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?

Why NCEA?

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.

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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.

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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.