Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Life Lesson: People Who Have Influenced Me....I didn't need to look far.

Up until I was 11, my life was perfect!   I lived with my parents and my two older brothers and sister.  I was a straight-A student. Learning came easy to me.  I played baseball and football, had a ton of friends in my little town in Ohio.  "Picture perfect" are the words to describe that time for me.

 I remember the day like it was yesterday!  It was  a rainy day in September, I was in 6th grade.  I had just been elected homeroom representative for Student Council by my classmates.  I was so excited to tell my father, who was expected home later that day from a business trip to Boston.  My mother picked me up from school and drove me home. On the way, I shared with her my exciting news!  I was in the family room when my mother answered a knock a door.  As my mother made her way to the door, I instinctively followed behind her.  She opened the door to my father's business partner standing in front of her.  He immediately grabbed my mother by the shoulders and told her that my father had died.  The words he used were, "passed on".  My dad was 41.   He guided her to  a chair in the kitchen and told her that my father had suffered a second heart attack and had  died in his sleep.  The rest of the day was spent in tears, confusion, anguish; you name the emotion and we felt it that day.

We flew to New York the next day to make funeral arrangements.  To be honest it was all pretty much a blur.  By December that year we had sold our house in Ohio and had moved back to Central New York.  I started sixth grade in  a new school right before Christmas break.  Within the course of 3 months, my life was turned upside down.

For the most part, my 6th grade teachers felt sorry for me and cut me a wide path.  Reality hit hard in 7th grade.   I began to fail everything!  EVERYTHING!! Through natural ability I was able to salvage 7th grade and avoid summer school.  Dead father, new school, bad couldn't get much worse.  
Then, in the Fall of my eighth grade year,  I walked into Mr. Sweeney’s 8th  social studies class. History came alive through him. He was differentiating instruction before anyone even knew what that was. But what really made a difference is that he took a personal interest in me. He saw in me what I didn’t—that I had value, intelligence, and untapped potential. He encouraged, motivated, and challenged me.  He also made me like school.  I began to look for other ways to connect to school and I did so through music and sports.  As bad as my life was in 6th and 7th grade, things were changing for the better.  
The next person to have an impact on me was my lacrosse coach.  Many of you know that I played college lacrosse at SUNY Geneseo.  How I got there has to do with Mr. Sweeney and Coach Cecconi.   I became the starting goalie in high school my junior year by accident.  Chuckie Warren, the goalie who was a year ahead of me moved!   So there I was, the only goalie in the pipeline!  My coach took an interest in me, at first because I was the only person in my position.  I had natural ability, but lacked confidence.  He instantly recognized that in me.  Our talks during practice were not on technique, but on leadership.   He would say to me, "You know what the G in Goalie stands for?   It stands for General.  You are the field general, and must lead your team".  I began to understand that I was the set of eyes when people couldn't  see and their ears when they they couldn't hear.  I was thrust into a position that demanded leadership and I loved it!  My life lesson came in the form of team building.  Coach would say to to me you are only the last one to see the ball go by. I began to understand and formed a tight bond with my teammates, first out of necessity, eventually out of sense of duty and belonging.  

So, why do I tell you this story?  Why do I let you in on a very private part of my life?  The answer is because I am a teacher at heart and I am  always looking for the teachable moment.  That teachable moment was when I realized that it wasn't the adults reaching out to me, it was me reaching out to them.  Mr. Sweeney had 120 students a day.  Coach Cecconi had an entire team to think of.  I was one of many.  I connected with them!  As good teachers and mentors, they realized what I was doing and reached back. 

Your teachers will reach back, but you have to reach first. We all want a sense of purpose and belonging.  Longing for it will not help you.  Looking for it will.  You are surrounded by too many people who are willing to help you.  Seek them out!
Before going into administration, I had the opportunity of teaching 8th grade social studies in my old school district, opposite Mr. Sweeney's classroom and on the same academic team as Coach.   That was the highlight of my teaching career. Even now as a high school principal, every time I interview a prospective teacher, I ask myself a simple question: Will this person connect with and motivate students like Mr. Sweeney  and Mr. Cecconi connected with and motivated me?

Monday, October 2, 2017

Life Lesson: The "Real World"

To often I hear people say, something to the effect, "We are preparing  you for the "Real World" or; "That doesn't happen in the "Real World"".  I have to say that it bugs me to the point of down-right hating that statement.  By this statement, people must believe that you live in a "Fake World", or you are living in an augmented reality?  So I am here to debunk the most popular "Real World" statements and prove to you that being in high school is as "real" as the "Real World".

In the "Real World" You Get Paid for What You Do

In the real world the amount of money you make is directly related to your education and skills.  People without an education and workable skill start at minimum wage.   So you make around $10.00 an hour, $80.00 a day, $360.00 week, $1,440.00 a month. Once you buy a car ($400.00 a month), an apartment (600.00 a month), utilities (100.00 a month), cell phone (100.00 a month), food (100.00 a month)  your disposable income for the month becomes inconsequential.  You need the ability to make above minimum wage in your life to be independent.  You need to make a living wage at bare minimum and a healthy income at the other end. 

High school is the real world because your ability to make money in the future is tied to it. Consider the chart below from

The real world values education and skills.  The more education you get, the more money you will make.  The education you are receiving right now is tied to your future income.  It doesn't get any "Realer" than that.  Your grades will help you get to college, which will help you make more money in your life.  The skill you receive at BOCES will help you get certified.   That certification is is proof of completion of a program.  You will make more money!   To get into the military, you must  take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).  The score on the ASVAB will determined how qualified you are certain jobs in the military.  The better you do, the more opportunities you will have....WHOOOOOWAAAA....Real world!

There is No Homework in the Real World

Wait, what?  No homework?  What am I doing every night of the week?   After dinner  I crack open my laptop and do  The difference is in the real world, we call work that we didn't finish at, not homework, even though, technically   I am doing it at home!  I am given a deadline and must meet the deadline or.....actually........ I  don't know what the "or" is because  I don't have a choice to not do the work.  The punishment for not doing my work would be doing my work.  Does that make sense?  The real motivation I have in doing a good job is the reward I get from working with a team of people to accomplish a task that will make a child's experience in school better.  That is pretty cool.  So there is homework in the real world.  We just disguise it with another name.

There is  More Freedom in "Real World"

Freedom is a pretty subjective word.  So let's look at it from a few perspectives.  First is economic freedom.  Economic freedom is having the resources to make your own decisions on what you buy.  I think I made it very clear up above in the part about getting paid for what you do.  It is obvious that you have more economic freedom with the amount of money you make.  The amount of money you make is based on your educational level.  Thus, the more education you have, the higher earning potential you have, the more economic freedom you have!  Freedom is tied directly back, then , to your education.  

The second "freedom" many people believe they have is freedom of choice.  By this I mean having the ability to choose what you want to do, when you want to do it,  and  how you want to do it.   There aren't many adults regardless age, education, and/or income that will tell you during their working years they had a lot of freedom.  Most jobs have processes, procedures, protocols, and regulations.  Dr.'s don't have the freedom to perform an operation anyway they feel.  Truck drivers don't have the ability to drive as fast as they want.  Teachers cannot teach just the fun stuff. 

I guess what I am trying to tell you is freedom is just a fancy word for responsibility.  When that word is inserted instead of freedom,  it changes the meaning and puts onus on you to do the right thing at the right time, in the right order, in the right place!  

Every day you step into school, you are stepping into the "Real World".  Don't let anyone fool you.  What you are doing now is as important to your future as what you will be doing 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, 1 decade from now!  

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!