Big Fish

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Tomorrow marks my first day of my new journey. A new district, new school, new responsibilities, and new kids all await me. It begins with “new teacher orientation”. Many people have scoffed at this and I am sure there will be a few dull moments, but I am actually very excited for it. 

I am excited because everything about where I am heading is about to be different.  I have a lot to learn. I am excited because I have spent the last several years as a big fish in a small glass of water (a pond would be far too big.) Everyone knew who I was and I came with a reputation for being different. 

This new experience will be like jumping from my little glass into the ocean. The school I will be working in is almost ten times the size of my previous district.  It brings with it a new set of challenges, a completely different atmosphere, and an opportunity. 

I see this as a fresh opportunity to start with new people and I am extremely excited to begin. So tomorrow I will eagerly jump into new teacher orientation with the same excitement and passion I would with anything else, and I look forward to reflecting upon the first step tomorrow. 

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My Summer Perspective

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From May until September, the time when most educators are preparing to say good bye to their students and prepare to recharge and reload with fresh ideas over the summer, I am doing something quite different.  I work 50 hour weeks as a waiter in a restaurant.  Growing up in a tourism driven community along the Southern New Jersey coast, I have worked every summer since I was 13.

I have learned many things from working in the service industry, and many of those things have made me a better educator.

Let’s start with a simple crossover: as a teacher, I typically have a million things to do and they all need to get done, now.  Waiting tables is similar.  There are tons of things to do and remember during the night.  Not only is it part of your job to do all the things, but to figure out ways to do them most efficiently.  Thinking through saving steps, being efficient, and multitasking in a fast paced environment is an extremely valuable skill anywhere.  Spending so much of my life working in food service has taught me how to multitask at a very high level, prioritize tasks, and accomplish many things in a short amount of time.

Working in a restaurant has also taught me humility.  People are generally nice, if not at least polite, but not everyone.  There are many people who will judge you based on what you are doing.  Don’t let them fool you, anyone can go out to eat.  But, it does provide a certain sense of understanding of the world when I realize that I can make more money serving people martinis and fish tacos than I do as a teacher with two masters degrees (let that one sit for a minute…)

While I have a certain level of distaste for those that are rude, judgmental, or struggle to understand basic human etiquette, it is also my job when waiting tables to help them have a positive experience.  It involves an understanding that how I feel about the people I am providing a service for is irrelevant, only that I provide the service and provide it well.  This, as is the case with many more areas of waiting tables, parallels working with the wide variety of individuals we come across.  I don’t have to like every parent, nor do I have to like every coworker, but it is important that I understand my role in providing children an education.  I need to get over any of my own personal feelings and take care of the needs that arise.

Finally (and mainly because I don’t want to spend too many hours drawing this parallel) is my experience with diversity.  Working in a restaurant for so many years has provided me the opportunity to work with so many different types of people.  I spend significant time with people from all sorts of educational backgrounds, heritages, and up bringings.  I have worked with immigrants, both legal and illegal.  I have worked with staunch conservatives and the extraordinarily liberal.  I have worked with college kids, convicts, and drug abusers.  I have worked with the incredibly intelligent and talented, to the other end of the spectrum.  All of those groups spanning many different age ranges.  All of those people need to find a way to work with one another to make a restaurant work.  Having spent time with people from so many walks of life, having listened to their stories, their concerns, and their dreams, has provided me with a perspective that I feel helps me in working with parents.  Parents often fit into one or many of these categories.  Many educators don’t spend a lot of time socializing (restaurant work is very social work and is exhausting for us introverts) with such a diverse collection of characters, yet our parents come from so many different backgrounds.

Every summer I have relived this experience for the past 20 years.  By the time a new school year is on the horizon, I am more than grateful for the ability to return to the school  and get back to the profession where my heart truly belongs.  In many ways it is the time between that provides me with incredible perspective that makes me a better educator.

 

Happy New Year

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Welcome to a new year.  So many of my teaching colleagues have already started back to school.  Some of you have even begun your year with your students.  This time of year has always been so exciting.  While many teachers do lament the end of summer, nearly every teacher is eager and excited about the journey they are about to begin.  I am only different in that by August I am eagerly awaiting the end of Summer.

This year is no different in that respect.  It is however going to be the beginning of a new journey for me personally.  Those of you who know me, know I have spent the past 7 years teaching primary grades at a tiny school in southern New Jersey.  I will still be in southern New Jersey, but everything else around me is about to change.  I am taking on a new challenge as a Middle School Technology Integration Specialist.  That major change will bring me new challenges, new opportunities, and new excitements.

I have had the great fortune of working with amazing staff, kids, and families.  I have been lucky enough to have had a positive impact on an incredible community.  I hope to have that kind of impact in my new school, in this new community.  Expect to hear a lot more reflections as I make a fairly big change this year.  I am going to need this space for reflection and hopefully feedback from so many of the amazing mentors I have grown to appreciate in so many ways.

Saying Goodbye…

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Dear Weymouth Family,

 

This is to all of you.  It includes the staff with whom I have shared many wonderful memories, the families with whom I have laughed, cried, and worried, and most of all, my kids.  Brace yourselves, I am going to get sentimental…

I don’t know exactly how to say goodbye to something that has become such a part of who I am.  In life, just as in education, it is people that matter most.  Weymouth Township has been blessed with many good people.  Having been able to spend such a long period of my life with many of them is something I will cherish.  Over the past few days I have tried to look forward with excitement on my new adventure, but in doing so, I am consistently reminded of the people I am leaving behind.

I will be working in a larger school, with different kids, and different families.  I think about the kids with whom I have shared so much of myself.  I dwell upon those kids whose anxieties I take on, whose tragedies weigh upon me daily, and whose joy inspires me in way I could not hope to due justice.  I worry about my kids, what will they do?  Who will they turn to when the previously turned to me?  I can only take comfort in remembering that there are still good people there, people who work hard and care deeply about the kids and their families.

I also worry about the wonderful staff that I am leaving behind.  At Weymouth Township there are a number of remarkable people that work so hard.  Those people work harder with less than most could imagine.  They work with kids that continue to come to them having experienced more and more difficulties. They will continue to carry on as they always do, making the lives of their kids, my kids, better.

In the end, while I am excited about my new adventure, I am saddened by all of the unfinished stories that I am leaving behind.  I had hoped to have enough structure in place to have my work run without me when I wasn’t there, it may not.  I will miss the kids most of all.  You have all inspired me and taught me so many amazing things that no matter where I go, you will always be with me.  Any time any of you need anything (this goes for kids, staff, or families), find me and I will do what I can.  You have given me so much, I hope I have given some of that back over the years in return.

As I have told many of you many times before: you have the ability to great things, so go do something awesome.

 

Thank you,

Brian Costello

Dear Parent

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(Two years ago I wrote this letter.  It still feels just as true now as it did then.  As I prepare for some significant changes in my career, I wanted to reread and revisit this post as a reminder of what is most important.)

Dear Parent

I recently read your letter (http://leadingmotivatedlearners.blogspot.com/2014/11/dear-teacher.html by @TonySinanis ) and I wanted to reach out and respond.

Your child is an incredible person.  I know this because we are fortunate to share about 35 hours together each week.  I know because each day your child comes to school with their hopes, dreams, and passions. The time I spend with your child is special.  While I know it is my responsibility to ensure your child can read, write, and effectively use numbers, my goal matches your hopes for your child.

Your concerns are valid.  In the landscape of education I can see many places where educators have digressed along a path that loses sight of what is important about your child.  With the value placed on results, it has become easy to view children as a numbers, statistics, and values.  Don’t mistake me for not caring about the educational progress of your child, I do care that they do well.  It is a large part of my job to ensure that your child learns, and learns as much as possible.  That being said, my top priority is that your child leaves my class with a passion for learning.

My desire is that each of the children in my classroom leave at the end of the day with three things in their head.

First, I want them to think, “I can do anything.”  The truth is that we are all limited in some ways, but a child should have hopes and dreams that exceed anything that you and I could imagine.  They should always feel like the world is just a beginning.  Each child in my room is a superhero, a champion, a genius.  Each day I hope they leave believing that they can.

Second, I want them to think, “That was awesome.”  Not everything we do will be fun for everyone.  Just like the kids, I try and sometimes fail. Ultimately I am trying to create an environment where everyone is excited to learn every day.  When the day is done, I hope each child in the room leaves with such an excitement from their day that they cannot wait to come back.

Finally, I want them to be exhausted.  When your child leaves, I am completely exhausted because I am engaged in learning with the class for the entire day.  I hope that the learning activities we have created are so engaging that they give all their effort, not because they should, but because they lose themselves in learning.

If I can accomplish this, the “important” stuff takes care of itself.  In saying that, I want to share that my hopes go far beyond this classroom.  Here are some of my greatest hopes for your child.

I hope your child never has their passion for learning extinguished. Our goal is to embrace learning, to foster growth, and to fan the sparks of young minds into the flames of tomorrow’s world-changers.

I hope that school becomes a place that is beyond safe; that school becomes instead a place of wonder and opportunity.  When I was in school we were exploring some incredible opportunities, from the MIT Robotics Competition to linking up with a group of students in Puerto Rico via Satellite during a Spanish Class (way before Skype.)

I hope that learning doesn’t end when they leave this building.  I hope that your child continues to grow and learn about so many more things that I can teach them here.  There are so many things in the world to learn about, so many interests that your child could explore, that there is no end to the experiences from which they can learn.

Finally, I hope that I am the worst teacher your child ever has.  That may seem strange to you, but I know who I am as an educator, I know what I believe and the positive impact sharing this year with your child will have on both of us.  If I am the worst teacher your child has, I know they are going to have an incredible experience with their education.

So I continue to appreciate your concerns and I hope you never fear being “that parent.”  I love “that parent” because you care about your child.  Just know that I know you are doing your best, and that I will always try to do the same.  You say that you trust your child’s teacher, I hope that I have given you a reason to have faith in that trust.

Thank you for sharing your amazing child with me each and every school day.

 

(As the parent of a child entering Pre-School this fall, I am realizing that I myself am”that parent” already.)

How Twitter Works for Me

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imageOver two years ago I started using twitter for what I thought at the time was professional development.  I was so inspired and empowered by the amount of readily available information and in truth it was far more than I could really process.  It took me a long time to figure out how I really wanted all of this to work.  Before I tell you how social media works, let me preface by saying that you may use social media however you wish, but that I have found the following to be the most beneficial understanding.

imageI started writing this post, not because I have never said any of this before, but because of a person.  A friend (Mari @msventurino ) who included me in the question, “How do you use twitter for a positive and meaningful learning experience?”  The truth is, I don’t learn from twitter.  Sure it is full of great content, and at times some less than great content, but I learn from people.  Learning in 140 character chunks is difficult.  Holding meaningful conversations at those intervals is even more so.  It happens, but more often than not, the most meaningful learning happens when the people behind those tiny boxed pictures offer a window into their own experience.

For me, social media is about finding and collecting good people.  My twitter account is my personal/professional account.  I tweet about mostly education, but the reality is, I make jokes, share funny stories, and send gifs that fit the conversation as often as I share meaningful content to help educators.  I do so unapologetically because, as I stated, for me Twitter is about collecting good people.  It is about finding them and cultivating quality relationships.  I never really know what learning I am going to need in the future, despite having some ideas.  So, as I come across, intelligent, good-hearted people, I work to build a connection and relationship that goes beyond a simple 140 character conversation.

Over two years I have learned incredible things, improved my practice, become a stronger leader, and had remarkable experiences.  Many of those doorways were opened up through accessing twitter, but not because of twitter itself.  They opened because twitter allowed me to find people, engage with those that seemingly seemed unreachable, and develop relationships with people that have become mentors and friends.  So, when I think of how twitter provides meaningful engaging learning, I don’t think it does.  It is simply a gateway to meeting the people from whom I have learned so much.  I cannot emphasize how important finding twitter has been in my development as an educator, but it wasn’t because of all the snippets of wisdom firing out from chat to chat.  It has been because of the incredible people that I have met and engaged with through a variety of mediums.  People, people like Mari, who I have learned from (probably more than she realizes) are what makes the difference.   So the next time someone asks you what you have learned from twitter, remember, you learn from the incredible people by talking to them, getting to know them, and learning when their knowledge will be most useful in your life.