A Brief Thought

During these difficult days, the conversation on social media and in the public square makes me weary. The name calling, the bitterness, the anger is childish. It solves nothing and helps no one. There is more that unites us than divides us. I am reminded of the words of John F. Kennedy about the Soviets, over fifty years ago, during another time of fear and mistrust, “We all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

Presidential Leadership Lessons

This post was originally shared as part of my contribution to the Pope John Paul II High School February Family Newsletter.

While Presidents’ Day honors our presidents of the past, millions of Americans are watching closely to gather information to decide who will be our nation’s next president, taking office in about eleven months. During the slings and arrows of a campaign, it is at times difficult to find real leadership while the candidates hurl outrageous insults and astounding claims back and forth. It is difficult to hear real solutions to America’s problems amidst the noise.

With my sophomore students in AP US Government class, we are watching this election closely. I try to stress that politics is a noble profession, and service to our nation as an elected official, chosen by the people, is a high calling. Again, sometimes the nonsense on the campaign trail on both sides of the aisle makes this claim difficult to prove.

During our observance of Presidents’ Day this month, maybe the best places for our students to look for examples of leadership and character can be found by looking back at those who once held the nation’s highest office, as opposed those who aspire to it.

From Ronald Reagan, our students can learn lessons about clear communication, as Reagan delivered a clear, concise message that connected with and inspired millions of Americans.

From John Kennedy, our students can learn that every generation must answer the call to leadership when summoned, as Kennedy inspired an entire generation with a call to service.

From Franklin Roosevelt, our students can learn that personal struggles such as disability can be overcome, conquering one’s own physical frailties to as Roosevelt led our nation to victory in a worldwide war.

From Theodore Roosevelt, our students can learn lessons that a life lived with enthusiasm and vigor, is a life lived well, emerging from the depths of personal tragedy as Roosevelt promulgated bold, progressive ideas of a new American Century.

From Abraham Lincoln, our students can learn that surrounding oneself with brilliant people, even former adversaries, promote collaboration and problem solving, as Lincoln saved our nation from a bitter civil war while emancipating thousands from slavery.

As our students keep a close eye on the present and move toward the future, they can a lesson or two from the talented, yet flawed men we remember on Presidents’ Day, men who once occupied the White House and allowed the drumbeat of our nation to continue on, regardless of the challenges it faced.

42 Gone but Not Forgotten

To celebrate my birthday, I decided to take a stroll down memory lane. I compiled a list of 42 memories of moments from my childhood that have gone by the wayside, are gone but not forgotten.

For better or worse, relegated to the “dustbin of history.”

Editor’s note: My list is my list. It is Northeast Philadelphia, with a touch of sports and politics. It contains names, places, and faces that impacted my life or those I knew, in some way, large or small.

Don’t be offended if you live in rural Pennsylvania and your school closed and I omitted it.

Also, I’m getting older, and as I age, I am forgetting far more than I remember. In other words, I may have missed something.

Here’s my list, Gone (or just about gone), but not forgotten and may it spark memories of your own:

  1. Conservative Democrats
  2. Liberal Republicans
  3. St. Bernard School, St. Leo School, St. Timothy School, Our Lady of Consolation School, St. Bartholomew School, St. Joachim School, Benjamin Crispin School
  4. Northeast Catholic High School for Boys and Cardinal Dougherty High School
  5. Sears Wish Book
  6. Philadelphia Stars, Philadelphia Phantoms, Philadelphia Wings, Philadelphia Kixx, Philadelphia Fury, Philadelphia Fever, Philadelphia Bulldogs, Philadelphia Rage, Philadelphia Charge
  8. Veterans Stadium
  9. JFK Stadium
  10. The Spectrum: America’s Showplace
  11. VCR, Betamax, 8Track, record players
  12. Atari, Sega, Colecovision, and Intelivision
  13. Jersey pig farmers picking up garbage pales weekly from driveways
  14. Heavy smoking in public areas
  15. Music videos on MTV
  16. PRISM
  17. Channel 48
  18. Cold War
  19. Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia
  20. Pathmark, Pantry Pride, PharMor, Carrefour
  21. Galaxy Arcade
  22. NWA, WCW, and GLOW
  23. Liberty Bell Race Track and Garden State Park
  24. A Kardashian was an attorney
  25. John Wanamaker’s, Clover and Woolworth’s
  26. Poloroid Instant Camera
  27. Playtown and Kiddie City
  28. The Bulletin, The Montgomery County Record and The National
  29. OJ was a football player and an actor
  30. Billy Penn Hat Rule
  31. A Woody was a station wagon
  32. “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” actually hosted by Dick Clark
  33. Orleans, Mayfair, and Devon Movie Theater
  34. Payphones and rotary phones
  35. Blockbuster and Video Village
  36. Pennypack Circle
  37. The Huckster (Strrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwbbberrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrieeeeeees!)
  38. Unorganized sports for children
  39. Styrofoam fast food containers
  40. First Pennsylvania Bank
  41. Electric Playground and United Skates of America
  42. Harry and Whitey: The Soundtrack of Summer

Students and 9/11


Most adults can recall exactly what they were doing on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I was teaching a group of high school freshmen in World History class and they were working on warm up exercise about what a future civilization 3,000 years from now would think of our current American society. Discussion just started when a colleague entered the room and told us to turn on the television. The discussion that just started immediately ceased and then changed forever.

Members of the incoming Class of 2019 were infants or not even born when our nation was changed forever by the events on that fateful day.  Today marks the fourteenth anniversary of those tragic events.  Since that day, our students have grown up with the War on Terror, Homeland Security, airport security lines, and even the TV news crawl as the soundtracks of their lives.  Our students may be too young to remember 9/11, but as educators, it is our task to prayerfully ensure that none ever forget. 

After all, the discussion has changed forever.

Tranquility and Perspective

I meant to post this yesterday:

A few weeks ago, as we were decorating the house for the Christmas season, I placed our Nativity scene, complete with the stable and all of the figurines, from the lowly shepherds to the Christ child.  The whole scene was arranged meticulously on a coffee table at a prominent place in my living room.  After we finished, I took a step back and admired the scene.  I imagined that this is how things may have played out over 2,000 years ago.  The scene was so beautiful, so serene, right down to the very last camel and the angel watching overhead.

The tranquility was interrupted by my two year old daughter.

She too was struck by the scene, struck by how it was right at eye level and how she could reach every blessed part of it.  Nothing escaped her grasp.  The attention to detail was disregarded as all of the figurines were piled into the corner of the stable.  During the chaos, one of her older sisters told her about the Nativity scene.  Later, she ran over with excitement holding the manager in her little hands and told me, “This is baby Jesus.”

For me, this was a remarkable Advent moment.  The childlike innocence of my daughter shined through when she excitedly discovered baby Jesus.  The quiet anticipation of the Advent season is often overshadowed by the frenzied pace of the Christmas season.  This busy time is all about balance and keeping focus.

My prayer and hope for you and all who you hold dear is that you find the baby Jesus at your own pace.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Back To School Night for Teachers: All Smiles

To My Teacher Friends:

The calendar may read that September ends next Tuesday, but for me, September ends with Back to School Night.  Back to School Night, the last of the Opening of School rituals.  The last rite of passage before the school year sails into normalcy or at least as normal as a school year can be.  At quarter of nine on Thursday night, maybe a little longer, after the lot clears, Back to School season is over.  Let’s welcome “ordinary time” and its regular rituals and routines.

On Back to School night, for a few precious minutes, the stage may be ours, but the star of the show is the student. Parents attend this meeting to ascertain how their child, the student, will fit in the environment. All they care about is their child and to ensure that they are set up for nothing less than success.  I don’t blame them.

So, give them what they want.  Embrace it.  Be clear about your expectations for your classroom and what their child needs to do to succeed.  Above all, be positive.  This is another “set the tone” moment.  I guarantee that a dour beginning will drag on and on all year, and, eventually, inevitably, on a dreary April day, one parent will declare to me, “I knew this was doomed from Back to School Night and you refused to move my son to another class.”

Thank you, Nostradamus.  I did not see that one coming.

This is not a call to sell out.  This is a call to smile.  This a call to create a mindset of success and partner with parents to bring their children across the finish line.  After all, at the end of the day, we all believe the same mantra: All students can succeed in our classroom.  We are here for their child, for every child.  We are teachers, with Christ as our model.  When we say it with a smile, even after we worked all day, when we say it with belief, who can argue that?

Twitter Tuesday: Mine, Now Yours

Last week, I received an email from a teacher, Robert from California, inquiring about a learning strategy I employed, Twitter Tuesday, which he read about in a blog post.  He was looking to adapt the strategy for his own AP US Government class and emailed me for additional information.  I was very excited to share with him and thrilled that he journeyed 3,000 miles across cyberspace to connect.  My excitement waned when I realized something.

I had nothing really to share.

Twitter Tuesday, although time tested, battle scarred and presented to death by me at conferences, was never formalized.  I had it down pat somewhere in my mental filing cabinet.  I never fleshed out on paper.   Why would I?  I knew it cold.  It was mine.

How selfish.

So, here it is so it can be someone else’s.  It can be used by Robert from California.  It can be used from “sea to shining sea” for that matter.  Tweet away, world.  Here it is, Twitter Tuesday:

1)      Spend one-two lessons teaching digital citizenship.

2)      Distribute parent permission forms.  Allow students to opt out, if necessary.  Any Tweets can be submitted via other mediums.

3)      Supervise creation of student Twitter accounts.  This promotes a focused account for course content.

4)      Facilitate discussion that establishes “class norms” for Twitter Tuesday.  Can Tweets be humorous?   Yes, but not inappropriate.  Can there be interaction with classmates on Twitter?  Yes, but focus on course.  Can we engage others in the Twitterverse?  Yes, but…  Political candidate or journalist, yes.  Random stranger, no.  Include parents in this conversation.  What is our hash tag?   Our hashtag usually is #arapgov15 (last two numbers as year).

5)      Encourage students to follow each other, follow their teacher, and follow at least ten political personalities or news organizations.  Facilitate discussion about “following.”  Link “following” to connecting, engaging, learning, sharing.  The world is bigger than our own school, neighborhood, city, state, country.

6)      When Tuesday arrives, the teacher tweets out an appropriate prompt linked to course content or contemporary political event.  Students respond to the prompt with the appropriate hashtag.  Later this evolves so students respond to one another.  This exercise is a warm up that lasts no longer than ten-fifteen minutes.

7)      Teacher assesses student tweets as a participatory grade.  The value is being engaged in the conversation, not racking up points on the report card.

8)      Teacher also needs to search the hash tag during the week to feature other tweets.  As the exercise evolves, students will treat every day as Twitter Tuesday.  Their contributions should be valuable parts of the conversation, even when they are not formally assessed as grades.

9)      Celebrate student tweets!  Many will use this to discuss the course and the events of the day on their own time.  Celebrate active citizens.  Use these tweets as teachable moments.

No Paper, No Problem

     As we begin the summer, one achievable goal for educators for the next school year is to reduce the use of paper, even to go paperless.  My familiarity with Google Apps colors my view here but there are many other platforms that can provide success in this venture.

     Educationally, there are many reasons why to go paperless.  Use of Google Docs fosters collaboration and creativity.   Students can work together on a project through sharing a Google Doc.  Problem solving through collaboration is a worthwhile venture.  Teachers can assess student work and provide feedback efficiently via comments on the same document.  No printing, no paper, is ever necessary.   Access to electronic databases provides information that goes beyond what is contained in a simple, two dimensional, handout or worksheet.  When viewing a chart or graph or map or human body layout, which is more academically compelling, a 3D virtual view or a photocopy?

     For teachers who are comfortable with materials that are presented as handouts, or pulled from their 1980s filing cabinet, obstacles can be overcome.   The same material pulled from a paper file folder can be scanned and uploaded to class wikis or class management systems.  Most management systems even allow for PDFs and other files to emailed to every student as an attachment.   Academic material can be shared through Google Communities.  Even Google Sites has improved as a free, easy website options in recent years.  These are only a few of the many options we as educators have to present material.

     Administrators can also make a real and lasting effort to conserve paper.  This begins with a consistent commitment to electronic communication within the school.  Google Docs can be used for all faculty feedback and signups, even from professional development sessions to potluck lunches.  Attendance can be gathered paperless and reports are issued via email.  The school website and phone blast systems can be used to disseminate information to families. 

     Beyond academics, reducing paper makes sense both financially and environmentally.  Each of us in education must act individually to collectively make a difference.


On Monday, I will be part of a caravan crossing Pennsylvania en route to the NCEA 2014 Convention and Expo (#NCEA14).  This is my fourth NCEA Convention (Philadelphia ’05, Boston ’12, Houston ’13 and now Pittsburgh ’14) and it is the third where I have the privilege to present.  On the eve of this busy week, I wanted to share why attending this convention is so meaningful for me.


1) Shared Mission  As a teacher in a Catholic school, it is a unique and special opportunity to spend time with others “working in the vineyard.”  In March, Pope Francis tweeted his gratitude for Catholic teachers with the words, “Let us thank all those who teach in Catholic schools. Educating is an act of love; it is like giving life.”   This followed up his words in November, his first remarks on Catholic Education, when he wrote, “We are living in an information-driven society which bombards us indiscriminately with data—all treated as being of equal importance—and which leads to remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment.  In response, we need to provide for our students an experience that fosters critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values.”  How powerful it is to have one convention with its attendees devoted to increasing critical thinking and developing moral values as an act of love!  This faith and fervor is perhaps a major reason while the liturgies at NCEA are always so moving.


2) Shared Innovation  Catholic schools across the country are laboratories for innovation.  NCEA 2014 lends itself to fostering an environment where innovation is championed and shared.  The tracks of the convention such as Research, Technology, Governance, and Strategic Planning offer many sessions that herald cutting edge ideas to continue growth in this fast-paced 21st Century.  The keynote speakers are Cardinal Donald  Wuerl of Washington, a Pittsburgh native, and former chairperson of the NCEA Board of Directors and Dr. Robert Marzano, author of The Art and Science and Teaching.  These speakers frame the daily sessions, delivered by cutting-edge Catholic educators from across the country.   In these sessions, attendees are certain to find strategies and best practices to benefit students and schools.  Innovation does not thrive under a bushel basket, it is best when shared.

3) Shared Friendships  The last reason is profoundly personal.  At this gathering, I renew relationship with dedicated educators from across the country.  From Florida to Nebraska to Texas to California, I can now count on meeting dear friends from across the country at NCEA.  In nearly twenty years, the only times I have seen a college friend of mine are at NCEA; not once, but twice.  In recent years, some of the professional and personal relationships I have built on line for my professional learning network are cemented at NCEA.   That professional connection, leveraged through tweets and comments on blog posts, becomes very real when sharing a laugh or two face-to-face at NCEA.  As valuable as the learning is at NCEA, sharing a laugh or two with a friend is just as important.

Whatever your reason for attending #NCEA14, may it bring you both professional and personal joy, and maybe I’ll see you at a session or two.

What’s Next?

It’s been over nine months.

Did you miss me?

I could write a rather long post that fills in the blanks of why these pages have been blank since August or I could describe it well with just one, single word.


So now, what’s next?

I’ve been grappling with how to fill these pages.  Should this be devoted to education, students and learning?  Should it be a journal of professional self-reflection?  As an educator, I have a lot to say about the present and future state of education.

Unless, I decide to fill this space with more musings on family life.  As the father of four (yes, a change since my last post), I believe I have a lot to add about fatherhood, family, and faith.  I’m not saying that I lead the most interesting of lives but I do think I have something to share.  I once said that my life would be far more exciting if Gus Johnson provided the commentary.

Gus Johnson Erupts Over Ben Watson Header

I could also decided to split this space between education and family.  Both are connected and I am currently doing this here to a small extent.

I am leaning toward adding a second blog.  Making one with a focus on family and one devoted to education.  Besides, that would give people a chance to not read my musings twice.

Your thoughts?

What’s next?