Friday, September 15, 2017

Life Lesson: Grit.

A new buzz word we hear in the educational world is GRIT.  I first heard about it through  A Ted Talk by Dr. Angela Duckworth, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.  According to the professor

"Grit is the passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.  Grit is having stamina.  Grit is sticking with our future, day-in, day-out.  Not just for the week, not just for the month, but the years.  And working really hard to make that future a reality.  Girt is living life like a marathon, not a spring".  

It isn't about natural intelligence, talent or money.  It is about having a mindset that you can achieve anything, as long as you stick to it. It is about personal best, not comparative best.   It is about having a goal and, day in and day out, reaching for it. It is about that "T" in ITC.  It is about having tenacity!  It's about looking at this picture and saying:

  "I Can't........YET!   That word, "YET" is so important! It let's everyone know that you know where you want to be, but your not quite there.  That weight may represent the skills that you have for a particular sport.  Maybe those weights represent throwing a football, or catching with a lacrosse stick, or kicking a ball, or hitting with a racket?  Remember when you couldn't do those things?  How you practiced and practiced over and over again until that first time when you did it!  Then there was a second time and a third? Now it seems like second nature.  You can do those things without thinking today.

That analogy holds true with your education.  If you have a goal of going to college, or into the military, ore out into the working world, know that you are not quite there yet!  Practice learning until it becomes second nature!    For you  who love English and Social Studies; you can do science and math equally as well....and visa versa.  For me it was math.  I had to work twice as hard to get just as far as the rest of the class.  But, I  realized that these were my grades, no one else.  I stopped caring if someone beat me on an exam and began to focus on whether or not I did my best. I started to focus on personal best and stopped comparing myself to others.    Being an athlete, I realized that my teachers were my coaches.  They had had the ability help me until I did it myself.  Being an actor and singer, I realized that I had my own personal academic Director!!  They could direct me until I became self directed.

I cannot promise you that everyday will be fun.  Though learning is fun, it is extremely hard too.  The old Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi has a famous quote that goes like this, "I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle".  I will tell you that the feeling of winning a big game and getting a good grade on a test are  equal in terms of how you feel. 

Focus on yourself always as a "work in progress" and your success will always be measured in whether or not you have moved forward, not how far. Remember life is a marathon, not a sprint.   Never give up.  You may take a break, but always come back to the task at hand.  Surround yourself with people who can help you achieve your goals. Find your Director or your Coach who can help you until you can help yourself.  Lie exhausted yet victorious in the "Good Cause" of you!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Life Lesson: Being Kind

Well you survived the first week of school!  You have adjusted well.  Like you, this change is hard for me.  I love Marcellus Senior High School.  But I realized that the best thing about MSHS is not the building but the people!  As we wind through the first week of school, there are many "must do's".  One of them is the annual Dignity Act overview/review.  

As you may recall, The Dignity Act was enacted in 2010 to provide elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function.  It is a law that says a lot of  "don'ts".  Don't bully, don't harass, don't intimidate.  While I think this is absolutely the right thing to do, I would like to put my Mr. Durkee positive spin on the Dignity Act and give you some "Do's"!

Be Kind

Being kind is the first "Do".  Be kind in your words and your actions.    I can give you a concrete example of a kind act I witnessed on the first day of school.  I watched as a group of students invite a student who was sitting by him/herself at lunch to come and sit with them.  I can't tell you how impressed I with that simple act.  Saying "Hi" to someone and acknowledging his/her existence in the world with a smile sometimes can mean the difference in a good day vs. a bad day for some.  

Being kind doesn't mean you can't be tough.  We all know that Mustangs are tough.  Here's the difference.  When competing, you may knock someone down.  The kind person extends a hand and helps them back up.  The focus is on competing and winning, not hurting.  Kindness of this type is called sportsmanship.  

A few years ago we took vacation to Washington DC.  We stood out in front of the White House to see if we could catch a glimpse of the President.  Sure enough the limos pulled up.  At that particular time, a Secret Service Agent came and began to clear the fence.  Some people were not moving, some at a snails pace.  I will never forget the words that came out of his mouth.  He very loudly said, "Do not mistake my kindness for weakness.  You will move or be moved".  I loved it.  What a great piece of advice.  Kindness is not weakness.  It is strength.  It is strength of character and integrity.  It's not giving in, it is giving to.  

Be An Upstander Not a Bystander

Silence is acceptance.  When presented with the opportunity to stand up for someone who can't stand up for themselves, be an "Upstander".  The difference between an "Upstander" and a  "Bystander" is defined by the first two letters.  Stand "Up" for those who need you, don't Stand "By" and watch.  I think you all know that uncomfortable feeling I am talking about when someone is saying something or doing something disparaging towards another human being.  You know it is wrong, but you do not say anything for fear you may be the next target.  It is incredibly hard to overcome this feeling and fear.  I am telling you, you will feel better about yourself by helping another human being.  

Be Inclusive Not Exclusive

The opposite of inclusive is exclusive.  When we are exclusive, we are restricting or limiting ourselves in terms of the relationships we have with others.  Being inclusive removes an artificial boundary that may exist between people.  It embraces differences as a part of life.  It teaches us that differences are to be acknowledged and respected.  Even if these differences are so far away from your own beliefs that respect would be a huge leap, it creates a space for peaceful co-existence and "live and let live".  

So, how does this affect you? First, I promise to you is that if you are kind, upstanding, and inclusive, people will be kind, upstanding and inclusive to you.  What you give out in the world will be returned to you.  Give out kindness and you will receive kindness.  Give out negative energy and you will receive negative energy.  We need only to look at the circumstances of our own country's current events to see evidence of this.   Second, you will have more friends than you know what do do with.  You can never have enough friends.  Lastly, you will have  a sense of peace and more energy.  Hating, disliking, and going out of your way to make someone miserable takes energy.  This energy is a negative energy too!  That weighs heavily on people who hear it and on the people who put it out there.

Congratulations on a great first week of school!  Here's to 39 more!  Have a great weekend!

Mr. D

Monday, September 4, 2017

Life Lesson: First Day of School

School is coming!  Can you believe it?  Even I get "butterflies" and excited for a new year! You are another year older, another grade advanced, and a step closer to the "real world".  It is also a fresh beginning.  No matter what, you can become the person you want to be and it all starts on the day after Labor Day!  I have had the privilege of having 13 (as a public school student) of my own first days of school and 28 as an educator.  I would like to give you 3 pieces of advice to set you up for success this year.

1.  Build Strong Relationships with Your Teachers-I don't want you to think of the relationship between students and your teachers as an "Us and Them" relationship.  I want you to think about it as a "Me and You" relationship.  An "Us and Them" connotes an educational divide and a competition with a winner and a loser.  The reality is that it is a collaborative relationship, with each helping the other: The teacher helping the student learn and the student helping the teacher know when they haven't learned enough.  So many of our Mustangs who have come back credit a teacher with their success. That success is not grounded in rote knowledge of a subject.  That success is grounded in a relationship that inspired the person or persons to want to learn more, do more, and explore more.  I love it when an alumnus says to me, "I love that teacher!  He/she made it fun."; or "the teacher pushed me and helped me at the same time"; and,  He/she loved what he/she was teaching and we fed off of that energy".  Any one who reads my blogs, knows that I am a big Karate Kid fan, so you will understand it when I say...FIND YOUR MR. MIYAGI!

2.  Have a Positive Mental Attitude-The famous auto maker, Henry Ford, said, "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right".  With the mantra of the Little Engine that Could...."I think I can, I think I can" will change the way you view school, view teachers, view me, with a positive mental attitude.  The real secret to your success is that you control whether or not you are going to have a positive experience in a class by the way you think.  We all have an inner voice that we listen to when we need to make decisions.  Hear that inner voice saying things to you like, "I can do anything I put my mind to".  "My effort and my attitude determine my success".  "Failure is an opportunity to learn and grow". Remember the quote by Charles Swindoll, "life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it".  You are in control!!

3.  Carve Your Own Path-If you want true high school happiness, be true to yourself.  If you like to sing, join chorus, if you like to play sports, join a team.  If you like to sing and play sports.....DO BOTH!!!!!  Too often I hear about kids quitting things because of peer pressure. Believe me, I know personally, the teasing can be harsh.  But realize, that the people who may say something to you usually are never the type of people you would associate yourself with.  Additionally, they have created a negative situation to elicit a response out of you.  Don't ever give them what they are looking for.  The reality is the next four years are merely a blip on the radar screen of life.  It will go by quick. If you need inspiration, I want you to google and read, Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon, by Patty Lovell.  Trust me, it is my favorite book of all time!  Experience as much of high school as you can.  Try new things, meet like-minded people, and enjoy!

I am excited for our new year in our new building.  It will be fun and uneasy all at the same time.  Have a great start to the year and carve your path starting Tuesday!

Mr. D

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Life Lesson: Your Cell Phone: Is it Helping or Hurting Your Education

My first cell phone, like yours, came in a box.  The difference is, I didn't unwrap it and put in my pocket.  The box was the phone.  It was a small lunch pale in a box.  I couldn't fit it in my brief case, because it was thicker than the satchel!
Now, our phones can do anything an app designer, Apple, or Amazon can think of and make phone calls!  You can fly a drone on your phone!  Heck, you can research it, buy it with one click, and fly it on your phone!  With Amazon Prime, I bet the drone would fly itself to you so that you can fly it using your cell phone! What an amazing world we live in!

You  may get a "STREAKS" SnapChat or someone may have "hash-tagged", or "followed" you, or mentioned you in a tweet.  What ever the message you get, the minute you take that phone out or swipe your finger across the screen,  you are not focusing on your educational journey at that particular time.  Like texting and driving or walking, it only takes a split second to miss something important!
At the heart of the smart phone is its ability to let us instantaneously communicate in multiple ways and on multiple platforms. Phone calls are becoming a thing of the past.    Facebook,Twitter, Instagram, FaceTime,  SnapChat, instant messaging, and texting are ways in which people communicate today. As I write this, there are more platforms that exist that I don't even know of and there are countless new ones in the pipeline.  We are creating more and more ways to communicate!

Distracted Learning.

The bottom line-A smartphone can be vital to your success in high school. But understand,  there are two very different and distinct uses for the phone; an educational purpose and social purpose. The rule is:  You can't do both at the same time.  You can use social platforms for educational purposes, but you can't use social platforms for social reasons and still get the same educational benefit.  In New York State, you are not allowed to drive and text or talk on your phone.  That is considered Distracted Driving. As the video shows, it's dangerous to text and walk because you become acutely unaware of your surroundings!   The same premise holds true with texting and learning.  Instead of being a distracted driver or walker, you become a distracted learner.

I am not saying that these devices are bad.  To the contrary, as stated above, they are good.   I am merely pointing out a "Mr. Miyagi Moment" (I know I am dating myself, but google Karate Kid on your smartphone).  There is a time and a place for everything.  Snapchatting a "Streaks" in the middle of a chemistry lab while using a bunson burner is dangerous and highly discouraged and certainly is not the time or the place to be doing such.

When it's time to focus on learning, focus on learning.  If the phone is directly related to what you are learning, use it.  If it isn't resist.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Life Lesson: The Importance of School Attendance

Image result for 80% of success is showing up
When I was young, I remember telling my mother that I was sick and I couldn't go to school.  Her response was, "I'll be the judge of that!"  I told my symptoms;  stomach and head, you know the "go to" sicknesses.  Long story short, she pronounced me well enough to attend school.  I went and she was right, I was fine.  That scenario played itself out at least 50 times in my career!!

Woody Allen, the famous actor and director has a quote.  He says, "80 of success is showing up".  The first time I heard this was my freshman year in college  from my coach.  I played lacrosse at an academically competitive school.  The coach sat the freshmen down and gave us a lecture on the importance of college to our future.  I will never forget his formula for success in college.  It goes something like this:
  • If you want to pass the class, go to every class and take notes.
  • If you want to do a little better, go to class everyday, take notes, and sit in the front.
  • If you want to even better than that, go to class, take notes, sit in front, and visit your professor during office hours.  
Probably the best advice I ever received.  In the big college  lecture classes of 300 (mine was Biology), I was just a number.  Sitting in front, taking notes, and meeting my professor took me from a number to name.  I made a personal connection.  I found out that I wasn't afraid to ask questions when I didn't understand and he would call me by name!  As my college career moved on and the classes got smaller and smaller, I still did the same thing. These people became my mentors and guides in education.  Those relationships were very important to me and my future.  I remember vividly the day we had a home game and standing behind me on the end line was one of my professors, who came out to see me play.  I realized that  he had made a personal connection with me!!  Years later, when I was teaching, he sent a grad student out to spend the day and interview me. I was honored that he would do that!!

I can't emphasize to you enough the importance of good attendance.  It is important for the continuity of your education.  It is important to teaching you the importance of punctuality and reliability.  It is important because of its connection to your success.  Most importantly, it is important to establishing a powerful educational relationship with your teacher.  I cannot lie and say I had great relationships with all of my teachers, but I did have "working relationships" with them.  They knew me, I knew them and we both had the same success.  I viewed my attendance as an investment in my success.

Let me take attendance (or lack thereof) from one other perspective; the perspective of avoidance. There is this crazy mindset that if I didn't do what I was supposed to do or I can't do something, or I don't like doing something, then I will avoid it.  I will miss class, classes, or school completely.   In the short term, it is a relief and anxiety reducer.  In the long run the learning gap grows exponentially.  Now, what you didn't understand yesterday is compounded by what you don't understand today.  The dread, fear and anxiety return at about the time you are still home and school ends!  The cycle is repeated and; we have a vortex that sucks the educational life out of you.  The only way to break the cycle is to attend.  The first day back is overwhelming.  The second day a little less and the next day a little less. You get the idea! The only way to break the cycle is consistent attendance.  Don't feel you are ever on an island when you feel like this.  There are people ready and willing to help you including your teachers, your counselor, and me!  

So, what is the takeaway here?  "80% of success is showing up".  When you show up, show up physically and mentally.  Show the teachers you care about your education.  Make a personal connection.  Show up to avoid the avoidance!  Show up to see your friends.  Heck, show up because lunches are good.  Just show up!  Attendance is the very foundation of your education. 

If you want to talk to me more about this, you know where I am.  I would be happy to listen.  I am at school!  

Monday, July 24, 2017

Life Lesson: Failing and Learning

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Theodore Roosevelt

Has this ever happened to you?  So, you are driving in your car and have your GPS set for the destination and you miss a turn.  The GPS says, "recalculating", but you decide, "forget it, I missed the turn I can't get there.  I am going home".   You return to your home safe in the knowledge that you never would have gotten there anyway. Or, you begin to think, this GPS is broken, it doesn't work. You begin to rationalize that you really didn't want to go there.  It wouldn't have been fun or informative, or lifesaving.  Nope home is safe.

No....this isn't how it happens?   the GPS says, "recalculating", and then gives you an alternate route to get back on track?  You make it to your destination? Mission accomplished?  You have fun?  You learn something new?  You receive just what the doctor ordered?

 But wait a minute...... YOU FAILED at following directions?  Therefore, YOU FAILED, right?   Wrong!  You haven't failed, you have just learned how not to do something. You persevered, you didn't give up, you learned!  You've succeeded in achieving your goal (and you probably know what landmarks to look for now when you drive to this place again)!  CONGRATULATIONS!!  You haven't failed, you have grown!  Life will not judge you on how many times you have succeeded vs. the number of times you have failed. Ask Thomas Edison, who invented the incandescent light bulb, on his 1,000th try!   As a matter of fact, you may be the only person who knows how many time you failed, tried again, failed, tried again and finally succeeded.   You will, however, be judged by your growth. Everyone has successes and failures in their personal and professional life.  I have found that as long as you learn from your mistakes and grow, mistakes will be forgotten.

 Recently while reading an on-line article in the Harvard Business Journal,  entitled, "Why You Need to Fail", by Peter Bergman, the author relays a story about working out in the gym.  At the end of the workout his trainer calls him over and mimics his lackadaisical lifting style and chastises him for the lack of effort.  His technique is perfect, his reps are right, the amount of weight was wrong!  What the trainer said to him was, "A muscle only grows if you work it until it fails".  Thus, failure is an opportunity for growth. It's anatomically proven! Therefore, we must change our mindset to include failure as a logical part of growth and ultimately success.  Carol Dweck calls this a growth mindset.

Consider the following chart:
Image result for carol dweck growth mindset

According to Dweck, we must cultivate a Growth Mindset over a Fixed Mindset. There isn't anything you can't learn. You may not learn it the first time or the second time, but you will learn it.  In today's day and age, you merely need to turn on a computer and you can learn to do anything.  There is a lot of merit to that old saying our parents tell us, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again".  I, myself, learned to change the damper door assembly in my refrigerator by watching a YouTube video.  I changed out an air conditioner motor by reading a blog.   It wasn't easy, took me way too long, and I made mistakes along the way.....but I did it!

So, as parents, we can help our children by helping them understand that failure is a part of life and it is only bad if we do not learn from it and grow!!  In my years as a high school principal, I have had countless conversations with  students, teachers and parents on who's fault it was that the student failed a test.  My reply is the same, "quit trying to fix the blame, fix the problem".

A teacher may say, "He doesn't put the time and effort into studying".  But the bigger issue may be that the student doesn't know how to study.  We may take it for granted that everyone knows how to study.  The reality is there are content specific study strategies.  We want to be mindful.  If kids are to independently demonstrate their knowledge and ability in a particular area, they must know how to independently study!!

A parent may say, "That teacher doesn't teach the material".  I am confident that the what is being taught is right.  The state is pretty prescriptive when it comes to what needs to be taught.  It may be how it is being taught for that particular child that is wrong.  Conversations that focus on how the child learns best and how both the home and school can support this is very important.  Sometimes, it is the gift of time that is necessary.  Some students need more time, repetition, or manipulation of skill or content.  With dialogue time can be carved out for this.  Failure can become growth

I have also heard, "She is bad at math, I am bad at math.  It runs in the family".  Bad connotes failure and as I stated above, it also means and opportunity for growth. I tell the following story to the kids when the opportunity presents itself.  When I was in 9th grade, I was told that the only way I would pass math was to come in for help 7 days a week.  Now, even at 14 years old, I knew that was impossible.  I ended up dropping math that year.  I took it the following year with another math teacher, John Reefe.  Mr. Reefe saw that I could do it and instilled in me that attitude.  I went on to pass the class, pass the regents with a very high score and go on to the next level of math.  I did it!   We must instill a "you can do anything you put your mind to" attitude in our kids.  If we believe in them (educators and parents), then they will believe in themselves.

A student may say, "That teacher doesn't like me.  That's why I am doing bad in the class".  I ask, "Do you do your homework?  Do you try your hardest? Do you have a "can do attitude?"  Many times children think that the teachers like the kids who get it right and don't like the ones that get it wrong.  That is because failing has been ingrained in these kids as a bad thing.  Remember failing is just figuring out a way not to do something and is a natural part of growth!  I tell the kids, "give your teacher something to like.  Show them that you will never quit".  I then guarantee that their perception of the teacher will change, not because the teacher has changed, but because his/her attitude has changed.

It is time to recognize failure as a natural part of life.  When it is coupled with persistence, perseverance, and resilience, it becomes a personal and professional positive.  

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Importance Reading

Image result for i am a readerI am a "reader". I am proud to say that!!  I was not always this way, but I am now!  I loved reading when I was young.  The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown were my favorites.  Through high school, then undergraduate work, to graduate work, it seemed to me that reading was something that I had to do. It seemed like work and  like most young people, I procrastinated and became the best "skimmer" in the world. I was intimidated by books over 300 pages! Boy do I regret that now!  All of the great literature that I missed out on.  All of the things  I could have known earlier...if only.  

What changed me?  Being married to an English teacher who reads (and writes) for a living.  I had the best role model in the world; my wife!  I started by reading (or rather re-reading) much of the great literature I missed in high school.  They were the books that she was reading with her students.  Then, I began to read things that interested me.  I am a history teacher by training, so I began to read a lot of non-fiction.  Leaders like Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Eisnehower, etc.  When I became a principal, I realized that there was much to learn in my own job from these same great leaders.  I was hooked.  Reading now, is like muscle memory.  I have to read before I go to bed.  I look forward to it and will, on occasion, go to be early just to read a little more.

So, what is the morale to the story?  Readers are not born, they are made...rather,  inspired.  I have heard parents say (me included), that their children aren't readers.  They don't like to read.  Children are readers and can be readers, they just need to be inspired to read.  There needs to be a connection between their life and what they read.  The kids must find utility before they can find joy.  Here are some things that may help your child become a reader.

1. Model what reading looks like. Turn off the t.v., turn on a reading light and read.  There is a poem called, When You Thought I Wasn't Looking by Mary Rita Schilke Korazan that talks about a child watching the actions of his/her parents and learning from those actions.  I believe reading is one of those actions that our children should see us doing and will learn from us through emulation.

2.  Listen to books on CD or on your smartphone  in the car.  This I learned through countless road trips for hockey during the winter.  My son and I would listen to a story and talk about it.  It hit me one day that he really enjoyed the story when he said, "what have I missed?" as he plopped down in the front seat of the car.

3.  Find a blogger.  There are so many bloggers out there that write about things that your kids are interested in.  Many of them also have podcasts that go along with their blog.  Many of the blogs I read are professional, educational, leadership inspired blogs.  There are so many topics, it's unbelievable.

4.  Let your child create their own blog.  Let them take something that they are passionate about and research and write about it.  

5.  Let your child get the Kindle App for their smartphone.  There are many free classics on the Kindle as well as low cost books.  The kids are attached to their phones, so why not have them read on their phone?

Image result for if it's on the internet, it must be true
The world of knowledge is at the fingertips of our children.  They can learn anything, fix anything, create anything that they can imagine.  All of this information must enter the brain and be processed. We must teach kids to be critical consumers of information.  They live in an information age and must have the skills and knowledge to sift through millions of hits on a Google search to find not only what they are looking for, but be able to analyze the validity and credibility of the information.