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Understanding Talents

October 15, 2019

We all have talents that enable us to connect with those around us in special ways. For example, I would consider myself to be an introverted extrovert. In essence, I can socialize when needed but am truly at peace when I am off to the side.

Ironically, I grew up in the theater and have led countless professional development sessions over the last 15 years. Combined with my career choice as an educator, it is hard to see how the introverted part of me shines. But, without it, I would be lost.

How often do we lose sight of the talents each of our students bring with them everyday to school? How can we develop a learning space that allows those talents to shine regardless of our direct contact with them? We shouldn’t be in a position where we have to do something in order for them to showcase their talents. The learning space should be designed so that those things happen organically without the direct hands of the teacher.

Granted as teachers build positive relationships with students and build a better understanding of them as people, a clearer understanding of their talents and special gifts will develop. Even so, I would say our goal should be that those talents and special gifts grow and prosper with the guidance of the teacher but not solely because of the teacher.

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The Small House

October 12, 2019

For most of my life I have kept a secret. A secret so dark and terrifying that I couldn’t even convince myself to talk about it. That is until last Sunday as I was leaving church. Father James was right when he stated that “God talks to you in many ways.” That day, after 33 years, God told me to speak.

The story I am going to share is 100% real. You will want to doubt it and believe it to be false, but don’t. For your own sanity and safety, have faith in the words before you and trust that this did happen. With that in mind, there is no reason to go to the police after reading this. Those days are long gone. No, instead, digest the message and learn.

It started on August 26, 1987. A Wednesday like many before and the day before my 9th birthday. That year, we moved to a new house in a rather big neighborhood. The neighbors were nice and I pretty much played outside everyday with a group of friends. In those days, school didn’t start until after Labor Day so we were enjoying our last few days of freedom.

On that particular afternoon, Jordan was acting strange. I remember thinking he must be in trouble because he never acted quiet and reserved. In fact, he was the loudest of our crew. But not that day. He barely spoke and was obviously preoccupied with his thoughts. As we often did, we rode to the corner lot that had a big wooded area behind the closest house.

Besides Jordan acting strange, the day seemed pretty typical. Chris and Jacob were annoying as usual and Caroline was chatty. I was excited to ride my new bike which a relative had gotten for me before my birthday. As we trotted towards our hideout spot in the woods, Jordan stopped and stood motionless without saying a word. At first, we all just kept going until we realized he had stopped.

He was standing still staring at this small house in the woods. We passed it a thousand times over the summer. It was located on our route to the hideout. Nothing much to it. It was likely an old shack that someone lived in years and years ago. Weeks back we finally built up the courage to go inside. It was a two room home with many critters occupying the floor and walls.

I looked at the house and noticed a red mark on the outside. It had a strange shape. The day before, Jordan and Chris bought spray paint to repaint a wagon for his little sister. My thought, in that moment, was that Jordan had gone back to the house alone or with Chris.

As I walked closer to Jordan, I repeated his name three times. The others had moved on and were not going to waste their precious summer minutes. Jordan finally turned his head towards me. His pupils were gone and all that was left was a white globe that reflected my face. I jerked backwards in horror as Jordan swiftly moved his body towards mine.

For the first time, I saw the knife in his hand. I darted behind a tree. He slowly strode over towards me but I surprised him by throwing a rock at his hand. Jordan’s white eyes showed pain and his mouth opened. Where there should have been a cry, a loud groaning noise echoed throughout the woods. What looked like moths flew out of mouth all towards me. I shuttered in fear as Jordan marched towards me again. This time without the knife. I quickly tumbled to the ground grabbing the knife as a protection. Jordan was my friend and I had no intention of hurting him. Even so, I hastily stuck Jordan with the knife.

He didn’t even murmur in pain. He stared at me with those blank eyes. I stabbed him again and again. Blood was gushing from his stomach and splattering all over me. After what felt like minutes, Jordan’s stare changed and his pupils returned. He laid there motionless. In shock, I didn’t know what to do. As a 8 year old, the scope of the situation was impossible to understand but I knew that I had to dispose of the body.

My father was a hunter. He took me hunting often and when I turned 7, he taught me how to properly cut apart a kill. With my friends frolicking at our hideout, I slowly cut my friend into pieces. Bit by bit. The smell of blood wafted through the air. I buried the parts along with my clothes throughout the woods.

I joined my friends after washing/swimming in the creek. That night I went home for supper like I normally do. It wasn’t until the next morning that people started to look for Jordan. Jacob, Chris, Caroline, and I were interviewed by the police. To this day, I believe it is still a cold case.

The part that haunts me the most is that the red mark on the small house wasn’t spray paint after all. It was blood. It wasn’t Jordan’s blood and the police never determined whose blood it was. That house doesn’t stand there anymore. It crumbled under a tree years ago but the nightmare of that house will forever haunt my dreams.

Parenting

October 5, 2019

As an educator, I am constantly comparing my life as an educator to my life as a parent. Needless to say, being a father is far more important to me but I consistently compare the two as a way to gauge my progress as a parent.

To be completely transparent, I am always failing as a parent. It’s hard. My patience is never enough. My tone needs to improve and my empathy must increase.

Ironically, I feel like these are strengths of mine in the classroom or in a school setting.

Without a doubt, I became a better educator when I had children. I understood so much more once I was living a life as a parent. My goal will always be to keep moving forward. Learn, fail, learn more, and grow.

I try to enjoy every day knowing that my kids will not always be kids. That reality is always sitting in the back of head and truly makes me sad. I pray I can get this parenting gig down before that’s the case.

Suicide Stories

September 26, 2019

Both love and compassion play important roles in our lives.  Love can lift you up in troubling times and also comfort you when you are sad.  Compassion is what we seek when we know we have done something wrong but also something we should model when we are helping those in need.  Both can reaffirm your beliefs and justify your actions.

Of late, I have been thinking about the importance of love and compassion in the classroom.  As educators, relationships are the centerpiece of what we do. We are constantly building trust, faith, and commitment between ourselves and our students.  Of course, in that, we are also working towards learning.  But without the relationship piece, learning can and often will fall short.

September is National Suicide Awareness Month.  Anyone and everyone who has been intimately affected by suicide knows how traumatizing the experience can be.  As September comes to a close, I pray that we continue to propagate the importance of keeping educators aware of mental illness and depression in the classroom.  This is not a high school and college concern.  This is a concern for all students at all grade levels.

With this in mind, I have created a Google Doc that will pose as a diary for people to share their experiences with suicide.  It is not an easy subject.  It really is not.  But, we learn from each other. Your words just might save someone. I have written chapter one and look forward to reading your words next.

I urge you to share this document and spread the word.  Thank you.

SUICIDE STORIES

Searching for Home

September 18, 2019

In the summer of 2018, my family and I decided to pursue new professional opportunities.  This involved moving from our “home” to a new home about 1300 miles away.  Central Virginia, namely Charlottesville, had always been our home.  It’s not easy picking up and moving.  As expected, it was hard saying goodbye to our families and friends.  It was hard saying goodbye to colleagues and to those we had grown professionally with.  With all of that being said, it has now been over a year, and we are creating memories and developing a new identity for “home”.

This process has opened my eyes to many things.  More than any blog post could ever describe.  I am a lifelong learner.  I look at life and its many adventures as opportunities for growth and development.  When I look back on this experience, I pray that my kids have learned as much as I have over the last year.  I hope they continue to learn and make new discoveries just as I will.  I also value and appreciate the blessings we have as a family unit.

Home is a beautiful concept.  For the last 6 years, I have had the pleasure to work in Title 1 buildings.  From my experience, transiency is a common factor in each of those three schools.  For these students, “home” changes often.

How can we as educators be better prepared to help these students feel connected to their new school from the moment they enter on the first day?

Often, that “first day” is just another school day during the year.  But, for them, it is a new beginning, a new adventure, a stop-gap before moving again, etc. My experience over the last year has increased my empathy.  I am grateful for that.  But, not satisfied.  I don’t just want to feel, I want to do something to make it better.

What does your school do for new students on day “1”?

The Importance of Reading

March 5, 2018

Below is the link to the newest Woodbrook Bear Den blog post.

https://woodbrookbearden.blogspot.com/

Reading is an essential part of my life.  Currently, I have set a goal for this year.  I am working towards reading at least 26 books.  Of those 26, I would like 13 to be fiction and 13 to be nonfiction.  I would like to get to read 30 books but I am also being realistic. I am on target so far to reach 26.

Curious, what good books, fiction or nonfiction, have you read of late?

Happy New year

December 19, 2017

This is the message we shared with our Woodbrook community. 

“Looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build the future.”  Paulo Freire

As one year comes to a close and another begins, it is imperative that we, as educators, reflect upon the year that was.  There are accomplishments to celebrate from 2017 and also many things to look forward to in 2018. Even so, with all the positive changes happening at Woodbrook, we are also keenly aware of the challenges that we have faced over the last year and will continue to face moving into 2018.  But it is in each of these challenges that we look more deeply at our current practices to help us make well informed decisions that will ensure a high quality learning environment for every student.

As a staff, we are collectively working together to better understand our strengths and identify those areas that continue to require us to learn and grow so that we can better serve the Woodbrook students and school community.  Currently, each member of the Woodbrook staff is evaluating their personal values and beliefs as educators.  This process of self-reflection will eventually lead us on a journey to developing a new Woodbrook vision and mission statement.  This is an exciting way to welcome a new year and a new Woodbrook.  

As winter break begins, we hope that you have an amazing holiday celebrating with family and friends.  Woodbrook is an incredible school filled with many different cultures and traditions.  It is those different cultures and traditions that make each and every student at Woodbrook unique.  As a staff, we value the differences amongst the students and understand that the more we appreciate and comprehend those differences, the better educators we will become.  We also value the important relationship that must be built between our Woodbrook families and our staff.  Consistent communication and collaboration between the two sides is vitally important, and we will continue to improve our school to home communication procedures.  

Our students were first taught by their families and that education carries on.  Now, it is our job to work together to help every student move forward in their academics and character education.  Each week, we have new words of the week to help foster a community of learners who value each other.  The last word before the new year is generosity.  Generosity doesn’t have to solely relate to money or wealth.  It can also represent time, effort, love, kindness, and understanding.  These are all attributes that we want every student at Woodbrook have before moving on to middle school.  

The coming year will bring many exciting changes to Woodbrook.  Some of those changes will take hold before the 2017-2018 school year comes to a close.  For example, it is likely that the new gymnasium and open-space classroom in the back will be ready in the spring.  This will enable our staff to utilize those spaces as a training ground for the upcoming school year.  Over the past 6 months, many Woodbrook teachers have traveled to see similar classrooms across the country.  Recently, we took a team of 10 Woodbrook teachers and travelled to the Northeast to see multiage schools and to learn from educators who are teaching in multi-age classrooms.  Those trips will continue in 2018 so that more staff has an opportunity to see these spaces at work.  In addition, Michael Thornton will be leading professional development sessions on co-teaching and multiage education.  We know that many of our families want to learn more about the multi-age and open space instructional approach. We hope that once everyone returns from break, you will consider dropping in to visit our classrooms so that you can see first hand what teaching and learning looks like in this kind of environment. If this sounds like something that you are interested in doing, please feel to reach out to the administrative team to arrange for a visit. We know we have a long way to go but we believe in this work and will continue learn and grow in order to make our school a success.  John Dewey said, “Education, therefore, is the process of living and not a preparation for future living.”  We are looking into the future to prepare for what will be but we are also looking in the mirror to see what is.  Happy Holidays to all and we will see in you 2018.  Happy New Year!!
Principal                Assistant Principal

Lisa Molinaro         Michael Thornton