We often hear the word "champion" used in a variety of phrases and settings throughout life. We are currently in the midst of professional basketball teams competing their way to the NBA Championship. In professional baseball, the winners of the MLB World Series are crowned as the World Champions. In sports, the champion stands alone or with a team, as the victor. The dominance of championing something, makes a statement. A statement of endurance and perseverance. The long hall of training, being defeated at times, then getting back up and staying the course.
The world outside of the sports realm frequently uses the word to describe rising above last years sales quotas or acquiring a new company and doubling profits. However, one of my favorite ways to define and use the word champion, is that of an ardent defender or supporter of a cause or another person: a champion of the homeless, as defined by http://www.thefreedictionary.com. The non-profit sector of the world, frequently uses the term in this way.
So where does public education fall in line with our societies use of this word? Can a teacher champion the classroom or a curriculum? Can an administrator champion their school's discipline issues? Can a district office leader champion a high quality and free education for every single student? The answer to all of these questions is, yes... but why do it alone?
One person can be a champion, but those of us who work in public education aren't in sales or participating in a professional sport. We don't make anything per-say... except by, transforming the minds of tomorrow, today.
So get with others who share your views and unwavering beliefs about the incredible minds of students. Let them in and work together. Try. Fail. Get back up... and Champion public education.
Born six years apart and now thousands of miles apart, my brother and I find ourselves distant. I remember looking up to my big brother. He excelled in sports and was intellectually gifted. Two things that never came easy to me. I used to go and watch his football practices at the high school just down the street from our house. Picturing myself in his uniform as he threw the ball into the end zone, I could feel the high of success as I sat on the hill overlooking the field. I can smell his jersey as I write this now, which I would sometimes put on for the walk home. It wasn't the most pleasant smell in the world, but to me, it was the smell of significance...
I've had the chance to coach, teach, and serve sets of brothers over the years in education. Some who were best of friends and others that didn't speak much at all. While there are many variables to the inter-workings of sibling relationships, one thing always rings true... All siblings are completely individually different. Housing their own funny quirks, personality traits, athleticism, and intelligence, they equally need the foundation of personal investment from teachers, coaches, and administrators. We can often assume or judge siblings based on what one or the other does and that can cause them the undue pressure of positive and or negative expectations.
That six year gap between my brother and I has seemed to increase over the years. A broken family and broken choices made by the both of us have led to that. However, we've recently begun to reconnect. Even though we are separated by California and Atlanta, maybe we can draw near once again, smelling the aroma of significance, as we do...
This song by one of my favorite bands has always made me think of my big brother: Brother- Alice In Chains Unplugged
"Pictures in a box at home
Yellowing and green with mold
So I can barely see your face
Wonder how that color taste"
As a kid, I spent a lot of time in my father's hair salon. Sweeping up hair and running towels to the laundry mat were some of the little jobs that would be assigned to me. I learned a lot about life in that shop. A constant stream of people coming and going through it's doors. Some in a rush, some in no hurry at all, and some needing a listening ear. I would intently watch, as my dad seamlessly flowed back and forth between connecting with his clients in conversation and transforming them from the person who sighed as they slowly slouched into his chair, to the new and improved one, standing tall with their shoulders back as they confidently strolled out into the world.
From time to time, my dad would fill space between clients by cutting my hair. I can remember being an antsy, squirmy little guy when he tried to get me to hold still. Once I was still enough for him to begin cutting, my chin would drop to my chest when I felt the buzz of the clippers on my neck. "Chin up!", my dad would say and I would jolt my neck back, lifting my chin to the sky. To this day, when the going gets tough, I hear his voice saying ,"chin up" and it refocusses me, helping me press onward.
Yes, I'm here to tell you that burritos can fly. Let me preface this by saying that anything is possible when seven hundred and sixty-two squirrelly students show up each day, and I mean ANYTHING.
When I first became a teacher in 2001, I worked along side of a few 30+ year veterans and one of the first things I can remember them telling me was that if they could go back and do it all over again, they would have written down all of the odd, funny, and crazy things that happened throughout the course of their careers because they could have written a best selling book. Sure enough, by the end of that first year, I witnessed many unforgettable moments.
I believe that after some time in this career, you begin to expect and accept that certain off the wall moments can and will happen every year. From students streaking through a basketball game to hearing some of the most unlikely students preform an amazing solo at a talent show, bringing tears to your eyes.
So one day this year I'm out on the blacktop doing my daily duty during lunch and a student comes to ask me if I'll shoot a basketball around with him. I say ok and just as we turned to walk towards the basketball court, a large burrito magically dropped out of the sky and landed within a foot of us. Startled and amazed at the same time, we turned to look at each other in astonishment and just as we did, another burrito flew by our eyes, crashing into the pavement. How could this be happening? To what did we owe this glorious display of beans and cheese wrapped in flower soaring through the air in all of it's beauty, only to see it's demise?
It turned out that a couple overly confident seagulls sorting through unfinished lunches, literally bit off more than they could chew... Anything is possible in education... anything.
During the very formative years of my childhood(somewhere between 4 and 8 years old) I can remember my father arriving home from work and entering the house with a stack of mail under his arm. Then, as I charged the door and pulled at his legs, he would proceed to tap my head, say hello and aim straight for the bathroom. He would stay in there anywhere from 5-20 minutes, which seemed like a lifetime. I would bang on the door and ask what he was doing, how much longer he would be, or if I could come in. The funniest thing about this scenario was that he would never respond, no matter how hard I banged or how loud I yelled. It would be completely silent until he came out.
On one of the rare occasions that my father and I actually sat down at the table to eat dinner together during my college years, I asked him what this daily routine was all about. He leaned back in his chair and looked at me with a side grin on his face. The kind of grin when you know the person grinning wants to smile ear to ear, but they're holding back with all of their strength. After a pause and a reflective look out into space, he said, "Son, you'll learn one day, that a man needs some time for himself. You see, most of the time I wasn't even using the restroom. During those years, I was trying to raise you and your brother on my own, run a business, and keep the household together. In order to truly give you my best and be completely present when I came home, I needed that time to just sit and read the mind-numbing junk mail, until I felt ready to transition from work into being a parent again." We both got a good chuckle out of it, as his priceless gift of sound advice went in one of my ears and right out the other.
Now at 37 years old and father of two, I finally understand what he was trying to tell me...
Do you need to build some time for yourself into your daily routine in order to be a better teacher, colleague, spouse, partner, parent or friend? Just bring in the mail, head straight for the bathroom and give it a try...
A few days ago, I was listening to the radio while scrolling through the pictures on my iphone and came across this one again. As I gazed at this little miracle of life laying on me, I heard this catchy song playing in the background.
The lyrics said, "Wake me up when this is over. When I'm wiser and I'm older. All this time I was finding myself and didn't know I was lost", Avicii
Captured in the moment caused by these powerful lyrics, my view on this picture completely changed. One minute it was a picture of my son and I dreaming together and the next, it was an innocent new life and an older, more skeptical and hurt one laying next to it. I began to get emotional then as I am now, while writing this. Too many times throughout my life, I thought I knew it all and was on the right track, only to find myself lost, deflated and scarred.
I looked at my son again while those lyrics rung in my ears... desperately wanting to protect him, I dreamed that maybe...just maybe, he might be able to keep those innocent eyes closed until the pain this life can and will bring, passed. Then to one day wake up as a man, like his father laying beside him. Only, still perfectly innocent and unscathed, unlike his dad...
Recently, I was touching base with a colleague and expressing just how tiered I've been. I explained, "There's just not enough hours to perform my job at its highest level. I need to come through for every student, staff member, and parent and I'm starting to feel stretched thin.” Cutting me off mid-sentence, my colleague said, "Tony, when is "ok" good enough?" in a jokingly, sarcastic tone. "Ok... good enough?” I pondered out loud. "Yes, sometimes you just need to get up, go to work, and get through the day. Grind it out, put it to rest, and be ok with just being ok that day.".
Since then, even as I sit here writing these thoughts, I keep asking myself that question. When is "ok" good enough? My core beliefs say never, but maybe it's those unrealistic beliefs that have been grinding me down to the point of never feeling good enough, resentment, and tiered...
My colleague had a good point, being ok with just being ok. I was able to get a great perspective about work and life from that brief talk. Challenging our own inner thoughts and core beliefs can be uncomfortable but, most things good for us in this life, are...
I believe that, all of us have an innate desire to walk a mile in the shoes of those we aspire to be...
I can sill imagine the warm feeling of coarse wool wrapping around my feet, as I slipped on my fathers old yellow leather slippers. I don't know how old I was, but I recall going through a phase of replicating the things my father did. Late into the weekend mornings you'd find him in those old worn in slippers and a black terry cloth robe. He must of thought he was Elvis, as I reflect now... After changing into his street clothes for the day, I would put those slippers on and try to wear the robe. The sleeves hung down to my ankles and the robe dragged behind me like a cape. Taking a step in those slippers was like lifting a cinderblock and before long, I'd be tripping and falling into a black robe avalanche.
Today, I was reading while my son was engaged in some independent play. I peaked up to check on him after hearing a stir, and much to my surprise, there he was, standing in my tennis shoes and grinning ear to ear. It was the first time I realized that my son was trying to be like me. Though I can never know all of the sacrifices my father made for me, I've grown into those old yellow leather slippers now and my son has begun growing into mine.
When I was single, I had a good routine between teaching and coaching, and I felt like I had control over my life with very few surprises .. Since getting married, having a child, and entering into administration, each day is very unpredictable with lots of surprises. This change is and has been uncomfortable for me at times, even when the change has been good.
Lately I've been getting a sense that all of us (Sinnott Staff) can feel change in the air between the Common Core, designing of the new learning center, and other district initiatives which can feel uncomfortable.
One of my best buddies in the whole world is a youth pastor for a large church in Seattle WA and I reached out to him recently for some advice around this topic of change. He said something during that conversation that I'll keep with me forever. Rob said, "Tony you're holding onto the past and what once was. You're not single, teaching, or coaching anymore. You're a Husband, a Father, a Leader and responsible for all that comes along with those things. This is your "new normal". What was normal for you before, is no longer your reality. Embrace this new normal and control the things you can. How you interact with your staff and your family. How you listen. How you take care of yourself so you can be there for others. Surprises and constant change are a part of life in every way. This is your new normal for right now, but this normal will change again. Tony. Step up to your calling and be the person and leader you're called to be!" This hit me like a ton of bricks! Since that conversation, I've really turned over a new leaf. Every time I feel pushed to my limit by life's twists and turns, I remind myself that this is my "new normal" and it renews me with confidence that I can get through whatever I'm facing. Be encouraged that finding your "new normal" in the midst of change will give you that same confidence...
The raw moments in my life often lead to life reflections and can overlap with my career.
Today my son was born into this world. Today my family went from three to four. Today... added another reason to keep going, to keep pushing through this tough life, and to survive.
He was born around 2 a.m. and by the time the three of us were taken to recovery to rest at 4:45 a.m., I'd been up for nearly 24 hours. When the nurse came in to check on Sailor and Rebecca at 6:30 a.m., I awakened and was a bit groggy to say the least. Minutes later, I realized that I wasn't going back to sleep any time soon. So I decided to go down the hall to grab a nice hot cup of coffee to get the day going with the newest addition to the Frascone "wolf pack".
As I was walking back towards our room, sipping my Kaiser brewed coffee, this overwhelming sense of nostalgia came over me. New life! Such a miracle it was to witness and be connected to! Then, I walked into our dimly lit room to find my wife peacefully at rest and Sailor swaddled up like a burrito. The sun creeping in through the hospital window shined light on my son’s olive skin and a clear view of the eastern foothills set the perfect backdrop for a novelty experience.
Our nurse was next to Sailor charting vital signs and grinned at me with a look of assurance on her face. Just then, I decided to share this great sense of nostalgia and deep reflection with her. "This must be the most wonderful job on earth. Seeing new life every day and truly being apart of it. Thousands of promising and impactful lives passing through these halls over the years, wow!” I expressively stated. Staring back at me with a fairly neutral look she said, "Ok... umm... Dad, lets watch our hot coffee. You’re getting a little too close to the baby with your cup. Take a step back please. Thank you.” Then, she scurried out of the room in a hurry to tend to the next new born, and the next overly emotional, nostalgic father with no commonsense...
Don't feel too bad for me. She was doing her job. At the end of the day her number one priority was to look out for the safety of my son, even if that meant putting his own father in check with a gentle reminder about infant safety.
Those of us working in education have a similar task at hand. Our number one priority is to do what's best for our students each and every day. We've made that task our livelihood and to that end alone, our student's needs come before all-else...