Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Be Brave

I am an upbeat person and typically listen to upbeat music to get myself ready for the workday. The two genres that energize me most are hair band metal and today’s pop music. Think Bon Jovi and Motley Crue meet Katy Perry and Lorde. These genres put me in a good place, and I feel ready to take on the day. (Don’t judge).

I was listening to a song by Sara Bareilles titled “Brave” this morning. There was a line that hit home for me:

“Say what you wanna’ say
And let the words fall out.
Honestly, I wanna’ see you be brave.”

I wondered the rest of the day: how often am I brave in education? I think I am with my teaching: I stay current in my research on best practice and am always looking to integrate new learning into the classroom. I continually invest in myself by reading my PLN’s education blogs, attend conferences, co-moderate and participate in Twitter #edchats, write, and co-direct a region of a valued professional educational organization. But, do I invest in myself and others when it’s difficult, when I may face initial isolation for my honesty, when it’s harder for me to be brave?

Bravery as an educator (to me) means the willingness to be open and honest with peers when discussing best practice. I believe I need to be brave and willing to disagree respectfully with the hope that through this dialogue my fellow educators and I will both grow in a backdrop of honesty. This means we “say what you wanna’ say, and let the words fall out.”

When we do this, we aren’t being unprofessional or judging one another. Instead, we’re willing to have the hard conversation. It isn’t personal to us, it’s about personalizing the learning and making it relevant to the children we serve. Because, isn’t that why we went into education in the first place -- to make a difference with students and their parents? To change things for the better, so others could have a better overall educational experience than we had?

Bravery as an educator to me also means the willingness to be direct and honest with the parents’ of children who need it. It’s not easy to sit with a parent and explain why their child isn’t behaving in class, producing quality work, or making good choices. However, if we want to make the difference we told ourselves when we went into this field, then we need to have this conversation. Daily, if need be. Because if we don’t, not only are we not being brave, but we’re not honoring the educators who did invest positively in us and the lives of others.

Martin Luther King Jr. stated in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, that “The architects of the constitution wrote a promissory note...instead of honoring this sacred obligation...America defaulted on this check….which came back marked insufficient funds.”

When we make decisions that impact children and their families, let’s make sure that those deposits we make in them never come back insufficient. That’s not brave. And, I think whether someone listens to Sara Bareilles or not, we can all agree that the more honest and real we are in our relationships, the more satisfied we all will be. Then, when we “let the words fall out,” we’ll be ready for them. And, we’ll hear them the way they’re meant to be heard. (Now you can judge).

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Put Yourself in the Center of the Circle

When I began teaching thirteen years ago, I was told by my cooperating teacher that I needed to be an actor: “You’re on stage all day. You need to show energy, enthusiasm, and engage others, even if you don’t feel it.” My cooperating teacher was right about a lot of things, except for her point about being on stage: at this point in my career, I know the spotlight should be on the students, and and I should guide them from the side, as needed. Which was why as I entered the center of the circle during our Morning Meeting group activity, I was very conflicted.

I didn’t feel like I belonged there. Another student should. So, how did I find myself in the center during the group activity Description? My students asked me to go, but why did I listen? I was caught off-guard and couldn’t find a reason not to go in the middle. Three students huddled together and wrote something on an index card. Then, they taped it to my back. I stood up, shuffling within the area of the circle, so each student could see what was written on my back. Everyone, but me.

Description is like 21 Questions, the person in the middle will ask a question, and the members in the circle can answer with a yes or no. Occasionally they will tell someone, “that’s not a good question.” We modify the activity so that the person asking the question has three to five minutes to figure out the word on his or her back. Keep it quick.

The words on someone’s back connect to where we are in the curriculum. I use this as our jumping off point, or anticipatory set, for when we get to the topic mentioned in Description. The two words written and guessed prior to me standing up were: Andrew Jackson (where we are in Social Studies), followed by pizza (what Maniac Magee is allergic to in the Jerry Spinelli book we’re using as mentor text).

I began by asking if the word taped to my back was a place. (it wasn’t). Thing. (no). So, I knew it was a person. As I asked question after question, the students laughed, giggled, smiled, and all raised their hands. They were engaged, and I felt good.

I got the answer correct within the three to five minute grace period. The answer related to an inside joke we shared this year. It was unimportant. What was important was the feeling I had being in the center of the circle. I realized that it’s okay as the teacher to sometimes put yourself in the center of the circle. It drove up the energy level for the balance of our morning. When I guessed the word correctly, the children let out a loud cheer. It was almost deafening. I wanted to phone the teachers to the right and left of me and apologize. I didn’t want to interfere with their instruction.

By allowing myself to be in the center I connected to the students differently: I understood why they enjoy this activity, how challenging it is thinking of questions that give information, yet can only be answered with a “yes” or “no”, and to have all eyes focused on you. That can be pretty uncomfortable.

I still made sure to let the students guide the learning. They chose the word, they answered my questions, and when I seemed puzzled, they provided support: “You’re on the right track, Mr. Saide,” one said. “Go back, and think about what you know so far,” another stated. “That’s a good question, Mr. Saide,” said a third. Their positive language was a reminder that they know how to present themselves when talking to others.

As the rest of the morning unfolded, I realized how lucky I was to be a teacher in this room, with this group of kids, and what a superb moment I just shared with them: they had showed initiative by asking me to go to the center of the circle. This had never happened with any other class in the seven years since I integrating Morning Meeting into the day. Students guided my questioning approach when needed, and followed the Morning Meeting guidelines they created as we participated together. They acted as I’d taught them to.

At some point, you’ll have an opportunity to go to the center of the circle. Maybe, you’ll have a lot of opportunities. Every once in awhile, take it. You may just like how it feels.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

PLN Challenge (Redux x 2)

So, I was nominated three more times for the Meme 11. This brings me to five times, total. I have to be honest my friends, I'm not that interesting. Wasn't Prom King. Didn't get Valedictorian. Never won that power lifting competition. Nor, did I medal in the submarine sandwich eating contest. (though I trained my rear end off for that one).

With that being said, I am taking a page out of +Ben Gilpin's book, I will mine my soul to share 11 more things about myself (we're in the dregs here), and put +Kim Hurd, +Kristen Wilson, and +Megan Stamer's questions together in one big blob. Then, I'll answer them, too.

Goodness, I hope someone reads this.

Kim was one of my first Twitter friends. She is helpful, kind, and always has a good word. I don't know how she keeps it so positive, and so real. Great woman.

Kristen and I share a desire to verbalize ourselves through our words, yet feel hamstrung by them, as our writing doesn't always communicate our spirit. We prefer to listen and learn from others. Listening to others gives us time to process and construct our own meaning. Then, we share. Only, Kristen is smarter.

Megan is one of my newest Twitter friends, and is a new addition to NJASCD North. I've seen her at EdCamps and unconferences. I'm glad she is enthusiastic and has the passion to learn. We're going to put her to work, utilize that energy, and build something great together. The future is bright in NJ education with Megan.

Here is my third round of 11 facts about me. (Remember, we're scraping for stuff here):

1. I REALLY liked the Facts of Life TV show growing up. A little too much. I wanted to marry Nancy McKeon. I was six or seven. I thought if you liked someone, you married them. I would've been divorced A LOT with the mindset I had then.

2. I always wanted a Coleco Vision. It came out after the Atari 2600, Inellivision, and before the Atari 7800. I still want one. Turns out, they're hard to find, as they weren't big sellers back in the day. Now, they are REALLY expensive. I blame my parents for this, as I could have a cool game console that is totally out of date, could play with my kids (they'd probably be uninterested), and it would be worth money!

3. I used to pass notes to people in school all the time. And, not just to girls. I really liked getting notes, reading them, learning more about people, and writing back. It was odd then, as my guy friends were like, "What's your deal, dude? We're in high school. You want me to WRITE something to you? For fun?" Then, they'd call me words I will not repeat here.

4. We used to order pizza from this place in high school where they had one delivery guy. His name was Ben, he had a standard script he read off of, and we thought it was funny to mimic him to each other. We made up an entire back story for him. One day when he delivered pizza to us, we shared his back story with him. He didn't find it funny. We stopped ordering pizza from there.

5. I like the underdog, the quirky, the weird. People who are different are interesting to me. I want to figure out what makes them tick, why they behave the way they do, an what they find interesting. I also find people who do not conform to society easy to be around. They either don't realize they're different than the norm, don't know what the norm is, or don't care what is considered normal. I admire that, and need more of that. #goal2014

6. When I was in elementary school, I told my mom once that I wanted to be either a lawyer or a DJ. For some reason, my mom thought that was awesomely funny, and made me retell the story for days on end. Everyone laughed. I still don't get it. I was seven. Seemed right at the time.

7. I watched an episode of The Brady Bunch and saw one of the Brady boys try to grow taller by hanging from the top of the swingset bar. Didn't work for him, but I thought I was on to something. So, I tried it by hanging from my door. My mom saw me, and asked me to show others. Again, not to point fingers, but my wife wonders why I like to instigate...

8. I learned more about the mindset necessary to be a successful administrator from the friends I've met on Twitter and in ASCD than I learned in graduate school, or the six years after. There are some brilliant people out there. Some of them are late in handing in their meme homework from me. Not going to out you, but just sayin'...

9. There are people who don't blog, but should. I'd love to read Matt Mingle, Rich Kiker, Tom Murray, or Becky Kelly's thoughts. I think I would learn a lot from them. Yes, Tom, I would learn a lot from Rich. Now, be quiet. #hush

10. I laugh REALLY hard when I see the Farmers Only online dating commercial. I can't explain all the reasons why I laugh. You just need to go to and see it.

11. Did you ever watch the Winnebago Man on Youtube? It was awesome. I actually saw a documentary of his life. Not so awesome. Felt bad for him, actually. Brilliant guy, great sense of humor, dark view of the world.

Here are the answers to +Megan Stamer's 11 Questions:

1. What is your favorite ice cream flavor?  Mint chocolate chip. Hands down.

2. What made you decide to go into education? I liked working with kids, they seemed at easy with me, and couldn't believe you got paid for it.

3. Who was your favorite teacher and why? My favorite teacher was Mrs. Pace. She looped with my class in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. She really understood us, differentiated her instruction to meet our needs, and got to know us as people, not just students. I miss her.

4. What drew you to the school you work in now? The chance to work with the administration at the time. Both have since left. They were looking for people to mentor, which was why I went for my ed admin masters. I wasn't looking for a second masters. I was looking for guidance and direction. They gave me that. Still do.

5. Why do you blog? To better understand myself. To process information. To get things out. To see if others can connect or relate to what I'm thinking/feeling. To see if I'm on the right track. For feedback.

6. What is your favorite Twitter chat? Too many to list. I've co-moderated #NJED with +Bill Krakower, so I have to stay loyal to my man Billy J.

7. What is your favorite holiday? Thanksgiving. All food, football, no presents, and no one seems stressed. Plus, it's cool to sleep after you eat.

8. Where would you like to go, if you could go anywhere in the world? Texas. I answered this one in +Jill Thompson's meme. FYI, if you're not following her, you should.

9. What is biggest challenge you've ever overcome? Every obstacle I've ever put in my way by saying "You can't do this," "You don't deserve this," or something similar.

10. What is one goal you have for 2014? Stop being fat. #fittolead

11. What is your favorite color? Green, though I look better in red.

Here are the answers to +Kim Hurd Horst's 11 Questions:

1. Best App I downloaded and love is Twitter. On it all the time. Just ask my wife.

2.  Faceook is the biggest time waster for me. Honestly, who wants to know what I'm eating?

3. Schools shouldn't offer, and teachers shouldn't take cash bonuses for testing. We teach because we love what we do, we get high off of making a difference, and the opportunity to help young people succeed in life. Cash bonus? Bah humbug.

4-6. The journey I want to take is to go to Texas. See above.

7-8. A personal mascot about me would probably be a Narwhal, because it's odd, different, and attracts attention without trying to. Like me.

9. I can't go back very far at all into family ancestry. I don't think the Saide family has done too much noteworthy. I'm looking to change that.

10. My family has always been in the United States, as far as I can trace back. I wish I knew more.

11. The most awesome field trip to take the students on would be Camp Bernie in New Jersey. They can spend a day or a weekend learning leadership skills, social curriculum, and more. I have seen more positive change from this program than any other field trip in the 13 years I've been in education.

Here are the answers to +Kristen Wilson 's 11 Questions:
  1. Who is your favorite actor of all time? Edward Norton. The dude is a genius.
  2. If you could go to have attended any famous speech anytime in history, what would it have been? JFK's "Ask not what,..." speech. What an eloquent, poetic speaker. MLK Jr.'s "I  Have a Dream" speech is right there, too. (But everyone chooses that one).
  3. What do you do to relax?  De-stress? Eat. Workout. Eat more. Sleep.
  4. If you could invite anyone to dinner who would you invite and why? Jimmy Casas. The man's reach extends far, and has left the single biggest imprint on what I do.
  5. Would you prefer to visit a Zoo or Aquarium and why? Zoo. Aquariums freak me out. I have an unnatural weird fear of sea horses. Don't ask.
  6. Do you sing along to the radio, if yes, what is your preferred music genre?  If not, do you make fun of people who do? Yes to both. I'll sing to any song that is upbeat and gets me pumped up.
  7. Favorite twitter chat? See above.
  8. Best place to be quiet and reflect? Walking the dog outside is a quiet experience, and I have thought of many of my blog posts when walking the dog early in the morning.
  9. Favorite book of your life? See the meme I did for +David Culberhouse.
  10. Do you prefer salty or sweet? What is your favorite salty or sweet and why?? Both. Give me chocolate covered bacon. I will give you my heart.
  11. What is one thing you never/rarely share that you are exceptionally proud of? I can't share it until it's legit. I'll know soon, then let you know.
Here's 11 Bloggers I want to recognize and believe they should have some love:

1. +Todd Whitaker (READ his leadership stuff)
2. +Sean Junkins (have you read his tweets in the last 24 hours?)
3. +Baruti Kafele (if you're not reading his work, you are missing out)
4. +Tom Whitford (a mentor, sounding board for me)
5. +Dan Butler (leads with heart)
6. +Bill Ferriter (we've been sharing a lot, I like how his brain works)
7. +Amy Baskin (met her at an NJASCD North conference, very passionate educator)
8. +Salome Thomas-El (because he is as passionately positive as it comes)
9. +Jeff Zoul (because he's Jeff Zoul)
10. +Nick Schiner (had some great convos with him during #chats)
11 +Paul Bogush (if you see one person present, ever, choose Paul)

Here Are 11 Questions for Those Nominated:

1. Last time you used a swear word emphatically?
2. Food good to eat anytime that is not Chinese food or pizza?
3. One inspirational quote that is not religious in nature?
4. One thing your parents made sure you learned to do that was not academic?
5. When I say Halloween, you think of a time when?
6. What motivates you?
7. What is one thing that you find "shady"?
8. One thing you said to someone that you wish you could take back?
9. When I am driving next to 18 wheeler trucks, I...(finish sentence)
10. Funniest thing you ever heard a kid say?
11. One moment you would freeze in time?

Here's The PLN blogging Challenge:

1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!

5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)