Long Distance JourneysRead Now
On June 10th, 2007 in Lake Placid, NY, on a fantastic early summer morning I ran my first marathon. This marathon feat taught me a great deal. To prepare for 26.2 miles, six months was going to be tough, especially after running no more than 3 in my life. What made it seem possible was watching the NYC marathon in person, I envisioned myself running the streets being cheered on by spectators as I, myself, was doing the cheering that day. I began to lay out a training plan with small steps and goals. Over the next six months I would overcome various obstacles that could’ve hindered me from finishing.
I dealt with days of many excuses, but my biggest obstacle was an injured T-band. My T-band caused me to lose a month of training. Race day was fast approaching. I learned a great deal through my training, yet I ended up learning far more than diet and exercise.
I learned valuable life lessons of having persistence, finding motivation, and dealing with and overcoming adversity. I felt despite the training hurdles I experienced I could still accomplish this mounting feat because of my constant sight on the goal and optimistic attitude. The life lessons I learned through my training would come into play on race day.
There it was the starting line. After all the hours of iPod music and "sole" pounding, it was time to bask in the moment of the Lake Placid Marathon. I was 26.2 miles from completing my goal. Two miles in, a kid comes out to high five me, wow! Nice downhill stretch, great! Halfway and on pace, stay focused! Slowing down, not many runners in sight, finding motivation! Mile 18 the cramps begin, stop and stretch. Every few hundred yards, stop and stretch, persistence. With 5 miles to go, calf muscles clinch, I fall to the pavement in pain. The cramp won’t seize. Finally to my feet I begin towards the finish line, overcoming adversity. I ascend the last hill, crossing the finish line. Emotions of fulfillment and satisfaction overcome the pain and exhaustion – barely. I learned a lot running 26.2 miles. I had more confidence than ever before, and I knew there were many more feats to come. As my shirt read, I was a FINISHER.
With my marathon story told, I don’t think it’s complete. I feel my marathon has many more lessons to give not only to me, but to others as well. I am proud to have accomplished this goal. It has helped me through my first two years of teaching in many ways. In the classroom I expect my students to be focused, find motivation, to persist through excuses, and overcome adversity. I expected my students to be FINISHERS of their own.
Last weekend, 5 years after completing my first and only marathon I ran my first half marathon, after being asked by a friend to lace up the running shoes again. The two hours in Danbury on a cool Spring morning reinforced what I had realized the first time running; with persistence, motivation, and dealing with adversity, I know success can occur. As I continue to pursue a new teaching position and build my maze business I will remind myself of these race days. Teaching and running a business are both long-distance journeys. But, with focus, persistence, motivation, and overcoming adversity I know I will be meet my goals and be a FINISHER yet again.
For the Kids:Read Now
Eleven years ago, freshman year at The Ohio State University I came across an opportunity. An opportunity to help create this new event. An event unlike anything seen at OSU, the brainchild of Rosa Ailabouni. Rosa wanted to have a dance marathon that raised money for a beneficiary. The beneficiary became Children's Hospital. This was something I wanted to get involved with, this was something I needed to be a part of.
Fast forward 15 months later. Over a year of laying the foundation and building the structure, planning each minute and dissecting each second the 26-hour Party with a Purpose was underway. We were thrilled to have about 80 dancers that fundraised for weeks and months, for the kids. I remember being up 41 hours to setup, run the event, and tear down - but it was worth it. We set the bar, once a vision of a student, BuckeyeThon came to realization and raised over $32,000 by the time the music ended.
Fast forward 10 years. The event known as BuckeyeThon had gone through many changes and evolved into a premiere campus event at Ohio State. The heart and soul put into this event by students and advisors through the years, for the kids, helped place BuckeyeThon as one of the top Children's Miracle Network Dance Marathons in the country. THON at Penn State is the pinnacle, and what they have done for kids every year for the past 40+ years is quite remarkable.
Fast forward to this past week. On our winter break, I made a trip back to Ohio and it just happened to coincide with the 11th annual BuckeyeThon. I was so excited to finally get back and see what this event has become, especially after last year's $225,000+ fundraising mark. What I got to experience on February 25th-26th still leaves me speechless and full of pride. The energy, the passion, the excitement, the mission to help kids. We struggled to get 80 dancers in year one, at BuckeyeThon 2012 they had over 1800 cheering on the kids, dancing for the kids, and going "nuts" for the kids. No dance marathon ever doubled their total, yet BuckeyeThon did that last year...and for the kids...they did it again! An astonishing total of over $454,000 was unveiled, as the new bar, as the new unprecendented mark of accomplishment for this vision that began almost 12 years ago. Well done BuckeyeThon - thank you for making the efforts of the past worth it, and for laying a new foundation for the future. For the Kids.
Another event for the kids started last year. An opportunity arose to participate in the 1st annual Camp Games for a Cause. This philanthropic event in New York City raises money to send underprivileged kids to summer camp, for an unforgettable life experience.
This event can grow and have the same success and impact on kids as BuckeyeThon, with your help. I again will be participating in this year's Camp Games for a Cause. Please join me in supporting this event: Every dollar counts!
Please donate for the kids!
Special Educator Attrition and Inclusion
Obviously, becoming a skillful special education teacher requires years of experience, as well as ongoing professional development. However, there is a chronic special education shortage in the United States (McLeskey et al, 2004). Because of this shortage, socioeconomic diversity in future cohorts of special education teachers is tenuous.During the 1990s, the population of students with special needs rose significantly; however, the number of special educators in the United States failed to rise accordingly.
Teacher attrition pays a big role in special educator shortages nationwide (McLeskey et al, 2004). Quoting an Ingersoll study (2001), McLeskey reiterates that special educators are more likely to either leave the profession, or move to another position as general educators. Teachers who transfer to general education mention lack of student gains, low administrative support, and a heavy paperwork load as reasons for leaving special education.
Ensuring special education teacher quality is admittedly a more complicated task (Brownell et al. 2009). Special educators surveyed in their first year seemed unprepared to teach literacy effectively. Brownell et al. point to several reasons for this perceived lack of preparedness on the park of special educators. One of the most far-reaching suggestions the researchers make is that the nature of special education certification programs hinders special education teachers from doing more effective, targeted interventions. Because most special education teachers are prepared through teacher education programs that target students between kindergarten and 12th grade, special educators are exposed to a broad spectrum of potential teaching techniques. However, Brownell et. al. suspect this broadened scope of study comes at the detriment of a more specific focus for special educators during their teacher training that could lead to me effective teaching practices earlier on. Like general educators, turnover for special educators is especially hight during the first few years of teaching. However, "far more special educators transfer to general education than vice versa. teachers (Brownell at al. 2009)."
For contemporary special educators, general education remains an attractive alternative to the diverse, sometimes frustratingly confusing world of special education roles within collaborative and self-contained classrooms. Nonetheless as we have seen, both general and special education teacher perceive their respective positions to lacking in support and coherency.
Contributing Factors to Success of Inclusion
Teacher perception, training, and administrative support all influence the success of an inclusion setting. These factors all tie into making the student feel like a member of the class, which translates to a higher degree of attention and motivation to learn. Over the past decade, there has been increased pressure to educate special education students in general education classrooms (Weiss and Lloyd 2002). The movement towards the inclusion model stems primarily from IDEA’s emphasis on promoting the least restrictive environment for students. As a result, team teaching, or collaborative team teaching, has gained in popularity, particularly in public schools in New York City. While the team-teaching model may be gaining more visibility, critics remain. One of the biggest challenges in current special education is successfully implementing the co-teaching model, and carving a place for both general and special education teachers to use best practices in the classroom.
Successful implementation starts with teacher training, positive teacher perception, and ongoing administrative support. “Staff development or training is considered to be one of the key factors in not only the success of implementing inclusion, but it is regarded as one of the reasons for its continued success,” (Raj, 2002). General education teachers often worried about low efficacy when trying to serve all students in inclusion settings. They cited lack of training and professional development opportunities, as well as a lack of planning time with special educators, as two of the biggest reasons for this lack of confidence. “Training should include awareness level presentations, skill practice workshops, follow up lessons on application, and dialogue,” (Raj, 2002). For inclusion to work, general education teachers must feel empowered, supported, and most importantly, involved in both the referral process and the delivery of services.
The support comes from the administration whether directly or indirectly. “When attempting to implement inclusion in the schools, the administration must attempt to include the teachers in the change process,” (Raj, 2002). Teachers forced into a situation where they haven’t had an opportunity to take ownership through personal opinions and ideas will generate resistance. This is very similar to forcing a student into a classroom environment where they don’t have the opportunity to take ownership through generating the class rules or guidelines. Resistance is more likely to occur in this situation because there was no student buy-in. Just like students, teachers need the opportunity to feel they have some ownership of the environment or situation to allow buy-in and create a successful inclusion setting. “The role of the school administration in preparing for inclusion must capture the individual talents of each discipline and then be able to capitalize on those talents into forming an environment of shared responsibility for student learning,” (Raj, 2002). Overall through staff training and development, in conjunction with the administrative support in allowing teachers ownership opportunities of the setting, then the inclusion environment can flourish. The school leadership is vital to inclusion succeeding or failing, prinicipals piece together collogegues and make important decisions about student placement, teacher training, and the overall attitude towards inclusion. As Michael Raj stated in 2002, “One should not underestimate the influential power of the schools’ leadership. The support and leadership of principals has been documented as integral for successful school change…and successful inclusion.”
50 Actions for HappinessRead Now
It's Random Acts of Kindness Week! Have you filled a random parking meter? Have you written a note to a random person at work? Have you given your seat upgrades randomly away? So many great acts of kindness to choose from - get started today!
"When we give to others it activates the areas of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust. Altruistic behaviour releases endorphins in the brain and boosts happiness for us as well as the people we help. Studies have shown that giving money away tends to make people happier than spending it on themselves."
I recently came across this in-depth, tangible list of action steps on how exactly to pursue "happiness". For this week, Random Acts of Kindness Week, numbers 2, 5, and 14 are great to begin with. Thanks to Action for Happiness for the action list, I can't wait to hear what you all do - an remember a High Five goes a long way!
Go get your random on! It's Random Act of Kindness Week....Month...Life!
High Five LifeRead Now
We often think of giving high fives after a little league game in congratulations, while watching our favorite team score, or amongst friends after a great joke.
Giving a high five is infectious, it's an agreement between two people, a bond shared through a simple gesture of slapping hands. If you think about it, aren't most people smiling when a high five takes place. Positivity. Nothing signals positivity more than a high five and a smile.
Did you ever want to burst into a mini dance party after landing a new client, selling a product, meeting a goal, earning an "A", finishing your taxes, cooking a fantastic meal, getting somewhere on time, completing a workout, finishing an interview, cashing a check, saving money, or cleaning the house? Celebrations need to be more common. Everywhere and at anytime - lift someone up with a quick high five, share a personal accomplishment with a hand slap and smile - why not?
You can change the environment of your workplace by a simple 2 second high five. Think if you just completed a sales report, or taught a great lesson the class really connected with, or finished your mail route and you found a co-worker and simply high-fived them. You feel great for the accomplishment, you feel better because you got to share it, and that co-worker is now infected with your positivity - which will probably ripple into their own work. They might even continue the gesture with someone else when they have an accomplishment of their own. Behold the power of the ripple effect, and in conjunction with positivity - anything is possible.
Start high-fiving life. Beginning the day with high fives at home will set the tone for you and your family for their days. At school, envision a class continuously sharing in one another's accomplishments with high-fives and smiles. I guarantee the level of learning increases and more and more students will be succeeding because of that positive environment. This can be replicated in any workplace...even Congress! At the gym, athletic events, out to eat, most importantly at home and at work start high-fiving life. Let the high five revolution begin...it just might change the world.
I was writing this portion of my post earlier today, then ironically came across this video which connects much of my viewpoints that follow.
My takeaways from the educational field
Belief: Teacher recruiting programs are bringing real-world professionals to the education field and having a positive impact on students.
Fact: These teachers quickly leave the education field due to lack of quality professional development/support and continual budget cuts.
Hope: Teachers will take pay cuts, supply cuts, cuts in benefits, and cuts in public support and remain in what should be one of the most respected jobs in the world.
Fact: Qualified teachers are leaving the profession
Fact: Substitute teachers pay is being cut - My Westchester District cuts
Fact: Tutoring is one of the largest growing industries because of parents' declining trust in our education system.
"Tutoring is a $4 billion business, and that figure is rising. It has become a staple of the middle class, with millions of students in both public and private schools using one-on-one tutors as well as supplementary education centers like Kaplan, Princeton Review, and Kumon. Once an upper-class phenomenon, tutoring is now becoming so pervasive it is arguably changing the face of American education. While competitive pressures have never been greater for students, many educators say the change is also due to the No Child Left Behind law. The law, which requires schools identified as failing to provide tutoring, has proved to be a boon to the tutoring industry." (NPR.org)
Fact: Teachers are doing more work than ever to sustain students' interest and counteract the standardized test movement. The battle to cohesively merge differentiation and data driven standardized instruction is priority for teachers to have success and have administrative approval.
Goal: to prepare "each and every student for higher education and success in the 21st century".
Reality: each and every student is falling further and further behind the raised bar of expectations set globally.
"American students made modest gains in science and math, but still lag significantly behind their counterparts around the world...American students scored below the OECD average of 496. The countries outperforming the US include Finland – perennially a top-shower on PISA, along with Korea – Belgium, Estonia, Iceland,France, and the Slovak Republic, among others. US students scored higher than those in just five OECD countries: Greece, Israel, Turkey, Chile, and Mexico." (CSMonitor.com)
For the sake of our economic future, education desperately needs to be a larger part of the presidential debate and and beyond until the reality and facts match the hopes and dreams.
Random Act of 10 Thank YousRead Now
It's almost here, one of my favorite times of the year...no not groundhog day, it's Random Act of Kindness Week (Feb 13th-19th)! Where the possibilities are endless gratitude can be carried well beyond this designated week. I see it as a "reminder" week to reinvigorate and brainstorm new ways to help others in the most random yet beneficial ways.
One thing I'm going to make a concerted effort to do is give thank you cards to people whom impact your life indirectly. I've generated a list of potential recipients of your random act of thank you...the biggest thing is to keep it anonymous, then the power of the message won't be blurred, it becomes even stronger!
1. TEACHERS - of course, anytime and all the time teachers deserve a note of gratitude, especially during a post-holiday lull where a little anonymous card in their mailbox will give a boost that will last longer than you might think.
2. PARTY PLANNER - did they ever truly know how great a time you had?
3. CHILDREN - let them know, it might be the words of encouragement that sets them soaring.
4. PERSONAL TRAINER - thank them for the pain and suffering, yet rewarding experiences they've put you through!
5. ACCOUNTANT - do they know how much you understand the pressure they are under in managing your money?
6. REAL ESTATE AGENT - do they truly know how much you love your new place and how much of a help they were in the process?
7. FAVORITE SERVER - does he/she understand how much you value their customer service?
8. CO-WORKER that you haven't always agreed with, a small note could flip that mindset around and this year would be the best yet!
9. VETERANARIAN - tell them how you feel about the work they do for animals and how much that affects the families of those animals.
10. FACEBOOK FRIEND - randomly select one and send a note that powerfully impacts that person in the most positive way.
Possibilities are endless, it's in your hands.
Purchase Thank You maze cards here - Mazes of the Century Card Aisle
What does service mean to you?Read Now
Service epitomizes who I am. Service is one thing I never want to stop doing. I always had a desire to help others, but the more I participate in events, organizations, and the education of others the more that desire grows.
There are so many avenues to serve, so many in need of our service. How can only 23% of high schoolers in Newark graduate without the service of others? It's not just Newark, and it's not just urban populations - there are students from all of our neighborhoods that could use a tutor or mentor to give them the ability to overcome what the educational system has not given them. City Year is an organization I was apart of and truly gained a larger appreciation for the effect service has on communities. Join an Americorps organization, tutoring company, or Big Brothers Big Sisters and start helping the kids in your town today.
Are you more interested in the environment or cleanliness of your surroundings? Many organizations are available to get out and put some nature in your life. Whether its freshening up old garden beds at the park, clearing trash and clutter from the vacant lot, starting a neighborhood compost, or painting a mural, these acts of service not only help facilitate change in a town, change in fellow citizens' attitudes, but also change in you. The impact beyond others but for you increases the more you get out and serve. You feel better about yourself because you are helping others, you are more active therefore healthier, but also you are serving with others and gaining friendships and relationships that impact your well-being for the long-term. The benefits are endless.
Making a long-term impact can begin in the political realm of service as well. Participating within your chosen political party's events, campaigns, rallys is an act of service with ramifications for many generations. Deal with the inequality of education, the need for more green space in your community, or funds for a cause you are passionate about through political service.
So many avenues of service are open and ready for you to drive down that road of giving back. Whether it's education, environmental, political, or one of the many other alternatives I have found that doing something you are passionate about makes service that much more rewarding. There are many in need of our efforts, let the ripple of service continue. What have you done to serve? How has service impacted you and others? Let's ALL serve ALL.
Here are a few sites I've come across recently and have taken many return trips back to as well. Let me know if you are a fan of any of these or if you find them useful.
This one is great in many ways for many different people. Whether you need cheap marketing for your business or have a personal task you need done, heck even if you want a funny, unusual gift this place has those options and more. Fiverr lets you hire people to complete tasks for $5 - fast and convenient, I'll definitely be back here.
With blogs, articles, and videos from the world's top thinkers this site definitely gets you thinking (outside the box). If you're looking for some real, substantial knowledge in this world of lackluster, over-hyped gossip then Big Think works. Big Think could also be great for teachers in the classroom, I could see many projects developing based on some of these article topics.
With a bombardment of travel sites to choose from, Hipmunk keeps things simple. Flight searches with an easily understood layout - enough said.
Summer Tomato is a blog with a unique perspective of food and health, from a science standpoint. Loaded with tips, tricks, recipes, and explanations behind it all - if you're looking for better ways to meet your New Year's resolutions check out this blog.
Also be sure to check out my new mazes, including a 2012 Calendar.
Mazes of the Century - personalized, mind-boggling mazes
This year as I was writing my New Year's Resolutions I created categories to ensure I was covering all aspects of my life and made sure I had one goal for each.
Professional (job, volunteering)
Educational (skill building, classes/learning)
Spiritual (mental lifestyle, religion, etc)
Financial (debt, goal purchase, donations)
FUN (play guitar, concert, sporting event, skydive, etc)
One thing I've learned through my many endeavors over the years is when goals are made, more is achieved. The more time spent deliberately creating specific goals, the likelihood of it being reached is greater. For those educators out there, we refer to them as S.M.A.R.T. goals.
Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
Lots of you have written, or lack thereof, personal goals over the past few days in light of the new year. Go back and check to see if your goals are SMART.
SPECIFIC: answer the Who, What, When, Where, Why and you're well on your way to having a specific goal and meeting the first criteria of a SMART goal.
MEASURABLE: how are you going to know you have reached your goal? What does that look like? TIP: Break it down into monthly or weekly mini goals.
ATTAINABLE: find something you love to do, where's your passion? Exercising might not motivate you, but if you love playing basketball or swimming or yoga - focus your goal around your passions and they will become much more attainable.
REALISTIC: is your goal going to stretch your comfort zone, yet still within reach? Flying to the moon this year might be unrealistic but you could go to space camp, take astronomy classes, take flying lessons, etc.
TIMELY: motivation to accomplish a task increases when there's a deadline. Be specific about when you will reach your goal. TIP: All your goals shouldn't be year-long, make each goal different therefore you always have a deadline right around the corner. Ex: pay off student loan by may 15th, run 5k on august 21st, save $1200 for Christmas Vacation ($100 each month - small goals).
Here's one of mine:
I will learn to play 2 songs fluently on the Harmonica by June 1st by practicing at least one hour every weekend.
Specific? yes. Measurable? yes. Attainable? yes. Realistic? yes. Timely? yes.
Good Luck with your SMART goals - let me know your goals and progress!
For more details and examples of SMART goals check out these links:
Happy New Year! My 2012 Calendar is now available - use it to track your goals!
Middle School SpEd teacher, maze designer, tech club director, social media seeker, idealist, avid volunteer, sports/tv addict, living the moment