Monday, January 22, 2018

Leading Through Empowering #EdChat

This year, I started a new position at a new school. I had been teaching literature for 15 years in the same place, but I was ready to move on and tackle something bigger. You never know what a new job is going to look like, but I couldn't be happier about the decision I made. This is simply the best job for me in the entire world. Now, there are so many different reasons why this job is amazing. I could write about the fantastic teachers working hard every day to engage their students in new and creative ways. I could write about all of the support staff doing their best to help students before and after school to keep them moving in the right direction. I can even spend time writing about the amazing students that are willing to try new things in the Makerspace and fail proudly knowing it is not a big deal. I really want to write about the leadership of my school and how it is an example to others looking for the right way to engage their staff.

Imagine working at a job where the administration is not supportive, vindictive, cruel, and just not sympathetic to a teacher's needs to provide the best educational environment for their students. This is a position that some of you might not have to imagine. One example of a bad admin approach would be the "My way or the highway" approach. It does not work. It does not work when teachers are highly educated professionals that have years of experience teaching some of the top students in the state. Over time, teachers become demoralized and no longer want to be involved in anything if grief is the only reward for speaking out or suggesting alternatives. History shows us that fear will only get people to do what you want for so long before  everyone gives up trying. You can't manage people effectively through fear and intimidation. To get the most out of a staff, respect needs to be the number one feeling teachers feel whenever meeting with administrators. If that is not there, nothing else matters.

In my current position, I've had many different ideas on how to grow the Makerspace, integrate technology into the classroom, engage reluctant learners through code, and other things. Every time I brought up an idea to my administrators, it was always, "Ya, let's explore that" or "Ok, I trust you to make it happen" and even "You're the expert, you decide what is best". For some of you, those words might be confusing because your admin has never said them to you. I totally understand. I was washed over by this feeling of empowerment. I genuinely felt like I could make some changes and make a difference. Instead of worrying about the backlash or the stalling tactics or the bruised egos of people who didn't come up with the idea, I was able to share ideas and get to work because I was a trusted professional that is an expert in my field. It is the best feeling in the world. It was sad that it had been so long since I've felt that excitement and empowerment.

Leadership works through empowering others to be leaders. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and a leader helps other stand out and work on those weaknesses over time. By empowering your staff, you will get so much more out of them in the long term. It is silly to have to write this, but you actually do get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Leadership is about checking the ego and supporting others for the good of everyone. If you are more concerned about your image than the success of the staff around you, you are a terrible administrator. Sorry to be so blunt, but admins that carry themselves around as if they are better than their staff do not understand what real leadership is and are a cancer on any educational institution. Their antics can take years to clean up after they have left because teachers need to feel safe to trust again.

If you are an admin and you are reading this post, I have one simple question for you.

"If you are not empowering teachers to take action to be part of the school's community to make it better for all of the stakeholders, what are you doing as a "leader" of the building?"

If you are not sure how to answer that question, it might be time for you to think of a career change because you are hurting education.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Living a Lie #EdChat

One of the things that haunts me from time to time is this feeling that someone is going to show up and tell me,

"We just realized that you do not know much of anything and your ideas are ridiculous. Anything that you might know can be Googled. Thanks and good luck."

I've talked with other teachers about this feeling. The feeling that you are just not good enough and that you are not making a difference in the life of students or other teachers. The feeling that you have orchestrated the biggest lie on everyone around you. It's feels like I'm Keyser Soze or something. (Only watch if you have seen the movie and, be warned, there is some language.)

Even though I'm surrounded by amazing teachers and admins in my new position, that doubt still sneaks in. When I have that thought, I have two options:

1. Agree with it, quit my job, and do something else.

2. Use it to drive me to improve my practice and share the doubt with others.

I always choose option 2, but I wanted to share more. I was talking with a friend of mine and she expressed exactly what I was feeling. I've been sitting on this post for a while in my draft folder and I decided it was time to write it. If my friend, who I consider one of the finest educators in the entire world, has doubts about their work, others are probably feeling the same way.

I think it is important to be open about our doubts and fears as educators. Find a close friend or mentor and share those feelings. We can all relate. If we can face these fears with friends, we can move to focusing on improving what we do. We can grow and share and support others.

If you are out there doubting your skills as a teacher and are worried that you will be exposed as a fraud, know that you are not alone. You are one of many "frauds" and "fakers" in the world that still get up every day and try to make a difference. Don't be afraid to share your fraudulent feelings with other teachers. We can make it through all of this together.

Monday, January 1, 2018

A Year in Making #Make52 Part 2 #MakerEd

2017 has been quite a year in Making for me. The first part of the year had some fun and amazing projects that kept me busy and forced me to learn and grow in different ways. As I continued to think about the idea of Making and what the overall Mentality looks like for me and for a school, I was able to make some fun things and share with my students to show them life long learning. I did not post as mush of my making at the end of the year because I was so busy supporting student making. It was the best reason to fall behind in the posting, but I never fell behind in the making. Here are the shots of my 2nd half of Make 52.

A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

These projects have been fun and frustrating at times, but they were things I wanted to do and that drive is what had me learning and growing. It is so important that educators who want students to explore and make take the time to do the same. It is a best practice for any teacher to show students the value of doing what they are teaching whenever possible. In the end, I had way more than 52 projects and I can't wait to see the projects I will invest my time and energy in for 2018.

Have a great year everyone and keep making!

Hugs and High Fives,


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What Does Failure Look Like? #MakerEd #EdChat

It is almost the halfway point of the school year for me and it has been crazy. I've spent lots of time the past few days thinking about what has worked and what has not. I know that I'm too critical of the things I do, but I still need to look and see where I can be better.

As I have been reflecting, I was thinking that there is still so much to do in the Makerspace and that I am not where I would want to be with student engagement. I have very dedicated students in the Makerspace on a regular basis, some that come in from time to time, and others that have not interest in what is going on. For me, I feel like I have failed to bring in the students I wanted into the space to see them explore and grow. However, I received a couple of recent compliments from teachers saying they have been seeing cool things coming out of the Makerspace. They are excited to see it grow even further in the second half of the year. It really caught me off guard. I thought I was failing at what I was trying to do, but I was succeeding in the eyes of others. So, what is failure then?

If a lesson does not go exactly as plan, but students still learn and are engaged, is the lesson a failure? Just because I did not hit randomly chosen numbers of usage in the Makerspace, does that mean that my efforts have been a failure?

My badging system took off at the start of the year, but it has slowed down a bit. Students have been trying to find time to use the space, but sports and other assigned work has stopped some from fully engaging in the space. I have many kids that want to spend more time, but have conflicting schedules. It's tough for them to get down here. Is that a failure on my part or is it a success that students want to be come down, but they are not able to do for reasons outside of my and their control? Students are still earning badges and the steady trickle is probably what it should be until I'm able to get more resources.

I think I'm just rambling at this point, but that is sort of what reflecting is for me at times. If others view my work as a success, but I think it falls short, is it a failure or a success? If a tree falls in a forest...

Most importantly, not everything is perfect in the Knight's Forge and I still have plenty to learn and understand from others and from the overall Maker Community.

Special thanks to @gravescolleen for getting me thinking about this. She is awesome person to talk/text with when something is rumbling around my skull. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

'Tis the Season (for Sadness)

I've been open about my battle with Depression and it's ugly cousin Anxiety for a few years now and I like to touch base on it publicly because there are so many stories to tell about it that are so similar to others out there. One of the things I've learned about sharing my struggles is that there are many people that reach out to thank me for sharing the story they are not ready to share themselves.

The holidays are a time filled with joy, happiness, and other nice things for most people. For others, the holidays bring lots of dread. While many people deal with the stress of family and friends at this time of year, many others, myself included, feel the pain of anxiety at trying to balance all of these different things in life and trying not to let anyone down, but ultimately feeling like everyone has been let down. The anxiety brings on the depression and the Winter Break for a teacher designed for relaxing and recharging becomes the opposite. I'm lucky to have great family and friends who have been supportive as I figure out what works and what doesn't for me.

For students, going home for 10-14 days could be the worst thing in the world for them. Sometimes, school is their safe space. It's the place where they can count on a meal. Their friends are there to comfort them after a rough night at home. They look at the break as dark period of time before school starts again and they can escape their home life. While dealing with those issues, students can deal with severe anxiety leading up to the break and might act out at school. Students need so much empathy and compassion during this time because they are scared. Teachers need to be a rock for them no matter how crazy life is for them.

If you have loved ones in your life that deal with Anxiety and/or Depression, know that they might need an extra hand or just a nice hug when things seem a bit crazy. For your students, offer them a safe spot to talk before or after school and help them find things to keep them occupied over the break. Focusing on the anxiety and depression will only make it worse.