of the day, everything comes back to relationships. Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”   So I’m looking forward to the year 2016 with my one word of focus on nurturing relationships.   

 

Posted in Leadership, Personal Best, Random Thoughts, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tagged | 6 Comments

About violence and children: What’s a big number?

My daughter is only five years old; she’s in kindergarten.

The other day we were watching the news and there was a story about a fire that occurred in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn. Tragically, two people perished in the fire.

12299250_10153682700777976_6299534363221490310_n

My daughter, overhearing the story, asked me,

“Two people — that’s a small number right?”

This blog post should end right here…

What can you say — about a comment like that — from a five-year-old?  

And she’s MY five-year-old.

I’m wondering if I should even be embarrassed to report that she said this. But, she’s five years old. Five year olds say the strangest things. The other day she asked me, “Daddy do you know what Santa’s sleigh is made of, it’s made of wood and magic.”  So before I get myself worked up over an offhand remark made by a kid in kindergarten, let me try to find some perspective on this.

 

Her remark has me thinking about the impacts of recent tragic events on schools and on the children in them. When the terrorist attacks occurred in Paris, our school’s response was to observe a moment of silence out of respect for the victims.  Because we share the facility,  the high school principal and I got on the public address and made a few remarks; then we played the French national anthem.  We also sent to staff an email with guidance on how to talk to students about tragic events.  

These responses made rational sense but I am left with so my questions:

Are our kids scared, or are we scared?  Don’t forget, middle school kids weren’t even alive on September 11, 2001.   When we prepare to discuss tragic event with our kids, to what extent are we making assumptions about their feelings and perspectives.  From our study of psychology we know of the existence of “mirror neurons” in the brain that respond the IMG_1194same whether we witness an event second-hand or if we experienced it ourselves (Bergin and Bergin, 2015).   Kids tend to mirror our emotional states.  Are we making our kids anxious by our discussions of these events and/or by our demeanor when we do?

How aware are our students about what’s happening?   I know in my household, when major events like this happen, my wife (@dmgately) and I will have the TV running constantly.  We’re both educators and we know we have a responsibility to stay abreast of events in the news.  We know it will be our responsibility to stay up to date on the details of these incidents. But does everybody do this? Perhaps that Monday after the Paris attacks, many of our students were first learning of it when we got on the public address system to make an announcement and observe a moment of silence.   That day I sent an email to parents letting them know that we had observed a moment of silence. We do this whenever there are discussions at school or events that parents can follow up on at home, to help them have discussions with their children.  But this had me wondering if there were parents who have been trying to shield their children from these events, parents who regretted that we had these discussions,  that announcements were made.  I didn’t have any phone calls from parents but… Are our middle school children too young to be confronted with this? What age is old enough?   In our school, kids are 10, 11, 12, 13 and maybe 14 years old. Certainly this is old enough to start grappling with complex issues and the reality of current events, but how much is the right amount to share?

IMG_1188What is the role of the school?  Of course we have a role in helping children understand current events and find academic connections.  But are there occasions when it’s just too much?  Is the tragic reality of these violent episodes too much for a typical 12-year-old to handle? No one would disagree that the school should be a safe place for kids to learn and grow.  Should school be a refuge from these anxieties?  Does bringing these discussions into the classroom undermine the sense of safety we strive mightily to preserve?

What about my Muslim students? There has been some ugly rhetoric coming from numerous sources in the media, including from those who are charged with leadership.  How does this make these youngsters feel?  Do my Muslim students still feel like they belong and they are valued at our school?  And should we give these students an opportunity to share their voices, their unique narratives? My instinct tells me yes, but might this not be the best thing to do either.  Might this make a Muslin child attract undue attention at a sensitive time?

Right now, I have more questions than answers. I’m grappling with these challenging questions constantly as an educator and school leader. I would love to hear your thoughts… and maybe some answers.  

And about my daughter… when my wife and I heard her statement, we sat her down and talked about it.   We told her that all lives are precious, it doesn’t matter how many lives are  lost … it’s always terribly sad.   

Reference

Bergin, C. C., & Bergin, D. A. (2011). Child and adolescent development in your classroom. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

 

Posted in Educational Focus, Leadership, Personal Best, Random Thoughts, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

About…The Wheels on the Bus?

all pix sept.6- sept.28 009I have been a middle school principal for 15 years. It doesn’t seem like a long time to me.  The thing about working in a school, there are certain rituals and procedures that are repeated in the same way every single year. As a teacher I never did a lesson twice the same way, but as a principal, there are a few activities that have to be done with fidelity each school year.  One of these is bus drills. Three times a year safety procedures for riding the school bus must be reviewed with students.

The drills take different forms. The one we did the other day involves a staff member (in this case, ME) jumping onto the bus when it arrives at school and reviewing a list of safety procedures (well we don’t literally jump on the bus, the bus comes to a stop, the driver opens the door and you walk up the steps.)

 

I have to say I’ve done this drill so many times I really wish I could depart from the script and have a little fun.

Here’s how, in my imagination, the drill might go:

 

Good morning kids.  You may be wondering why I came on your bus instead of taking selfies with you in the hallways like I do on most days.

I’m here because we care about you, your safety, your well-being, and because New York State says I have to do this. With any luck this will be the least interesting part of your day. I have these safety procedures down to a science, I’ve been reciting them for many years… I pretty much have them committed to memory.

we have so much fun at our school

we have so much fun at our school

Be on time.  Students should arrive at their assigned bus stop at least 5 minutes prior to pick up.  If you have ever been late and wish to ensure you do not miss the bus, some students have slept overnight at their stop. Do not attempt to do your math homework unless your stop is directly underneath a street lamp. We care about your eyesight. In the spring you will take standardized tests that will determine whether your principal may continue to work here… Please protect your vision.

Wait for the bus on the side of the road. Keep off private property. Don’t step on cracks. Please be sensitive to the backs of mothers which may be adversely affected by stepping on cracks.

Wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before entering or leaving.  This is a conventional public school, not a finishing school for Hollywood stunt doubles.

Lineup before entering the bus. Look after the safety of smaller children. Do not take any smaller children home with you unless they actually belong to you, or your parents.  In the event that a smaller child manages to come home with you, say, in your backpack, share your video games with him.

Remain seated at all times when the bus is in motion. If sitting down while the bus is in motion makes you nauseous, think about a pleasant memory from when you were in kindergarten. If you are presently IN kindergarten, think about toys.

[Point out the location of all emergency equipment, extinguisher, first aid kit and reflectors.]

There are emergency exits on the sides and the roof of the bus. In the unlikely event of an emergency, you can stack 2 sixth graders in order to reach the ceiling exits.  [Point out the location of sixth-graders.]

In the unlikely event that something should happen to the bus driver, do NOT attempt to exit the bus.  Organize your classmates in a loud rendition of “The Wheels on the Bus”; bus drivers hate that song. Your driver should revive herself before long in order to scold you.

In the unlikely event of a water landing, you can use your younger brother or sister as a flotation device. [Point out the location of all younger brothers and sisters.]

In the unlikely event that your bus ride to or from school was the highlight of your day, please let me know so that I can change your science teacher.

All of the following are prohibited on the bus: eating, drinking, littering, talking, contemplation, problem-solving, irony, fear, anxiety, 3-D glasses, pets, existential drama, sass, elective surgery, civilian dental implants and shirt labels that make your neck itchy.

Talk quietly, do not shout or make loud noises, say what you mean but don’t say it mean.  Avoid politically sensitive subjects such as bowling or the Electoral College.

IMG_1217Bus riding is a privilege, like the right to vote or buy a Mountain Dew from a vending machine.  Unlike these privileges however, your right to ride the bus can be revoked if you violate any of the above procedures or if we wish to annoy your parents by creating conditions under which they would have to drive you to school.

I know I can count on all of you to follow these procedures.  In the unlikely event that you do not, you will be called to my office for another refresher; this speech will sound very different in my office.  

Thank you for your attention, let’s make this the best Wednesday of the week!

Note, most of my blog posts consist of metaphors applicable to the field of education.  This post — not so much.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Inside the Middle School, Leadership, Personal Best, Random Thoughts, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

About capacity building: A presentation to the Long Island LGBT Forum

dc picI presented at the Long Island LGBT Forum at SUNY Old Westbury today.

Here are the Slides .

Takeaways from the discussion:

  • Middle School’s are still difficult places to implement GSA clubs.
  • Potential club name: Gay Lesbian or Whatever… love this!
  • Some fledgling clubs on Long Island will collaborate with more experienced clubs.
  • New clubs/ students at middle level feel overwhelmed… collaboration will help.

Once again, the connected education conversation emerged! There are ENORMOUS opportunities for pro-LGBT educators to connect with other like-minded educators on Twitter, Voxer, EdCamps… Isolation is a choice.  For me this was an epiphany!  There is SO much isolation and secrecy associated with LGBT issues… use connecetedness to find support, get ideas and tell your story!!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

About Belonging: My “Ted Talk” at NYSMSA “Why you need a GSA at your school.”

I was invited to speak at the New York State Middle School Association (NYSMSA) Annual Conference. I spoke on the topic: Why your middle school needs to have a Gay Straight Alliance.

I hope you’ll watch and share. THANKS!!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

About Connected Leading/Learning: You’re a LEARNER!

Everybody has a version of this dream. You’re not prepared to do a speech. You’re supposed to be flying an airplane and you don’t know how to do it.  There’s a test and you forgot about it, you didn’t study and you feel like you’re going to fail.

IMG_1193

These dreams are disturbing because we feel stupid. We’re supposed to know something and we don’t. It’s embarrassing.

This is one of the reasons that some people are resistant to become connected educators. The technology — whether it’s Twitter or Google or Facebook or Edmodo —  makes some people feel stupid.  As educators, teachers or school leaders, we feel that we are purveyors of knowledge and skills. It’s our job to be the experts.

Somehow this makes us terrible at assuming a Growth Mindset posture towards learning.  That’s right, educators can sometimes make the worst learners.  If I’m learning at home by reading a book, or sitting in on a class and not raising my hand and offering to answer questions, I never have to worry about feeling stupid. But, to involve myself as a connected educator means putting myself out there. To participate in a Twitter chat or to utilize technology in front of students or even colleagues, is to risk failure, risk looking stupid. Experts don’t like to look stupid.

IMG_1228I have come to believe that the most powerful statement any educator can make is, I’m a learner.  The thing about school is, a good school, everything that happens underneath that roof should be about learning and growing.  So the kids aren’t the only learners in the building, we’re learners too.

So if that’s the reason you’ve been reluctant to try becoming a connected educator, remember, you’re not an expert, you’re a learner.

 

Posted in Educational Focus, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

About September: Welcome Back 2015

Dear Middle School Parents and Students,

Welcome to the 2015-16 school year!  In just a week and a half we will be back together learning at the happiest place on earth, Jericho Middle School.  It is with great pleasure that I welcome you as part of our educational family to another school year.  By Thursday of next week, you will receive the number of the room to which you will report on the first day.

I hope everyone enjoyed the summer. My family’s summer was lots of fun, albeit dramatic.  Given my own accident prone youth, it should have come as no surprise to me that my son Nicky broke his elbow and my daughter Olivia tore ligaments in her knee this summer… THESE KIDS, why do they do this to us!! Honestly, I’m starting to get a sense of the stress I visited upon my own parents when I was a kid.  Consequently, we stayed close to home over the vacation and spent time in the pool, which thankfully was abetted by the amazing weather we’ve had (I know, “Don’t jinx it,” there’s some summer left right?) My daughter Juliet will begin Kindergarten in two weeks, my oldest, Patrick, will begin his senior year in high school, and Joseph will start at the high school in Massapequa.  So many exciting transitions for the Gately kids this September.

Found time to read some good books:  The Wright Brothers (David McCullough), one of the best books I’ve read in a while, contains abundant lessons on leadership, learning, and innovation.   I liked it so much that I am currently reading McCullough’s account of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, The Great BridgeI’ve long been enamored of the beauty and history of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Born and raised in Flatbush, I feel a personal connection.  I’m reading a book about the war in Iraq, The Yellow Birds (Kevin Powers) which is described as a modern-day All Quiet on the Western Front, a work I struggled mightily to complete when I was in high school, so I’m deriving subtle satisfaction in enjoying this book.  Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (Atul Gawande) is a thoughtful and challenging look at end-of-life experiences and corresponding medical practice. Sometimes a book finds you at the right time in your life. This book is helping me gain perspective on the experiences of my parents and others who find themselves at this challenging stage in their lives.

Sept 2015

Some recent adventures!

Also read some books to expand my thinking professionally. The Book Whisperer (Donalyn  Miller) transformed the way I think about literacy and the ways we work to create passionate adolescent readers. I enjoyed meeting the author at the International Literacy Association Annual Conference in St. Louis in July. Simplifying Response to Intervention (Michael Mattos) offers a straightforward and, yes, simple version of this important aspect of highly effective schools that work.  The Reason I Jump (Naoki Higashida) is a memoir by a 13-year-old boy with autism that is completely eye-opening and a must read for everyone, certainly anyone who is acquainted with a person with autism.

I read some outstanding young adult books as well.  Echo (Pam Munoz Ryan) is the story of three separate individuals whose interwoven tales of survival are united by a harmonica.  Paper Towns (John Green) is a great coming-of-age narrative by the author of The Fault in Our Stars.  My daughter saw the movie and really liked it.  I’m hoping that will motivate her to read the book as well.  The Orphan Master’s Son (Adam Johnson) was a challenging read that jumped around chronologically and switched narrators often, not always easy to follow when you’re lying next to the pool.  I enjoy reading young adult titles so that I can speak to our middle school students about them; I’m always so pleased to learn that they have already read so many outstanding books. If your child has read books over the summer, encourage them to complete the very brief summaries on our library website and submit them to our amazing librarian Pat Minikel so they can be recognized as Jericho Middle School Literacy Leaders.

I’d love to hear about the books you read this summer. Why not e-mail me or add to the comments on my blog.

So the battery is recharged and I’m looking forward to the new school year.  I’m sure you are too! I hope your summer has been fun and safe.  I’d love to hear your stories; e-mail me your vacation photos.

Our faculty members have been very busy this summer.  Mr. Wiener and I spent a great deal of time putting together classes and the master schedule so that every child has an appropriate educational program tailored to their needs.  Many of the teachers spent the summer participating in professional development, writing curriculum and/or previewing instructional materials for use in our educational program.  It has been a productive summer for our staff.

Mr. Mandracchia, our head custodian, and his staff have been working very hard to ensure that your children will start school in a building which is clean, attractive and which provides an atmosphere conducive for learning. Our clerical staff has also spent a great deal of time attending to the many tasks necessary for a smooth start to the school year.  We are most grateful for all of their efforts.

The Middle School PTSA is an integral partner in our successful school program.  Under the leadership of PTSA President, Christine Kasper, they generously provide support to our educational efforts in innumerable ways.  Please join them this year and support their work. The first meeting of the PTSA is September 17th at 9:00 a.m. in the Middle School Library.  We look forward to seeing you then.

We have placed many items of information for parents and students on our website.  Please go to the middle school website and click on “Resources” → “Parent Resources” → “Important Information” to find the following items:

Chain of Communication with contact phone numbers

Communication and Information Key

NYSED Assessment Schedule

Mission Statement

Attendance Procedures

Supply lists: all grades

Dress Code Policy

Megan’s Law

Information about M.S. Report Card

J.M.S. Safety Bulletin

Parent Information Manual

Student Handbook

Team Teacher Chart

As we enter the 2015-16 school year, the middle school staff and students will continue to examine everything we do with the goal of continually performing to the level of our “personal best”.  Together we will strive to provide a rich educational environment that is inclusive of all learners and committed to meeting each child’s individual needs.  Please accept my invitation to keep in touch.  Call me with any ideas, questions or concerns you may have. My door is always open!

Sincerely,

Donald F. Gately, Ed.D.

Principal

Jericho Middle School

99 Cedar Swamp Road

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment