Self-Reflection: How’d I Do in Working Towards my Goals this Year?

We are our harshest critics, I’ve always told my students.  We look to hold ourselves to incredibly high standards, which can be both a blessing and a burden.  When we hold the bar of excellence too high for ourselves, it’s very easy for negative emotions and feelings to take hold within us.  Then, we begin to doubt ourselves.  To avoid this cycle of shame, we need to hold ourselves to high, but reasonable, standards.  We need to push ourselves to be the best version of ourselves as possible, without overextending.

One easy way to do this is by setting clear and specific goals for ourselves.  Goal setting gives us something to strive for, a path on which we can venture towards something else, something bigger than us.  At the start of each new academic year, I create professional goals for myself, standards by which I can measure my growth as an educator.  I then spend all year working towards those goals, trying to become the best possible teacher for my students.  While I don’t always meet every goal I set for myself, I work tirelessly towards them, persevering through challenges and striving for change and personal growth.  I use these failed goals as markers on my journey.  Failure is part of the learning process.  The goals I am unable to meet signify something, a roadblock perhaps.  Sometimes, goals I don’t meet represent something I didn’t realize that I did not care about or think is important as a teacher in the moment when I set the goal.  Reflection allows for time and space to pass so that I can truly, effectively assess what is important to me.


This year, I set three, specific goals for myself, three bars by which I can assess how I fared as a teacher this year.  Did I grow in the areas that I had hoped to?  Did I do the hard work to foster change within myself?  Was this a successful year for me?

While this has been one of the strangest academic years for all teachers and students, I do believe that it was a successful one for me.  My students all made so much progress this year.  They all improved greatly in multiple areas.  They are skilled thinkers, readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and people.  I pushed them to become their best selves.  I held the standards high, offered support and assistance when needed, and fostered a love of learning within my students.  School is about more than just checking off a list of things learned: It’s about learning to see the world through different perspectives; it’s about learning how to be compassionate; it’s about learning how to persevere; it’s about gaining respect; it’s about finding the fun in learning; it’s about seeing ourselves in new and special ways.  And I feel as though I did that for my students this year.

Goal 1: I want to help my students learn to see themselves as Math students.

  • I find that Math is the one subject that many students view in a negative light.  They see it as being too difficult, confusing, and unnecessary for success in life.  Students often feel that you either are a Math student or not a Math student, there can be no middle ground.  So, I spent this year trying to help my students see that ALL people can be and are Math students.  I worked to undue some of the negative connotations and thoughts previous schools and teachers worked to ingrain within my students.  I helped them see Math as being fun and a crucial life skill.  We played Math games, learned about the Stock Market, and pushed ourselves to build a solid Math foundation on which future skills can be built.  I worked with one student, in particular this year, who told me at the start of the school year that she hated Math and was not a Math student.  In October, when I shared her first Math grade with her and talked about the effort and progress she had made in a few short weeks, she started to cry.  She said, “This is the highest grade I’ve ever had in Math class.  My old teachers told me that I was stupid and couldn’t do Math,” she said.  I almost burst into tears myself.  So, I made it my priority to help her see that she is capable of so much more than she thinks.  I helped her to see that she is a critical thinking Math student.  I helped her to see that Math can be fun.  I helped her to understand how Math can be useful for her.  This past week, I received a wonderful card from her that I will forever treasure.  In her sarcastic and witty way, she let know that I made a difference in her life.  “You helped me hate Math around 5% less & also that I am a Math student & I’m not stupid,” she wrote.  Reading her card, made me tear up, but also helped me to see that I did help my students learn to see themselves as math students this year.

Goal 2: I want to make the final project in our Social Studies unit on community more engaging, relevant, and fun for my students.

  • As our first Social Studies unit was all about community, it made sense that the final project should also be about community.  Rather than have the students complete some sort of research project or presentation on what they learned about the community in which our school is located, I wanted my students to see themselves as part of that community.  I wanted them to see the power in being compassionate community members.  So, I did just that.  This blog entry details what that final project shaped up to be.  My students devoted much time and energy into creating a meaningful moment for people in the greater Hopkinton, NH community.  They saw the good in what they were doing and it made them feel happy.  They loved it, and it helped to teach them how to be kind, caring, and civically minded community members.

Goal 3: I want to be sure I take the time to address the social-emotional issues that arise in class on a regular basis.

  • While I have always known about the importance of social-emotional learning in the classroom, this year helped me to truly reap the benefits of it, first hand.  The chemistry of my class was very unique, in that almost every student was very strong-willed, independent, and opinionated.  This caused much friction at times within the class.  The students frequently frustrated one another because of their very similar personalities.  We spent much time discussing compassion and compromise.  A few of the students were greatly challenged with working together and locked horns on several occasions.  I worked the class through many mini-lessons on how to compromise and work with teammates.  We role-played different scenarios and talked about possible solutions.  This helped the students learn to more effectively communicate with one another by the close of the year.
  • Because this class had an excess of energy and emotion, we spent lots of time talking about self-regulation.  What can you do when you become frustrated or upset?  How can you learn to be the boss of your emotions?  These lessons helped the students better cope in challenging times.
  • I also carved out time each day during our Morning and Closing Meetings for the students to share their thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, and desires with the whole class.  They talked about their feelings, while their classmates learned to be thoughtful listeners.  These sharing moments helped to foster a sense of openness and trust within our class family.
  • Every day also featured a mindfulness activity of some sort to help the students recalibrate and become more self-aware.  The silent meditations were incredibly therapeutic for both the students and me.  By the time we transitioned to Distance Learning this year, we had reached the 10-minute mark in our daily meditations.  The students were focused and working on themselves for 10 whole minutes.  It was amazing!  The students all felt the benefits of this self-care time.
  • So, did I meet this goal?  I’d say that I did, as I grabbed at every opportunity to help my students learn to be more compassionate, mindful, kind, and caring young people.

Sitting in my warm apartment, it does indeed feel as if summer is right around the corner.  It’s very hot outside and the humidity keeps rising a bit each day.  I’m not a fan of that constant feeling of being moist and wet all summer.  Yucky!  Despite the fact that the summer solstice is only a few short weeks away, it doesn’t feel like the end of another school year.  It feels like we’ve just begun.  Remote Learning changed how we experience school and time.  When we started Distance Learning about 11 weeks ago, it marked the start of something new, as if a new school year had begun.  As teachers, we had to create new rules for online learning and set-up new expectations, like we did back in September.  Everything felt so surreal.  I lost track of the days, and weeks seemed to fly by in an instant.  So, while this next week marks the last week of school for this academic year, it just feels a bit strange and different than in years past.  I’m still very sad to see my students move into the sixth grade, but also so proud of the great progress they all made in the fifth grade this year.  They are ready for that next step and I am so excited to watch them continue to grow and strive for excellence.  I am also totally ready for summer vacation, as I’ve found that this new way of doing school is far more challenging and labor-intensive than doing school on site.  I need a break, a time to recharge.  But, for now, I’ve got four more awesome days left with my students, and I am going to make the most of every moment.  I want them leaving our final closing activity on Thursday with tears in their eyes, wonderful memories in their hearts, and excitement in their souls.  Fifth Grade Rocks!

 

My Ode to Thanksgiving: An Attitude of Gratitude

With American Thanksgiving knocking at our front door, I find myself tickled pink by the reflection fairy.  Life is too short to not be thankful.

Every day, stories about people dying in horrific accidents or being killed at the hands of others light up the news app on my phone as if it were a Christmas tree.  So many awful things are happening all around us.  It’s very easy to get caught up in the black hole of negativity and think, “The world is doomed.  Oh no! now what?”  Our brains are wired, thanks in part to evolution, to think negatively in order to survive: Be prepared for the worse and you won’t die when that saber toothed tiger attacks your clan.  Luckily for us, saber toothed tigers are extinct, but unfortunately, evolution never changed how our brains interpret the world, and so thinking negatively is our brain’s default operating system.  Think about all the possible ways you could die today, and avoid them to survive, our brain tells us on a daily basis.  Life is different and easier for humans now, despite what the news and media outlets want us to think and feel.  We don’t need to be ready to defend ourselves from attacking animals anymore.  Instead, we should be focusing our brain’s power on what we do need to be prepared for.  We need to be ready to help and take care of those in need.  We need to help others see the wonder and greatness that exists in this world.  We need to be prepared to help people change the way they think about the world.  Despite the wealth of negativity that litters the headlines, there is so much beauty in this world.  People born without limbs are learning to navigate the world successfully.  Scientists are working tirelessly to find cures for diseases like Cancer and AIDS.  The sun rises and sets each day, spreading its glorious rays and colors across the sky like Bob Ross painting happy little trees.  Happiness and joy are around every corner.  We need to rip off the evolutionary blinders that prevent us from seeing the positive in life so that we can learn to be thoughtful, mindful, and thankful for what we do have.

As we no longer need to live like our ancestors, we should be taking the time to reflect on the many things in our lives that we are grateful for.

  • I am blessed to have an amazing wife and partner who accepts me for who I am, and helps me to become the best version of myself each and every day.
  • I am thankful for my wonderful son, even when he makes mistakes and tests my boundaries, which he does many times each day.
  • I am grateful for the phenomenally creative musicians that fill my ears with sounds of joy, heartache, and wonder.  From City and Colour to Coheed and Cambria and Natalie Merchant, thank you for the gifts you have given us all.  Your music reminds me just how lucky I truly am to be alive today.
  • I am incredibly thankful to Rick Johnson who took a risk on some weird educator who wears a cape and allowed him to begin and lead his school’s fifth grade program.  Yup, I wear a teaching cape.  It reminds me of the huge responsibility that comes with being a superhero to my students.  The Beech Hill School has allowed me to blossom into the teacher I was always meant to become.  Thank you for that.
  • I am forever grateful to my students, who teach me way more than I could ever possibly teach them on a daily basis.  You are the reason I wake up with a smile, once I wipe the sleepy seeds from my eyes, each and every school day.  Thanks for being honest, open to taking risks, and for being your true selves.

As an attitude of gratitude washes over me, happiness fills my soul.  I feel like tiny little rainbows are sprouting from my head.  It’s quite a remarkable feeling.  I feel like I need to give something of myself to show true gratitude.  I feel the need to spread some happiness.  What better way to pay it forward than by giving all of my loyal blog readers the gift of wisdom.  Well, perhaps that may not be the best possible way that I could show my thanks to the world, but it will have to do for now.  I’ll plant a tree and pick up some trash later.


For the past few weeks in the fifth grade, my students have been doing their own sort of reflecting.  They have bee thinking about their academic strengths and weaknesses.  How have they done during the fall trimester in school, and what do they need to do to continue to grow and develop as students and people?  To do this, they created an ePortfolio in which they answered some guiding questions I provided to them.  For many students, this was the first time they have ever been provided the opportunity to stop and think about their academic journey.  Those students really struggled with this task, as being reflective requires much analytical thinking and the use of the prefrontal cortex, which is not fully developed in fifth graders.  I let them sit in their struggle as they thought about their first 12 weeks in the fifth grade.  I assisted some really stuck students by asking them questions to fuel their thinking.  I didn’t spoon feed them answers or steal their thinking, I merely propelled them in the right direction.  I let them do the reflection.  This assignment made a few students angry, as it was challenging for them.  This task made some students shout out, “This is so hard!”  Some students, however, loved the chance to write about their experience in the fifth grade so far this year.  After almost two weeks of hard work, big emotions, and much reflecting, I’m happy to report that each and every one of my talented fifth graders created a very reflective and prescriptive ePortfolio that they will use to lead their student led conferences this week.  My students persevered through the challenge of reflecting on their learning and progress in the fifth grade to accomplish an incredibly difficult task.  They had to create a separate written reflection for each core class.  It was tough, but they did it.  They worked through their struggles and challenges to reflect on their work during the Fall Trimester, think about their strengths and weaknesses, and create some SMART goals to move forward.  I was so impressed with their final Google Sites.

Here are some examples of the amazing work they created as they struggled, persevered, and put forth great effort to reflect on their time in the fifth grade:

Learner Reflection

This is Dorothy’s Learner Reflection.

 

Social Studies Reflection

This is Izabelle’s Social Studies reflection.

 

Math Reflection

This is Rose’s Math reflection.

 

Science

This is Isabella’s Science reflection.

 

Language Arts

This is Izabelle’s Language Arts reflection.

 

Goals

This is Bodi’s December Goals page.


As we prepare our tables for a great feast this Thursday, please utilize your prefrontal cortex and focus on the positive blessings that fill this beautiful world.  Be grateful and thankful for all that you have.  Life is too short to dwell in the negative.  Focus on the positive instead of preparing for that great pterodactyl attack, because our fine military will shoot those birds down before they make it into American airspace anyway.  So, no worries.  As Bobby McFerrin once sang, “Don’t worry, be happy.”  Enjoy your family time and be joyous and happy, as there is much to celebrate.

Why Should We Practice What We Preach as Educators?

As a father, I’ve spoken to my son an infinite amount of times about the value and importance of thinking before acting.  “You need to use your patient parts to stop, think, and then act so that you don’t say or do something you will later regret,” I would often say to him as he grew and matured into a young adult.  I would hold him accountable for his actions when he reacted instead of stopping to think things through.  “You have now lost screen time for the evening because of the way you spoke to your mother and I,” I would often say to my son before following it up with, “Now let’s talk about how that situation should have played out.”  This would lead into a discussion on appropriate ways to interact with his parents.  In many instances, it helped teach him how to speak to adults out in the real world.

Of course, my son loves throwing my own words back on me any chance he gets.  While I talked ad nauseam with him about the importance in being patient, I sometimes struggled with that skill.  When we would be driving somewhere and I would talk about how the driver of the car in front of me was going too slowly, my son would say, “Remember to use your patient parts, dad.”  Oh yes, our children are always listening and paying attention to everything we do and say even when we think they aren’t, which is why it’s so important to practice what we preach.  If we want our children to mature into kind, caring, and thoughtful adults, then we need to show them how kind and caring adults act.  Talking about other drivers and their inability to effectively pilot an automobile shows my son that it’s okay to be in a rush and talk about people behind their backs.  Whenever he pointed out my flaws, I would grit my teeth and say, “You’e right.  I’m sorry.  I should not be in a rush, nor should I be speaking about another person behind their back.”  Oh, kids.

As a teacher, the same mantra is true.  If we want our students to adhere to the rules of our classroom and meet our expectations, then we must always hold ourselves to the highest of standards.  If I expect that my students will turn their assignments and classwork in on time, then I must grade their work and return it to them in a timely manner as well.  I’ve worked with teachers who take weeks to return graded work to students, but those same teachers took points off when the students turned their work in late.  That’s not okay.  We must be role models for our students and act how we expect our students to act.

This year, I’ve placed much emphasis and value in mindfulness in the classroom.  We participate in a mindful meditation each and every afternoon following lunch.  I talk to the students all the time about the value in being aware and present in each moment.  “If you are feeling any sort of strong emotion, stop, think about what is causing you to feel that way, and then make a plan for what you could do to change your thinking.  We must be in control of ourselves,” I often say to my students.  I remind my students daily of the importance in being present and mindful in everything we do as humans.  “If we aren’t aware of our actions, then how can we know if what we are doing or saying is the best or most effective step forward?”  Because I have placed such importance on mindfulness in the classroom, many students are beginning to change their mindset when a strong emotion overcomes them.  They are learning to control their emotions and thinking because they are present in their lives.  It’s been quite cool to witness this change in their behavior.

Now, you’d think that because I talk so much about the importance of mindfulness, that I am adept at practicing it in my own life.  Well, I’m a work in progress, like us all, and so sometimes I am really good at being aware and present in the moment and other times not so much.  I can easily get caught up in my emotions or the emotions of my students.  It’s easy to allow empathy to take over my thinking.  If a student is upset or frustrated, I try to help them by empathizing with them.  This can easily cause me to then be upset or frustrated by what’s going on.  I need to keep working on owning my thoughts and being more mindful in my day-to-day life in the classroom, as there is much value in being aware and mentally present.

This past week, I found myself feeling a bit blah about how the school day was going.  I didn’t feel like my lessons or activities were going very well.  I wasn’t feeling engaged and I worried that my students were feeling similarly.  So, during my free period, prior to lunch, I sat and reflected on my morning.  What didn’t go well, and why did it not go well?  Was it something I said or did?  Was I mentally present during those times or was I thinking about other things or the next lesson?  What can I do moving forward to improve my day and how I’m thinking about the day?  I then thought about specific things I wanted to say and do with my students to help them be reflective and present in each activity or lesson for the remainder of the day.  I came up with a game plan of sorts for how I would be in control of how well I thought my day was going.  I then enacted my plan by being mindful and present in each moment that afternoon.  I made sure to say and do the things I had brainstormed earlier.  I was in control of what I said and did because I made a conscious effort to do so.  I was being mindful of my actions, and it paid huge dividends.  I left school that day feeling invigorated and happy.  I was pleased with how I had noticed how I was feeling, reflected on the root cause of that emotion, and then made a plan to change my mindset and thinking about the rest of the day.  It was amazing.  The students seemed more engaged and pleased with how things progressed that afternoon as well.  It all felt really amazing.  Being mindful really works.  I find it amusing that even though I’ve seen how it benefits my students, it took me almost three months to see the importance and beauty in mindfulness.  Oh, adults.

It’s hard being a role model and practicing what I preach on a daily basis, but it makes a huge difference in the relationships I am able to form with my students as well as the community and trust I’m able to foster in the classroom.  As I often tell my students, “I am not expecting perfection from you this year, I just want you to put forth your best effort when trying or doing things in the classroom.  Things will be hard, but how you approach them will make all the difference.  It’s all about mindset,” I should take my own advice and keep on trying to practice what I preach.

Thank You: My Attitude of Gratitude

Glancing out my apartment window, I notice large flakes of snow slowly drifting through the cold November air.  How beautiful and amazing that no two snowflakes are alike.  How is that even possible?  Mother Nature is amazing in so many ways.  I am thankful for the beauty that lies right outside my door.

On this Thanksgiving eve, I can’t help but be filled with joy, happiness, and gratitude.  I am thankful for the opportunity to be alive and enjoy all that the world has to offer, both the good and not so good parts.  I’m thankful for the warm smells of apples and cinnamon, and grateful that the smell of skunk rarely fills my nostrils.  I’m thankful for my beautiful and amazing wife, with whom I am lucky to be on this wild adventure called life.  I’m thankful for her smile and thoughtful words when I need them most.  I’m grateful for the magnificent colors of this holiday season, from the reds and greens to the browns and whites.  The greenish hues of an evergreen tree glistening in the sunlight are magnificent.  I’m thankful for good friends, near and far, who are always there when you need them, like a security blanket.  I’m thankful to be working at such a wonderful educational institution.  I’m grateful for my supportive and appreciate headmaster, who makes me feel like the never-ending flame on a menorah.  I’m thankful for my school’s amazing Jill-of-all-Trades, Judy.  I’m not sure what mental state I might be in right now if it wasn’t for her.  I’m thankful for my students and their amazing families.  It’s nice to know that we are all on this fifth grade journey together.  How magical is that?  I’m thankful for the Hallmark Channel and the wonderfully festive holiday movies.  Nothing beats coming home after a long day at work and lounging around in front of the television watching a Christmas movie in your Christmas onesie and reindeer slippers.  Yah, that’s the stuff of which dreams are made.  I’m thankful for great young adult books that have been erupting from the speakers in my automobile on my journey to and fro work in the past several months.  Endling by Katherine Applegate was brilliant.  You should totally check it out if you haven’t already, as you are in for quite a delightful treat.  I’m grateful for many things these days, and am fortunate in numerous ways.  Despite the hardships we all face from time to time, I am a very lucky man.  So, to the snowflakes still drifting by my window like tiny angels sent from above, I say thank you.  Thank you for reminding me of all the greatness that fills my life each and every day.

In this moment of thankfulness, one snapshot from recent days stands out from the rest.  Picture this, it’s Parent-Teacher Conference Day at your child’s school.  But, instead of the formal and sometimes contentious conferences like those from past years, you realize that this year is different.  As you enter your child’s classroom, the teacher greets you with a smile and your child begins setting up.  Setting up for what, you wonder.  Shouldn’t it be the teacher preparing to tell you all about what your child has accomplished in school so far this year?  Your child then proceeds to tell you all about their progress in school this year.  They share their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their goals for continuing to grow and learn.  They field questions you pose, and run the show like a boss.  They seem to know themselves as a learner better than you.  The teacher only contributes to the discussion to recognize your child for his or her growth and progress.  This conference is more of an open and honest dialogue with your child about their process of learning in school, than a time for your child’s teacher to front load you with information about how they think your child is progressing.  Imagine that, a student-led conference.  Amazing, right?  If only schools did that, you think to yourself. Well, no need to keep dreaming because schools around the world are moving in this direction.  In fact, in my classroom, that is how we do Parent-Teacher Conferences.  On Monday and Tuesday of this week, my students wowed their parents, and me, frankly, with their metacognition and ability to reflect on their progress in the fifth grade.  They shared their highlights from the past few months in school and explained how they want to keep growing and developing as learners, doers, and creative problem solvers.  They totally rocked it and ran the show.  Their parents had very few questions, if any at all, at the end of their conferences, as the students did such a wonderful job explaining everything.  I was a proud and grateful teacher, yet again.

Wow, is the only way I know how to sum up today’s entry on gratefulness and student-led conferences.  No, I take that back.  I received an email from the parent of one of my students after she attended his student-led conference on Monday, and I feel as though it really sums it all up nicely.

I just wanted to say how thrilled I was with today’s 5th grade conference, not because of my son’s progress, but rather, because of the way it was conducted. I readily admit, I was skeptical at first. When I first learned that my son would run the conference, the thought may have crossed my mind once or twice – what do you mean that my child will not only be at the conference but also run it?! After today, my view is completely opposite.

Today’s conference was everything that I would desire, and more, from a school conference. My son was able to articulate what he does well, as well as what he has already worked to improve on. He was honest about things he needs to do better. Additionally, he had established his own goals, and together we were able to expand on those. 

As I reflected on the conference, I realized that one of the major benefits is that I don’t have to speak to him “parent-to-child” about the things he needs to improve on. I loved that I didn’t get the feeling that I was being ceremoniously patted on the back about having a studious child; there was more of a feeling of transparency all around between the three of us, and as a parent, I know that each of my children certainly have areas that challenge them. I also recognize and appreciate that it likely took exponentially more time for the teacher to prepare all of this with each student.

Many thanks to Mr. Holt for these efforts, and I heartily applaud his concept of the student-run conference.

More gratitude.  I love it!  Thank you, parent of one of my students, for taking the time to show your gratitude.  On that note, Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and I hope you take this opportunity to reflect on the many things you all have to be grateful for in your lives.

Modeling the Behavior I Promote in the Classroom

Sometimes I can be a bit stubborn and stuck in my ways.  Only a bit though.  I’m usually quite flexible in my thinking and acting.  However, for the past several years, I’ve refused to get a flu shot.  My reasoning?  Well, let’s just say that I like to question the world around us and have been known to concoct and buy into conspiracy theories.  I got it in my head that the government was using flu shots as a way of digitally tagging citizens.  I wondered if the flu shot contained tracking devices that would allow “Big Brother” to always know our location.  That freaked me out a little and so I boycotted flu shots.  Well, as I matured and became a father, my line of thinking began to change.  I started to realize that even if my cockamamie conspiracy theories were based in truth, staying healthy and keeping my family healthy is way more important than how much the government knows about me.  Plus, this past March, I got the flu because I hadn’t received my flu shot.  So, this flu season, I’m taking every precaution to protect myself, my family, and my students.  This morning, I got my flu shot.  I’m showing the world that I can do what is best for the whole rather than just worry about my self-interests.  I do now suddenly feel like I’m being watched.  Perhaps George Orwell was correct in his prediction of the future in his classic novel.  Or maybe I just need to practice mindfulness and be present in knowing that I am being a role model for others in taking care of myself.

As a child, I often felt like my parents and other adults in my life possessed a “do as I say and not as I do” mentality.  My mother would tell me not to do something and then I would see her do this same thing later on.  It all felt very hypocritical.  It was difficult for me to determine my moral compass, as it felt like everyone else’s was broken.  Now that I am an adult, I see the importance in practicing what I preach and being a role model for my son and my students.  If I want my students to learn the value in certain choices, I need to be a model and make those same choices.  Respect is not something that is given away all willy-nilly like, it has to be earned.  If I want my students to learn to respect their peers, then I need to show them that I can earn their respect.  I need to hold myself to the highest possible standards in and out of the classroom.  If I want my students to learn to turn their work in on time, then I need to return graded work to them in a timely manner.  I feel as though mutual reciprocity is crucial in fostering positive relationships in the classroom.  Being a role model plays an important part in my teaching and life, as I don’t want others to think of me as a hypocrite.  Do as I do and as I say, is my motto.

Meta cognition and reflection is a valuable tool I utilize in the classroom to help my students to grow and develop as people and students.  I have them set weekly goals and reflect on them frequently.  Through this process, the students are able to identify their areas in need of growth and continue to challenge themselves regarding their strengths.  While I spent much time explaining the purpose and rationale of why we do this and the benefits that come from it, I wonder how seriously some of my students take this weekly activity.  So, after a month of time together in the classroom, I felt it prudent to model this behavior.

This past Thursday, instead of having the students reflect on their goals and providing them feedback on their progress in the fifth grade, I had the students reflect on my progress as their teacher and provide me with feedback on what I am doing well and what I still need to work on.  As this kind of activity does open the door to vulnerability, it’s crucial to helping the students learn to do this for themselves.  I need to show them that no one is perfect, and that everyone can improve in some way.  To do this, I had the students send me an email regarding both the pluses and minuses of my teaching.  What do I do well as a teacher?  What can I work on to make their experience in the fifth grade even better?  After explaining this task to the students, several hands went up.  “What if we have no suggestions for improvement?  Can we just tell you that we are happy with everything?” the students asked.  I then posed a scenario to the class: “What if when you asked for feedback on your writing, I told you that everything was great?  Would you ever be able to improve as a writer?”  This seemed to help them wrap their brains around the value of reflection before providing feedback to others.

This weekend, I reviewed the feedback with which my students provided me.  While there was an overwhelming sense of happiness and excitement regarding my teaching and the fifth grade program I’ve created, I did receive a few solid nuggets of feedback that I will work on incorporating into my teaching this week.

  • “I feel like sometimes you stretch instructions to do whatever we’re supposed to be doing a little too long,” wrote one student.  This makes sense to me, as I do sometimes try to over simplify things.  Instead of explaining an activity or task in detail, I will work to only describe the nucleus of what I am asking of them.  This way, if my students are confused about the expectation, they will need to make use of their critical thinking skills to solve their problems.  While I will still make myself available to answer questions the students have while they work, I will make sure that they exhaust their problem solving tools before I field any questions about the directions for a task.  This way, more genuine learning can take place if they are solving problems, generating questions, and working through their struggles on their own.  This is great feedback.
  • “Just remember, if you tell us to not do something or do something, then you should follow your own directions,” wrote another student.  This one aligns nicely with my desire to be a role model.  This student was referring to, in particular, how I ask them not to use broad terms like “good” to describe something or answer a question.  I find that I sometimes slip up on this one and do use the G word to describe or explain something to the students.  I need to be more present and mindful when speaking with the students.  This is an area I will constantly need to work on.  However, when I do mess up in this realm, I am quick to correct my mistake and apologize for misspeaking.  Good suggestion.

Moving forward, these are two areas I will focus on in the classroom, as I want my students to see that I value their feedback and ideas.  We are one big, happy fifth grade community working together to grow and improve in every way possible.  I love it!


While I do so enjoy embracing the positive, I’ll close this entry with some delightful excerpts from the messages my students sent me on Thursday.

  • “You are extremely fun and awesome. We have the most fun class out of any of the other classes, I bet. I really appreciate the hamster and all the field trips.”
  • “I like your personality! Funny, but serious and how you love jokes! I think that this is the (ALMOST) perfect personality for teaching.”
  • “I like how you are always positive thinking and I like how you are always so funny.”
  • “I like how fun you are and all of your different kinds of suspenders.  I like how you don’t make us do homework on the weekend.”
  • “I think you are one of the best teachers in the world. I like your personality and the marble jar technique.”
  • “You are doing nothing wrong.  I like the maker space and how you let us vote.”
  • “I like the way you interact with us in your excited manner and very many other things.”

My Amazing Week in the Fifth Grade

Despite the numerous, depressing headlines that filled our screens and newspapers this week, it’s refreshing to be able to reflect on the remarkable and wonderful week I experienced with my fifth grade class.  I am so lucky to be working with such an amazing group of students and educators.  Each new day is infused with wonderful gifts of thought and action.  It’s as if I’m working in a brilliant snow globe of awesomeness that is shaken on a daily basis.  I love watching the snowflakes of creativity, kindness, and compassion fall all around me.


I thought I would start today’s entry with a short little poem I’ve been working on…

 

I’m from a school that embraces

creativity and compassion, like the Tootsie Roll

center of a Tootsie Roll Pop.

“Can we make crafts to raise money

for Hurricane Florence victims?”

my fifth graders inquired the other day.

 

I’m from a school that challenges students

to think for themselves and be who they are.

I’m from a school where students thrive

and aren’t afraid to take risks.

“We should make a class newscast

like the video we just watched,”

A student suggested a few weeks ago.

This past Tuesday, the entire school viewed

that video my students made,

with awe and respect.

 

I’m from a school filled with kindness

and smiles, as if every moment is special.

I’m from a school where different is the new normal

and students never want to leave.

“He wished he could go to school

on the weekends,” a parent of one of

my students recently shared with me.

 

I’m from a school that seems almost

magical, like Narnia or Fablehaven.

I’m still waiting for the students to

show their wings and fly off towards

the horizon.

 

I’m from a school that is now a part me.

Just the other day,

I noticed that my blood appeared

maroon and gold.  This wonderful

place is changing me,

and I could not be happier.


With so many amazing things that happened in my classroom this week, it’s hard to pick just one to focus on for this entry.  So, instead of spending hours trying to determine which event to explore in detail, I’ll just list them all.

  • After being unable to acquire the materials needed to care for a turtle in the classroom, I decided to find a class pet that would be a bit more student and budget friendly.  While the students did vote on having a turtle as our class pet during the first week of school, I had to share the unfortunate news with them a week later, that we would be unable to make that dream come to fruition.  However, prior to sharing this news with the students, I applied for and received a grant for a hamster from the Pets in the Classroom Program.  Thank you Pet Smart and the wonderful folks at this amazing program that helps teachers find the resources to bring pets into their classrooms.  When I broke the news about the turtle to the students, I also had happy news to share with them.  I was surprised how excited they were about this change from the intended plan.  They seemed more enthusiastic about a hamster than they did the turtle they originally chose as the class pet.  This past week, the hamster joined our classroom family.  The students could not have been more thrilled.  They wanted to hold him, feed him, care for him, and play with him.  It was amazing, watching the students interact with the hamster, which they decided to name Beans.  While I still have no idea what the name has to do with hamsters, the majority of the students voted on that as his name.  If they are happy, than I am happy.  Frankly though, I really wanted Mr. Fancy Pants.  Oh well.  As the Rolling Stones reminded us all of years ago, “You can’t always get what you want.”  Regardless, Beans has brought much happiness and excitement into the classroom.  Fortunately, he is very sociable with us humans and doesn’t mind being held.  This new addition to our classroom is so much more than a real-world learning experience.  Beans is teaching the students to be mindful of how loudly they talk when they are near his cage and the importance of being careful when interacting with living things.  Talk about teachable moments.  Thank you Beans, for all that you have brought to our wonderful class.
  • Prior to Hurricane Florence making landfall in the US not too long ago, I pitched an idea to the students.  “I feel like we should do something to help those being impacted by this storm.  What can we do to support those communities?”  The students were full of wonderful ideas.  While nothing has completely taken off yet, they have begun to take an interest in helping others.  One student brought in a jar that we are using to collect money, while another student is gathering cans to redeem for money.  Another student brought in materials to make handcrafts, that we intend to sell for charity.  During a Science work period last Wednesday, those students who had finished conducting their investigations, worked with a student who taught them how to knit.  It was very cool to watch them all practice this difficult skill.  One student was all smiles as he began to figure out how to knit.  While I posed the original challenge to the students, I am allowing them to own the outcome.  I want them to learn responsibility, compassion, and dedication.  I want them to see that helping others can be rewarding in so many ways.  I can’t wait to see what my young philanthropists come up with in the coming weeks.
  • For our final science assessment, the students have to generate a unique investigation that allows them to test an original solution to a problem impacting our school community.  They will then conduct the experiment and document their findings in the form of a lab report and digital presentation.  While this seemed like a daunting task at first, the students grabbed the bull by the horns, or to use our mascot in the metaphor, they grabbed the beaver by his tail, and ran with it.  One student is trying to find an easy way to reduce the amount of water used by flushing toilets.  So, she put a brick in each of the toilet tanks in our school.  Some of the older students at the school were mystified by what she was doing.  I love it.  It’s getting others thinking.  Isn’t that what science is all about?  Another student is trying to find a way to cut down on mud flows and erosion near the school’s parking lot.  He’s in the process of planting some flora samples now.  Another student is trying out an environmentally friendly way to reduce the amount of poison ivy that lines the nearby forested areas.  Other students are trying to find ways to reduce the school’s use of electricity.  It’s so cool watching them work and gather data.  They are thinking and acting like scientists.  Amazing!

And that was just the highlights from this past week.  I don’t have nearly enough time to document and reflect on every little amazing thing that happened in the fifth grade last week.  Let’s just say, my words could never do justice to the magic that happens in the fifth grade at my school on a weekly basis.  Awesome really only covers the tip of the iceberg.  So yeah, I’m a very lucky educator who is able to work at such a special school with wonderful students and teachers.  Every day truly is the best day of my life, as each new day provides me with a new present.

The Power of Meta Cognition and Reflection in the Classroom

Have you ever stopped and really thought about how your day or week or even year is going?  Who has time for that, you’re probably thinking.  And while that response certainly makes sense, you need to find a way to make time for reflection in your life.  If you don’t stop periodically throughout your life to think about how things are going, then how will you know what to do next?  How can you ensure that your life is going the way you want it to go if you don’t set goals and then reflect upon your progress in working towards them?  It doesn’t need to be a big deal or all-encompassing task.  It can literally take no more than five minutes.

  1. Stop what you are doing, but be sure to keep breathing.  My students love taking me seriously, and so I want to be sure that I’m providing you with safe instructions.
  2. Take a few deep and slow mindful breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Try to sweep out the distracting thoughts littering your mind’s work space.  Focus only on your breathing and nothing else.
  3. This step can be done in written form or mentally.  You choose.  I like to document my reflective process in case one day I wake up and forget my past, like in that amazing movie Memento.  Think about how you have been progressing towards meeting the goals you set for your life.  They could be short term or long term goals.  Have you met them?  What’s going well in working towards them?  What struggles have you faced along the way?  What do you still need to do to meet those goals?
  4. Again, like step three, this step can be done using your calligraphy set or your mind’s eye.  Create a plan for moving forward.  What will you do to ensure that you will work towards and meet the goals you’ve set.  If you met all of your previous goals, set new ones.
  5. And finally, to make sure that you go back into reality calm and ready to tackle any situation that may come your way, take a few more mindful breaths.

That’s it.  That’s all you need to do to keep moving up and to the right in your life graph.  Stop, reflect, plan, and go.  I think you will find it life changing.  Try it.

Borrowing from my own playbook, I utilize this meta cognition strategy on a weekly basis.  As I want my students to always be growing and developing as humans, individuals, thinkers, creators, problem solvers, and team players, goal setting and reflection is crucial in my classroom.  We began this process on day one when I had them reflect in writing on their first day of fifth grade:  What went well and why?  What struggles did you face and how did you overcome them?  What do you need to work on tomorrow to keep growing and learning?  Three simple questions that enabled my students to begin to see the power of reflection.  At the end of the first week of classes, I introduced the concept of goal setting.  Why should people set goals?  What can goals help us do?  What’s the most effective way to create goals?  I then explained the concept of SMART Goals to the class.  They seemed to understand this idea quite easily.  Each student then set three, short term, academic goals for the following week.  On Tuesday of the second week of school, I had the students revisit their goals and write an update on their progress in meeting them: How’s it going in working towards meeting your goals?  What do you still need to do to meet your goals by Friday?  This task allowed them the opportunity to put a plan in place to help them be and hopefully feel successful.  Then, last Friday, I had them reflect on their goals and set three new goals for this week.  And the process will continue and repeat all year.  In the coming weeks, I will have them work towards setting a few long term goals as well.

While this schedule of reflection seems like it would be helpful for students, it also feels very one-sided, you might be thinking.  And you’d be right.  This is only one half of the process I use in the classroom.  While self-reflection, goal setting, and thinking are all wonderful skills, without feedback and support from others, how can you really know if what you’re doing is actually working?  So, in addition to all of this weekly and daily reflection the students are doing, I am also providing them with feedback daily and weekly.  The students earn a daily effort grade for their ability to be ready to learn, put forth effort to learn, and afford others the opportunity to learn.  Each afternoon, I enter their effort grade into our Google Classroom page with feedback on their performance.  How did they do in class today?  I then make sure that the students are regularly checking these grades and reading the feedback with which they are provided.  I do this by providing them time in class each morning to do so.  Each Friday morning during our silent reading period, I conference with each student on their effort and work in the classroom.  How is their effort?  Are they meeting the graded objectives?  What do they need to work on to continue to improve and grow?  I attempt to begin each conference by focusing on a positive piece of feedback before getting into the constructive suggestions and areas in need of improvement.  I end the conference by providing the students a chance to ask me any questions that may be on their mind about anything related to our school or the fifth grade in general.  While the bulk of the students usually don’t have any questions for me, a few do.  This time allows me the opportunity to practice and model mindful listening and reflection.  Not only does this conference, that usually only lasts 1-3 minutes in length, offer me the opportunity to provide the students with oral feedback on their progress in the class, but it also gives the students some fodder for new goals, which they set each Friday afternoon.

This feedback that they receive from me, coupled with their self-reflection, helps guide them forward on their journey in the fifth grade.  They know what they need to do to continue to grow and develop, and they have a plan for how to do so.  It’s quite the power-pack of awesomeness.  But, does it work, you’re probably wondering?  It seems like a lot of class time and energy devoted to reflection and feedback.  Is it worth it?  The short answer is, Yes.  Here’s what I’ve observed in just the first three weeks of school using this meta cognition and feedback loop.

  • A student that struggled to put forth much effort during the first week of school, began to really challenge himself during the second week.  Could this be as a result of the feedback with which I provided him?  Or could it be because of the meaningful SMART Goals he set for himself that included staying more focused in class to do more than just finish a task or assignment?  Perhaps it was a combination of the two.
  • Another student had great difficulty staying focused in class during the first two weeks of school.  He would often loudly play with his water bottle, stare around the room, or just sit and stare off into the distance during class lessons or work periods.  He also wasn’t accomplishing his nightly homework assignments.  After providing him with feedback last Friday, he set some really specific SMART Goals that, I believe, allowed him to hone in on those areas of struggle for him this week.  In the two days that we’ve been in school so far this week, I’ve seen a huge change in his behavior and effort.  He is completing the nightly homework well, focusing in class, not distracting others, and accomplishing his work.  It’s amazing!  Is it because of the feedback and reflection process?  Maybe.  It could also be the fact that I spoke to his parents about this issue at the end of last week.  Or, maybe it’s that I provided him with a fidget object that he can use in the classroom, at the start of this week.  Who knows?  Maybe it’s all of the above reasons that has fostered this change within him.  I do wonder if the change would have occurred had I not provided him feedback or the opportunity to reflect on his progress.
  • Another student struggled to not talk while others were working quietly or talking during the first week of school.  The following week, I needed to redirect him much less often.  He seemed to self-correct on his own.  Was this because of the feedback he received from me?  Or was it his self-reflection?
  • A few students struggled to understand the expectations of our classroom during the first week.  They talked over their peers and were distracting to others quite a bit.  Then, their behavior seemed to magically change, and this was no longer an issue during week two.  What happened?  Was it my feedback?  Was it their self-reflection and goal setting?  Or maybe a combination?

The results I’ve seen so far in the classroom are telling me that this combination of teacher feedback and student self-reflection is making a positive difference.  My students are growing, developing, and learning because of this, I feel.  I see this meta cognition and feedback as mental hydration for the students.  Their brains need to process and think about what is happening in the classroom and what they are learning.  At the same time though, they also need an outsider’s perspective to know if what they are doing is as it seems.  Does their perception match the reality?  This process I use in the classroom seems to really help students attune to what’s going on.  I love it and have already seen its amazing impacts in just a few weeks.  While I tried a similar approach with previous classes, I never had the time to do it this purposefully or meaningfully.  It’s working, and so I’m going to keep working on it with the students.  Learning and growing is not an easy process by any means, and so the more tools that we can equip our students with, the better off and more prepared they will be.  Success can truly be measured by looking both internally and externally.  Is what you were hoping would happen really happening?  And that’s the power of meta cognition and teacher feedback.

My Summer Work Reflection: Did I Accomplish ALL of My Goals?

Sitting at my tiny IKEA kitchen table, sipping on a warm cop of cinnamon coffee, I’m finding myself feeling a mixture of emotions.  Although I am super pumped to begin the school year at my new school, I’m a bit sad that my summer vacation is winding to a close.  I’ve enjoyed spending time with my son and wife, sleeping in, and relaxing.  Who doesn’t love watching Netflix?  So, in that regard, I’m feeling bittersweet, kind of like that epic song by Big Head Todd and the Monsters.  What a great song, filled with bridges and breakdowns and amazing lyrics.  So yes, I’m feeling happy and sad.  At the same time, however, I’m also feeling nervous for the school year to begin.  Will my students like me?  What if I mess up?  What if I leave my computer home one day?  What if I’m not in the proper dress code?  What if…  I could go on for many more pages with all of my fear, doubt, and insecurity, but that’s just it, they are my fears.  Rather than live with them, I’m learning to let go of them and accept that everything will work out just as it is supposed to.  While that’s not easy, I’m working on it.  I’m learning to transform my negatives into positives.  If my students don’t like me, I can use that opportunity to find new ways to engage with my students.  If I mess up or don’t do something the “right” way, then like great inventors of the past, I’ll go back to the drawing board and find a new way to solve the problem.  I’m working at changing the way I think about life in general.  So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am feeling much like a witch’s cauldron, bubbling and brewing with all sorts of emotions and concoctions.  In the end though, this cacophony of emotions will cook into one heck of a delicious stew of awesomeness.  I say, bring on the school year!

Okay, let’s not get too carried away.  Yes, I want the school year to begin, but I still need to reflect on my summer goals.  How’d I do in working towards them?  Did I meet any of them?  Do I still have some goals that are unmet?  How productive was my summer?  Now, onto the reflection, and then let’s get the school year party started.

Goal 1: Set up and organize my new classroom.

D for done on that one.  Check out this blog entry to learn more about my classroom set-up process and to see some lovely pictures of my new learning space.  Mission accomplished.

Goal 2: Determine which math book or series I will be going with for the fifth grade program.

I can check that goal off of my list of things I accomplished this summer.  After much research, I chose to go with the Beast Academy series.  I like how it makes the learning part of math fun.  The graphic novel approach to each lesson seems like it will make learning math novel and interesting.  I love it.  I also find that it provides the right amount of rigor for any advanced math students I might have, while also offering the ability to scaffold the learning for any students who struggle to understand the concepts covered.  I have the ability to differentiate my instruction quite a bit as well with this series.  I will begin the year by having the students complete a math placement exam.  Based on their results, they will be placed in the course that will meet them where they are and help propel them forward.  Ca-check that goal off my list.

Goal 3: Create my first science and social studies units on community and the scientific method.

And on the seventh day, I finished this goal as well.  Go me, go me, go!  For details on this great quest, read this previous blog entry.

Goal 4: Determine what my daily schedule will be for the fifth grade program.

I met this goal early on in the summer.  I’m excited about my daily schedule and feel as though it will suit the needs of my students very well.  As my program is much like a self-contained elementary class program, I do have flexibility in my schedule; however, I’m happy with the schedule I have made and feel as though I won’t need to do too much tweaking throughout the year.  Fourth Goal accomplished.  I’m on a roll.

Capture

Goal 5: Finish my Summer Reading text.

And my final goal has been met.  Read this blog entry to learn more about my experience with the wonderful novel Quiet by Susan Cain.

And there you have it folks, my summer goals were met.  I’m already to go for the new school year at my new school.  Well, sort of.  I do have some finishing touches to put on my room, but other than that I’m feeling like a guy who just won a $2 from a scratch ticket.  $2 can buy me a coffee from that gas station I pass on my way to school each day or a tasty doughnut.  While that may seem insignificant to many of you, those two options make me very happy.  Now I wish I had won $2 on a scratch ticket.

With faculty meetings beginning tomorrow, I am feeling recharged and energized.  So, bring on the new school year, bring on my new students, and bring on the fun.  Go fifth grade!

How’d I Do: My End of the Year Goal Reflection

As I left my classroom this afternoon following the last, formal academic day at my school, sadness filled my heart while the song “It’s so Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” by Boyz II Men popped into my head.  I looked out onto my school’s namesake Mount Cardigan and tears started to fill my eyes.  15 years is a long time to be at one school.  Memories have been washing over me recently like ocean water on a beach of sand.  I remember my first year at Cardigan, right out of college.  I was a wreck.  It was awful.  I couldn’t control the students and was teaching courses I knew very little about.  Things got better though as I grew a bit wiser.  Much has changed about me and the school at which I’ve worked at for the past several years.  Cardigan has changed me, and hopefully I’ve left my mark on this fine educational institution.  While I’m moving onto a new school for the next academic year, I will bring much of what I’ve learned in my time here, to my new school.

As I hop and skip down memory lane in my final days here on the Point, it’s prudent that I reflect on my progress as an educator this year.  Did I meet my professional goals?  Did I grow as a teacher?  How’d I do in the classroom?

It was an awesome year in the sixth grade.  My students made much progress both socially and academically, due in part to the strong program my co-teacher and I created this year.  We helped the boys work through communication and coexistence issues while also helping them to develop as readers, writers, critical thinkers, and problem solvers.

I tried a few new things this year that I felt went very well…

  • The mindfulness curriculum that my co-teacher and I developed and implemented during the fall term and throughout the year seemed to really help focus the students mentally and socially.  While by the end of the year, they did joke a bit with each other about it.  “Make sure you are mindful now boys,” they would say to one another, which is great because it means that they got it, they see the power in living in the present moment, staying calm, and avoiding external and internal distractions.
  • I created a unit on Figurative Language for my Humanities class that I used during the spring term.  During the past several years, I’ve used the same unit on the Middle East region during the final academic term of the year.  While I’ve enjoyed this unit and feel as though the students do get a lot out of it, I always wondered if I was properly preparing them to think critically about literature.  In the past, I have focused mostly on basic reading and writing strategies and skills, and have found that some of my students do not feel prepared for the rigors of seventh grade English class.  As the expectations are ratcheted up quite a bit, the students are expected to know how to analyze literature.  So, I changed my final unit of the year so that I could help my students be and feel more prepared for life in the seventh grade.  It was so much fun, and probably my most favorite unit of the year.  Every piece of Humanities class fit together so perfectly during this unit, from our Idiom of the Day bellringers to our class read aloud and poetry activities.  It was awesome.  The students had a blast learning how to make their writing more colorful and creative while also learning how to interpret figurative language used in works of literature.
  • Our big field trip of the year to Chewonki in Maine was a huge success.  While the boys seemed to not enjoy it in the moment, as it was hard and asked them to step way outside of their comfort zone, they are already beginning to see the great benefits and fun that came from this great experience.  This was a completely new trip for the sixth grade, but I was ready for a change as we had been going to the same place in Cape Cod for nine years.  Chewonki was that change, and boy was it a great change at that.

I also met my two professional goals that I set way back in October of last year…

  • I want to gather data on how rubrics and project introductions help promote or reduce the amount of creativity students are able to put into their work so that I can begin to understand how to best introduce a new task or assignment to my students.
    • After much work on this topic throughout the year, I’ve realized that my original hypothesis is correct and that rubrics are futile tools that simply steal creativity and critical thinking opportunities from students.  The only group that I found in my research that gets any use out of a rubric is the ESL students, as rubrics tend to use simple English language that is manageable for them to process easily and quickly.  Mission accomplished.
  • I want to incorporate ideas and skills covered during our Mindfulness Unit in Team Time and our Brain Unit from PEAKS class into my Humanities class.
    • While I didn’t necessarily do this as much as I would have liked to have done it and, perhaps, as meaningfully, I do feel as though I did accomplish this goal.  We incorporated mindfulness activities into our study skills class at least once a week during the spring term.  We had the students complete a guided meditation that we led before having them share how others have helped them or how they have helped others in the class.  These activities helped to focus the students while allowing them to develop compassion and gratitude.  I also made use of the big ideas behind mindfulness, including growth mindset, perspective, and open-mindedness, in my Humanities class throughout the year.  Every part of our curriculum came down to helping them broaden their perspective as a way to be more kind, compassionate, and thoughtful, and I reminded them of that often in class.  Although I wish I could have met with the students at the start of the academic day daily, our schedule didn’t allow for that.  Had it though, I would have conducted a Class Meeting that contained a mindfulness activity as well as some student sharing.  My goal is to make use of this type of Morning Meeting on a daily basis in my classroom at my new school starting in August.

Thinking back on the year as a whole, it felt very productive, and I feel as though I did a great job helping my students to grow and develop as students and people.  Yes, it is hard to say goodbye to my current school, but I’m doing so on good and positive terms.  It’s time for me to move on and start a new adventure.  I now have much to do this summer to prepare for the next academic year at my new school.  I can’t wait to start jumping into things in a few short weeks.  For now though, I will live in the present moment and make the most of the time I have left at my current school.  Until the summer when I will inevitably be reflecting on life at my new school, I’m out.

My Baccalaureate Speech to the Ninth Graders

This afternoon, I gave the faculty address during the Baccalaureate Service celebrating the ninth graders, who will be graduating from my fine school in a few short days.  I feel as though it summarizes my thoughts and feelings on this time of year very well, while also allowing me another chance to reflect on my 15 years here on the Point.  So, here it is…


Thank you Mr. Nowak for providing me with this wonderful opportunity to speak to you all this afternoon under the big top tent.  I feel like the ringmaster of some really cool traveling circus. “Behold, ladies and gentlemen, the amazing and talented ninth grade class of the 2017-2018 academic year at Cardigan Mountain School.  They can breathe fire, thanks to the spicy hot sauce available on almost every table in the Commons. They can walk the tightrope, thanks to the rigorous academic program here on the Point. But, hold onto your hats, because their greatest trick is yet to come.  What they have in store for us all is guaranteed to wow and impress. Now, we just wait as these young men sitting before us all grow and develop into adults who will one day, change the world, make a difference, and perhaps even learn how to swallow a sword.”

Well, that was fun.  If only I had an awesome top hat and sweet red jacket like P.T. Barnum.  

This afternoon, as you all try very hard not to fall asleep, I will share some wisdom and stories with you, and yes, even a very special poem.  Ninth graders, as you look back on your time here on the Point, I want you to think about everything you’ve learned about life, school, and yourself.  How have you changed? How has Cardigan changed you?

With this being my final year at CMS, I’ve been doing much reflecting as I’m sure all of you have as well.  15 years is a long time. I’ve eaten over 5,000 meals in the dining hall, both the old and new one, I’ve worked under 5 different headmasters, I’ve printed over 10,000 sheets of paper on the school’s printers, and I’ve worked with thousands of students.  In all this time, I have learned so much that I will be taking with me, that I don’t have to pack into boxes, thank heavens for that.

So, I’m now going to share a few of the many wonderful nuggets of learning that I have gained in my time here at Cardigan:

  1. When going to the bathroom, be sure to zip up afterwards.  Picture this, I’m in the midst of calming my rambunctious eighth grade students down to teach them some Spanish.  Yes, I was a Spanish teacher, and no I don’t speak a lick of Spanish. Things were very different during my first year here on the Point.  So, I’m trying to get the boys to write the homework in their planbooks, but they seem oddly excited, and some of them are giggling like sixth graders when someone passes gas.  Finally, I turn to the ring leader in the group, who ended up being the School Leader the following year and said, “Jay, what is the problem? Why is it so hard to just focus and do what I’m asking of you?”  With a smile on his face, he said, “Because your fly is down Mr. Holt.” Embarrassing. To this day, I triple check my zipper when leaving the restroom. In fact, I even checked it before walking onto this very stage.  
  2. Maple syrup is the nectar of the Gods.  I’m talking about the fake stuff, not that real thin stuff that tastes like it came out of a tree.  Prior to my time at Cardigan, I liked maple syrup, but I never fully appreciated its versatility as a condiment.  It goes great in coffee, adding that mapley-flavor. It’s amazing as a donut topper, egg covering, and oatmeal mixer.  The possibilities regarding maple syrup are endless. If you haven’t given this wonderful treat a try in your time here on the Point, please be sure to do so before graduation day.
  3. Rivets are those tiny metal things on the pockets of some pants.  In my 15 years here at Cardigan, the dress code has changed immensely.  Several years ago, we had a rule about pants. You couldn’t wear pants with rivets.  Being relatively new to the school and dress codes in general, I had no idea what a rivet was.  So, I looked it up and then realized that most of my pants had rivets on them. And so, back to the thrift store I went.  While many of you out there wish we didn’t have a dress code here, we do so for a multitude of reasons, the most important ones being mindset and external message.  When you wear specific clothes, a message is sent to those who see you. When you put on fancy slacks and a shirt with buttons you are sending a message of focus and dedication.  This same message is translated to your brain as well in a way that helps you put forth your best effort at all times. It’s hard, I know, but the best things in life only come through hard work.
  4. iPads are not a viable substitute for laptops in the classroom.  Just ask some of the boys from my sixth grade class a few years ago.  On the first day of classes, we tried to sync up the external keyboards to the iPad, not realizing that the iPads would all be able to digitally see every other keyboard in the classroom aside from their own.  It was bedlam.
  5. When meeting a famous person for the first time, don’t tell him or her how poorly their son is doing in school.  There I am, meeting Cyndi Lauper for the first time, and I’m so ready to have some fun. Then she has to go and ask how her son is doing in my class.  “He is struggling a bit and needs to put forth more effort,” I responded. The conversation went downhill from there. Needless to say, there is no more fun to be had with Cyndi Lauper, and I never got her autograph.
  6. Not all food is meant for everyone.  Meatballs are my achilles heel. I believe the year was 2007, February Parents’ Weekend.  Excitement was in the air. Long Weekend was almost here and parents littered the campus like tiny lawn gnomes.  After a full day of parent-teacher conferences, I made my way to the old dining hall in Hayward and grabbed a huge plate of spaghetti and meatballs.  I used to love meatballs back then. They tasted divine. The moist meat melted in my mouth like candy. Delicious! But sadly, I can no more enjoy these delectable treats.  You see, later that same evening, as I was watching a movie with the boys in the French two Common Room, my stomach began to rumble and I suddenly became very ill. The meatballs vacated my body in a most volcanic manner.  It was an unpleasant evening and next day, to say the least. No more meatballs for me. When I see them on the hotbar, I still get a bit queasy.
  7. And finally, number 7.  I love the number seven.  Just ask any member of Family 34, I’m always thinking of the number 7.  Relationships are a powerful force. In all of my years here at CMS, I’ve made numerous lasting relationships with both students and faculty.  Just like I’m sure you boys will, I treasure the friends I’ve made in my time here at Cardigan. I do so love it when former students of mine return to the Point to visit and say hello.  A few weeks ago, a former student of mine, Myles Beach randomly showed up in the doorway of my classroom and said, “I thought I heard Mr. Holt’s voice.” After catching up on personal stories, we went down Memory Lane as Myles told the current sixth graders all about the time he and another student got in a bit of a scuffle on our Cape Cod Trip.  In the story, he said, “I didn’t think Mr. Holt was that strong, but then he came and pulled us off of each other like Superman.” It’s nice to think that in his version of the story I was strong and calm because in the moment, I was very weak, I could barely lift Myles off of Will.

So, now it’s your turn ninth graders.  What are you going to take away with you when you depart campus in a few short days?  What has your time here at Cardigan taught you? What memories will you hold near and dear to your heart?  Be sure to take some time in the coming days, weeks, and months to reflect on your Cardigan experience, as it’s different for everyone.

As we need to now move on with the festivities, I leave you all with a throwback to my Birthday Poems from ages past, before the fun Birthday Song of today.

My Ode to Cardigan and the Ninth Grade Class

One of my favorite cartoons growing up,

Was the Care Bears because,

they were all filled with so much love

That they couldn’t contain it inside themselves,

and so they needed

To release it from their bellies.

Cheer Bear shot rainbows from his stomach

While Funshine bear projected rays

of sunshine from his midsection.

As our time together on the Point

Draws to a close,

I’m sending you all out

Special powers that will allow you,

Like the Care Bears

To shoot hot rays of green and white

From your tummies whenever

You think long and hard about

This wonderful place in Canaan.

Imagine that, you’re walking down the street

And suddenly, BAM

Green and white laser beams

Shoots out of your belly button.

How cool would that be?  

EPIC!

 

Congratulations Ninth graders and thank you for not falling asleep.