It was nice to be back in the building with students for five days this week. Our new Wednesday schedule was the first time in more than a year that students were able to see all of their teachers in person in one day. There was a renewed sense of energy in the hallway and an excitement from the students that was palpable. While it gives us hope for the future, it is important to recognize the importance of taking one step at a time.
This year has been a year of building on successes, learning from experiences and recognizing that sometimes the steps we take to get to where we want to go don't always go according to plan or at the pace that we want them to go. Eleven years ago today was the date I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins T-Cell Lymphoma. It is a day that causes me to pause, reflect and appreciate that every step matters. The steps forward, the steps backward, the steps that sometimes go off to the side and even the steps that you don't take, all contribute to your daily success. You have to take time to stop and appreciate the views along the way.
Next week it will be a year since our school met as a staff in two delayed openings days to figure out a plan for what two weeks of remote learning would be like for teachers and students. We've taken a lot of steps since then in a variety of directions. We have gone a long way. Two weeks turned into four months which has turned into a year. Have you stopped along the way to view what you have actually accomplished in your classrooms, what you have accomplished as a school, as a collective community? Everyone wants to take the next step forward in order to get back to what "school" used to be. We have gone through a lot and have learned too much to go back. Let us take one step at a time, celebrating the little victories and recognizing that success is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. I have taken a lot of steps in the past 11 years and I am grateful for every one of them...the easy ones and the tough ones. The last year has not been easy for anyone. However, we have to be reminded that we are never on this journey alone. We are in this together. Every step of the way. We got this. #strongertogether
I was sitting in on our Marketing class this week and the class was having an intriguing discussion with their teacher, Mr. Honig, on the marketing strategies behind some of this year's Super Bowl commercials. One commercial that was being discussed was a Toyota commercial that depicted a young girl who was adopted that unfortunately was born with a condition that required her legs to be amputated (below). However, through the commercial you saw her become an accomplished swimmer, in fact at 13x Paralympic champion. I remember seeing it the night of the Super Bowl and getting goose bumps. I got that same feeling again watching it in Mr. Honig's class. The ending of the commercial says "We believe there is hope and strength in all of us."
February is always a tough time of year. It's the post holiday lull, the cold of winter, snow on snow on snow, long stretches without a break, the newness of the school year is in the past and oh yeah...we are still dealing with a pandemic. The weight that is being carried by many, (staff, students and parents), is certainly being felt. However, as I watched this commercial, I couldn't help but think I'm pretty lucky. First, I was getting to experience a really cool lesson and discussion with a teacher and his students in the middle of what has been an unbelievably difficult year for teachers and students. Secondly, I was reminded that I am reaching another milestone of 11 years of beating cancer in a few weeks. While I can't compare myself to the young lady in the commercial, if I had to wear a mask at work 11 years ago, I can do it now. Lastly, I have watched students and staff be my hope and strength for the past 11 months. You have not given up. You have not given in. You have persevered through whatever obstacles have come in your way. Education right now is a herculean effort on everyone's part. There are many days where it feels like we are swimming against the tide and it isn't easy. However, there are always different ways to look at things. We are lucky that we still have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of students. If we continue to believe in each other, pick each other up and watch out for each other, I have no doubt that we will be stronger for it. It isn't easy, but when this over, what we accomplished together will be much like Jessica Long's story in the commercial......AMAZING. There is hope and strength in all of us. #pantherstrong
Today we reached the official halfway point of the school year as the second marking period comes to an end. The halfway point can have people thinking, "Wow, it's already the halfway point? Time is flying!" It can also have us thinking, "We are only halfway? It feels like it is March 295th." While the challenges of this year I'm sure have many of us feeling more like its March 295th, it is hard to believe that we are halfway to the conclusion of another school year.
Whatever you may be thinking, we still have a big chunk of time to make the most out of this school year. Rather than dwelling on what we cannot do, let us all focus together on what we can do. This week at our school we had the opportunity to see our students again in person after almost two months in a virtual environment. We had the opportunity to interact with our colleagues, to have much needed conversations about teaching, but more importantly about our families and about life. Would I enjoy having more students attending school? Yes. Would I love to not have to meet with people virtually? Yes. Can I believe that it is only the halfway point of the year? No. But this week was not just a halfway point. It was a "restart" for what is capable of being a very memorable and exciting remainder of a school year. There is still time to make meaningful progress toward our professional goals, toward student achievement and overall school improvement. We have accomplished a lot since we started together in September with classrooms that were half empty. We still have a school year that is half full. It's all about perspective. #pantherstrong
A message to teachers.......
On Tuesday night I was working with my son as he wrote an essay for his Social Studies class on whether he thought the electoral college or the popular vote was a more effective method in electing a president. We researched various articles together, worked on a graphic organizer and I watched him as he gathered his thoughts about what it all meant. We talked about this year's election. It was one of those "teachable moments" as he was learning about what was happening in the moment. Then yesterday (Wednesday) happened. As I watched the events unravel on television, I was at a loss for words. Personal feelings aside, one of the first things that came to my mind was, "How do I explain this to Ryan? How do we explain this to the students tomorrow in school?" In sounding like a broken record over the last several months, today was a day like no other.
Today was a day students needed the opportunity to ask questions, to write about their feelings, to gain an understanding of the facts about what happened. There were students who were confused, concerned, angry and scared. There were some of us who may have felt that way too. Depending on who people are listening to, stories and "facts" are very different.
Regardless of our personal feelings, today was more than a "teachable moment." It was an opportunity to listen, to discuss and to unite. Over the next several days as more thoughts come to the forefront, consider these questions as discussion points (courtesy of Dr. Elizabeth Sheridan, my Supervisor of Social Studies).
Stay with the facts. Discuss and steer the conversation to what was reported by the news media and stated by people in interviews.
Reiterate - The freedom of press and the news media is imperative to a democracy. The press reports on what elected officials and people do. That’s their job. Media and attacks on the media weaken our ability to learn what wrong-doings happen.
Ask - How should one proceed when one disagrees with an outcome or a decision? What if the resolution is one that you still don’t like - what can someone do that is productive?
Ask - Why do you think people act differently in groups rather than as individuals? How can that be dangerous?
Ask - How can peaceful protests be productive?
Ask and discuss - What can we do to restore faith in our democratic processes? What might you suggest to address the concerns raised over the last several years?
Ask and discuss - How do we listen and hear each other better? How can we learn about different perspectives and experiences that shape people’s lives and beliefs?
Ask - What role do you think social media plays in creating division and distrust? How can we address that? How do we verify information? How do we sort fact from falsehood?
Do not feel that you have to discuss this in your classrooms. However, students may want to. Many of these students will be voting in the next election and the future is in their hands. Know that you don't have all the answers. I know I don't. But what we do have is the ability to listen....to allow students to express their feelings in a respectful way and to remind them that they will be the future leaders of this country who will hopefully act more respectfully than the people who decided to turn a peaceful protest into a destructive one.
I know that you will do what is best for your students. You always do. Continue to teach with courage, with heart, with respect and with the professionalism that makes our responsibility as teachers so amazingly great.
My #oneword for 2021 is hope. It will continue to drive me in my decision making, my ideals and my dreams. My hope will be with us, our students and our country tomorrow and into the future.
I miss giving high fives! I took it for granted when I high-fived a student because I saw something great. I took it for granted when I high-fived a staff member for doing something incredible in the classroom. I took it for granted giving someone a high five or a fist bump just because it was good to see them. Whether it is a high five, a fist bump or even a thumbs up, we all need signs of approval, encouragement and positive energy as we go about our day....especially during these uncertain times in education.
Right about now, since we will stick with the social distance theme, we are all needing to see a thumbs up. Whether it is to let us know you can hear us on Zoom, to let a student know they did a good job on the assignment they turned in, to give us the go ahead that we can come back in person to school, or just to give a boost needed make it through the school day, it is nice to know that we are all in this together and we are here to lift each other up.
Whether you are in school in person now or when you return to school in person after the new year, we all need to continue to be there for each other. We all need to see signs of encouragement and boosts of positive energy. This is really hard. You are doing a great job. Whether you are a teacher, a staff member, a student, or a parent, we are teaching and learning through unprecedented times. You are bringing your best selves every day, whatever that may be given the circumstances. I am excited to welcome my students and staff back after being remote for the last month. Although I would love to give everyone a high five when I see them tomorrow, I have a feeling my thumbs are going to be pretty busy!
I attended a virtual professional development conference on Thursday led by three tremendous educators, Tom Murray, Joe Sanfelippo and Jimmy Casas. One of the workshops that they facilitated was entitled "Current Reality vs. Desired Reality." Our current reality right now is a difficult one. Whether we are students, parents, teachers, staff members or administrators, we are living each day not sure what is going to happen. It's really hard. Unfortunately, right after the conference we had to make a decision to close the school the next day to conduct contact tracing of positive COVID-19 cases that have arisen. Our current reality is that safety needs to be our number one priority. While we want to be focused on being in school, working in person, collaborating with each other, finishing our fall sports seasons, traveling to other places to see relatives, the current reality is that we have to watch out for one another and sometimes have to make difficult decisions.
During this workshop, Joe Sanfelippo posed the question, "What brings you joy?" I have to be honest, I struggled with that answer. (Not personally, because my family brings me more joy than I can ever imagine, but professionally. What brings me joy today as a Principal?) What brings me joy professionally are things that we have been unable to do to our full capacity for the last eight months and especially the last few days and the immediate future. My current reality, at first glance, is definitely not my desire reality.
But when I think deeper, there has been a lot of joy in my current reality. The fact that we have been in school in person for two and half months in the middle of a pandemic. Up to this point our fall sports teams were able to play and have had successful seasons. Our marching band earned all kinds of accolades during their "virtual" season. Our teachers have been doing an amazing job figuring out ways to reach students inside and outside the classroom. Our students have worked through all kinds of challenges to persevere. The PTHS community has rallied around each other through this time to help those in need. My desired reality is that we do everything we can to live our excellence in a safe, positive, supportive environment. The reality is we are doing that. Although our current reality is difficult at times, it is important to find the joy that is around you. There is a lot to be desired...you just have to know where to look. #findyourjoy
My 7th grade son was at basketball training this week and his trainer was giving them advice about "Information overload" and spending time listening to what motivates and inspires you. He asked them, "Are you choosing to spend time on SnapChat over reading a book that makes you better? How often to you miss out on opportunities to be better because you weren't listening to what was happening around you because you are consumed with what is in front of you? Do you hear me?"
We are all consumed with what is going on in front of us right now as administrators, teachers, parents and students.. There is a lot coming at us all at once. That "information overload" is real. Sometimes we have to stop and listen to what is happening around us. For the past three weeks I have been meeting with teachers, students and parents to discuss how we can make the high school experience more accommodating for teachers and students. The reality is, the pace we are working at as teachers and administrators is not sustainable. Emotions were high, ideas were flowing, ears were open. I could see the passion in everyone's faces and the energy in their ideas. It was important to stop everything that was going on in front of me and listen. I could hear Ryan's coach saying "Do you hear me?"
It is a critical time to stop and listen to what others are saying. This is certainly not a normal school year and the expectations placed on teachers and students are not always realistic. We are all trying our best to make this current situation as meaningful as possible and no matter how much we want things to be "normal," it just isn't the case right now. Information is coming at us fast and furious with health updates, regulations, changes to schedules, technology needs, attendance issues....and the list goes on. The information overload is real. "Do you hear me?"
Sometimes we all need to be reminded that these are children that have their world turned upside down. This is hard enough for us as adults. Yes, as educators we still have a responsibility to our students to provide them with the content knowledge they need to be successful. However, before we take a look at that next unit in the curriculum that is in front of us, or that next test that we have to give, stop and listen to what is happening around us. Teachers, much like parents, are balancing their own personal lives with ensuring that their students are learning to the best of their ability. As administrators we must listen. Students, at all ages, are trying to figure out how to stay organized, manage their time, maintain relationships and yes, maybe even help feed their families. As teachers, we must listen. Being that listening ear is critical now, more than ever as teaching, learning and every day life is changing. Our students provide us with as much inspiration and motivation as we hopefully provide them. As we come upon the close of the end of the marking period for many schools combined with the items that are all over our news (pick your topic), it is a time that can be "information overload." Are we all listening? It's important to ask each other, "Do you hear me?"
Stay strong. We are all in this together.
The past several months have certainly got me thinking. There have been personal triumphs, professional challenges and family experiences that had me pause and reflect on the importance of the little things in life that very often get taken for granted. A hug, a handshake, a high five all were once things that happened on a daily basis that are now something that I think about. Eating indoors, large crowds at football games and crowded school hallways that were never something I thought much about now become things I long to have happen again.
The last several months have taught me some valuable lessons personally and professionally. In my Principal role people have often told me that being a Principal is a lonely profession. To be honest, from March to June (and on Wednesdays) it was (and is) lonely. Working in isolation, learning in isolation, teaching in isolation is not easy. There is strength in numbers. Having students and teachers in the building for the past five weeks has been really AWESOME. You have made me stronger. You have made me better. You have made me realize how much I miss what I sometimes took for granted. After five weeks, I think some of us do long to go back to "normal" with fast paced classrooms, not knowing what "virtual students" are and seeing the hustle and bustle in the hallway. There is no denying that the last five weeks have been hard. However, there has been something normal, for me, about them. Learning, growing and being with you and our students in this place has been what I was missing. It has taught me to appreciate what we have, while we have it. Continue to be a symbol of hope for our students, for each other.....and yes, for your Principal. We are stronger together! #pantherstrong
This Tuesday marked the first day of fall. Fall is one of my favorite times of year. Cool weather, sitting by the fire pit, comfy sweatshirts, football games, and apple picking are all things that I look forward to over the next several months. I have also noticed recently that the leaves are starting to change color and some have even begun to fall. Poet Thich Nhat Hanh once wrote:
"I asked the leaf whether it was scared because it was autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told me, “During the whole spring and summer I was very alive. I worked hard and helped nourish the tree, and much of me is in the tree."
Seeing the leaves change color is beautiful. You see the uniqueness of each tree, of each leaf. You see into the heart of each tree as they paint nature's landscape. You just have to take the time to look.
Our teachers and students are working hard. I see your heart as you paint a landscape of learning for our students. I see how hard you are working. I see your heart in the concern you have for your students' success while balancing your own personal lives during this time as well. I see the uniqueness you try to put into every lesson, every activity. I see how much you are giving during the week and how by Friday, our students are leaving nourished by getting to be in classes with our teachers. Your hearts are in all the right places.
In the midst of all we are experiencing, it is important to pause and reflect. At the heart of our success is empathy. Everyone is going through something professionally and personally. This is really hard. Acknowledging the efforts of our colleagues and our students is critical. People are giving what they can to the point of exhaustion, physically and mentally. Like leaves protecting the tree, we must continue to look out for each other, protect each other and not be afraid to know that you are doing the best that you can. Your heart is with all those you love, serve and work with every day. I see your heart and I greatly appreciate it.
I was in my first year of teaching at Pequannock Township High School in 2001 when I was walking down the hallway to my next class and I happened to look into the media center and saw the television on as it was broadcasting that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I will never forget.....
After a quick glance I got to my classroom and began teaching my Business Law class. Cell phones were not a real big thing yet and we did not have 1:1 Chromebooks so my students and I had a brief conversation about what some of us had just seen but then continued with learning. That was my last class of the day. I will never forget.....
As word began to travel about what was happening, our Principal got on the loud speaker and said that school would be closing early and that everyone would be getting picked up for dismissal. People started gathering around any TV they could in the high school to figure out what was going on. I will never forget.....
I lived in Sussex County and I drove as safely and as quickly as I could and when I got home watched in disbelief at what was happening at what became ground zero. There were definitely tears in my eyes. Such great loss. Such tremendous heroism. I will never forget.....
Driving to work over the next several days, weeks and months there were so many American Flags. They were on cars, displayed on front laws, in store windows. The feelings of Patriotism could be seen everywhere you looked. People rallied around each other, supported each other and lifted each other up as a nation regrouped. I will never forget.....
We will never forget 9/11/2001. The unbelievable tragedy that will forever leave a mark on our hearts. But let us also never forget 9/11/2001 because of the sense of humanity and patriotism that brought our nation together. As we recovered as a country, everyone worked together, listened to one another, fought for one another, supported one another...cared about one another. We need that same humanity and patriotism today as we navigate our current reality. I see it in the way our community rallies around each other. I see it in the way our teachers are giving every ounce of energy they have for their students. I see it in our coaches and advisers in how they want to provide as many experiences as possible. I see it in our students....In their desire to bleed blue and gold. While our students were not born yet in 2001, they will help me never forget that day......They are our future. Let it be a future filled with promise that we will never forget. #pantherstrong
Richard M. Hayzler
A life long educator and current Principal of Pequannock Township High School in NJ, Rich is excited to share his ideas and thoughts about education and how we can change the world for our students and our staff.