Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Coming To Terms

It was the most difficult period of my personal life and for the first time sadness started to consume me. Was I sad in the past? Yes but I was always able to reframe things and see the positive - maybe not right away but eventually. But this sadness didn't just last a few minutes or hours... it lasted for days... in fact, it lasted for months. 

Those six months changed me forever. Those six months felt like a lifetime. Those six months were some of the darkest in my life. I was struggling internally with my emotions and feelings and I was unable to verbalize the struggle to anyone. I didn't want people to judge me. I didn't want people to be disappointed in me. I didn't want people to feel angry with me. I was so consumed with what others would think that I started to withdraw because it seemed easier to just deal with it alone.

Eating was difficult on a daily basis; being around people was painful sometimes; sitting alone in silence was deafening and would stress me out; and anticipating what people would say or think raised my level of anxiety to a place I had never experienced before. It was such an incredibly stressful time but I tried hard each day to put a smile on my face and step into my world. I acted as if everything were "normal," even though I knew that nothing would ever be the same moving forward.

I guess it came down to expectations. Expectations I had of myself and the expectations I thought the people around me had of me too. From my perspective it seemed that I filled certain roles in my personal and professional world and I felt compelled to try and keep everything the same. I wanted my family to think everything was fine and that my world was stable because that is who I was in our family. I tried to be the positive and supportive person at school because that is who our staff was accustomed to dealing with each day. I tried to be the happy and light hearted principal because that is what our students needed and expected. I tried to maintain normalcy even though I could barely define it.

What people didn't know at the time was that I was coming to terms with my sexuality and it was an incredibly challenging and difficult journey. I was going through that alone. I needed to figure it out alone because I needed to understand myself before I could share myself with the world. Was I really wired any differently? No. Was my personality going to go through some drastic change? No. But, I did realize that I am gay and that although my sexual orientation would not define me, it would, on some levels, redefine my world.   

After coming to terms with my sexuality and having a better sense of self, I was starting to see the light at end of the tunnel. I started to shake the sadness that hung over me for months. I started to understand that my happiness was just that - mine; mine to find; mine to define; mine to celebrate; mine to share; and mine to cherish. Thanks to some much needed therapy, I was finally ready to share my story with the people in my world who mattered most - my family, my friends and the people who I respected. 

In the end, everyone who mattered was incredibly supportive and understanding. They listened to my journey and offered love, support and encouragement. The people who mattered and cared about me did not judge me - they just wrapped me up in their love and helped me see that things were going to be ok. 

I don't know why I thought the end result would be any different (I should never underestimate those around me) but I realized that going through the initial part of the journey alone, where sadness and anxiety became the norm, was a necessary part of the process for me. I needed to come to terms with myself before I could share my story with those around me. I needed to define my own happiness and emotional well being before I sought support from those around me. 

Those six months were the most difficult time of my life. Coming to terms with my reality was not an easy journey but it was the most important one of my life. Does sadness still enter my world? Yes. Have I experienced challenges and difficult situations that make me anxious (it is happening right now as I write this post)? Yes. Is life all sunshine and rainbows? No. But, I feel emotionally healthy for the first time in a long time and because of that, I know that I am a better me. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Tale Of Two Conferences

It was the hottest of times... it was the coolest of times (thanks to the air conditioning); it was the busiest of times... it was the quietest of times (thanks to the end of the school year); it was the most connected of times... it was the most disconnected of times! Over a three day period at the end of June I had the opportunity to experience two amazing conferences - Model Schools in Atlanta and ISTE in Philly. The experiences were vastly different yet the end result was quite similar... I had social interactions with people that resonated with me on a personal level and will potentially impact my professional practices moving forward.

In some basic ways these conferences could not be more different... one was full of connected educators while the other featured very few connected educators... one featured a heavy focus on technology while the other featured some technology but by no means did it have a strong presence... but in the most important way, these conferences were exactly the same because they were both filled with thousands of educators who were giving up their "free" time during the summer to enhance their craft in the hopes of meeting the needs of children (at least that was my goal). 

With that being said, the experiences were incredibly different for me but equally as important for my personal and professional development (I see the two as interconnected and intertwined). While I was in Atlanta at the Model Schools conference, the conversations were mostly focused on professional practices and pedagogy where the majority of the people I was connecting with were new to me - they weren't part of my PLN and I had never been to Model Schools before. I have to say that I LOVED every minute of it because it helped push my thinking in the professional realm and it gave me a space to discuss the things that I am most passionate about as it relates to leadership, learning and teaching. It was awesome and there was something liberating about being in a space where most people didn't know me and thus didn't necessarily "expect" anything of me.  

That all changed when I got to Philly. You see, ISTE was full of connected educators and many of them were my friends as a result of being part of my PLN. I was excited but nervous at the same time... would I see everyone I wanted to see? Would I get to meet some of the people I have never met face to face? Would I be able to steal a few quiet moments with a couple of special people? What were people expecting from me if we did have a chance to speak? I was totally stressed about it even though I knew I was going to be seeing dozens of my friends. Well, after presenting on a panel with some of the amazing authors from the Corwin Connected Educators Series, I ended up hanging out in various small groups throughout the day with some great friends. There was food, laughter and some powerful conversations with people I consider some of my dearest friends. The discussions and interactions weren't necessarily about the same types of professional practices that I had the chance to discuss at Model Schools but they were equally as important because they met some personal needs. I was able to talk about balancing life and work; I was able to pick someone's brain about how they manage the whole presenting thing with their real life; and I was able to get a hug from a friend just at the right time. You see, for me, ISTE was filled with the emotional deposits that I needed on a personal level in order to sustain myself and maintain a positive frame of mind at a moment when I was feeling quite overwhelmed. Now, was I able to spend time with everyone I was hoping to see (no #educelebrities in my world - just friends but that is a whole other post)? No. Was I able to meet everyone I hoped to meet? No. But, I was able to engage in those important personal interactions that would be the catalyst for growth in my professional world. I needed ISTE in the worst way but not because I was going to learn about the newest tech tool or website but because I needed to be surrounded by friends who could relate to my professional world but could appreciate me on a personal level at the same time. 

My experiences at ISTE were the perfect compliment to my time at Model Schools because the personal and professional development happened almost simultaneously (the Perfect Storm if you will) and when I came back home to NY, I was ready to tackle both my professional and personal challenges. You see, based on my experiences and research, professional development doesn't happen in isolation and it is very much dependent or connected to personal development and I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by educators who helped me develop in both areas and that was my tale of two conferences!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Want To Lead?

I recently started preparing to teach a graduate course for aspiring educational leaders. All the students in my class are currently working in education in some capacity - most are classroom teachers while some are specialists or pseudo administrators already. As part of the introduction to the course, which starts in a couple of weeks, I asked them to fill out a quick Google Survey so I could get to know a little about them. One of the questions I asked them was...

Why do you think you want to be an educational leader?

Although only a few of the students have completed the survey thus far, their answers got me thinking about myself when I was an aspiring administrator (a little over 10 years ago). My mind was quickly flooded with the romantically idealistic notions and aspirations that dominated my thinking at the time. I thought I was single handedly going to change the world of education and be the catalyst for creating a school that was the panacea of teaching and learning. Well, guess what? That didn't happen; in fact, almost the opposite happened. I failed pretty miserably at my first administrative position and was a pretty crappy leader - I literally cringe when I think back to some of the things I said and did during those first couple of years as a building administrator. 

Why did I fail so miserably? It wasn't for a lack of trying or lack of work ethic; it wasn't for a lack of passion or lack of enthusiasm; in fact, in retrospect, I can honestly say that nothing really could have prepared me to be successful for that first job... except if I could get some insight from my future self. So, in an attempt to share some knowledge with the aspiring administrators I will be teaching in a few short weeks, and reflect on my own journey (reflective practice is a critical element to learning and growing), I humbly offer the following 3 tips on being a successful school leader... or as I like to call myself, a Lead Learner:

1. It is all about you and not at all about YOU at the same time... the position of school principal is a critical one that literally impacts every person in the educational community. From students to staff to families to colleagues, the principal's impact is felt by all. The principal can control and shape and dictate the culture, tone and climate of the entire community. As Todd Whitaker taught me... When the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold! Well, that is the truth - so sneeze into your arm and carry around lots of tissues (just kidding). The principal can be the one who models learning; can be the one who offers an open ear when someone is struggling; can be the one who enacts a spirit day when it's been a long month and the students and staff need a little fun; the principal can be the one who advocates for the needs of the students and staff; the principal can be the one removing the barriers and obstacles so that the staff can maximize their teaching techniques by taking risks. The principal can meet with the parent who feels that their child has been wronged; or can be the one to sit with the superintendent and present a sound case for why a specific child might need a teacher aide in the classroom. The principal can do a LOT so on some level it is all about you as the principal but it is NOT about YOU the individual. Please, do NOT take yourself too seriously; do NOT see yourself as reaching some sort of pinnacle and not needing to learn and grow anymore; do NOT sit in your office all day and dictate to everyone around you; do NOT employ a fixed mindset or allow institutional biases to continue because of your personal position or thinking... be the principal who takes their work seriously and pours their heart and soul into their school community but at the same time understands that it is not about them.

2. There are a LOT of politics in education... so, take the time to develop and nurture relationships with all members of the community. Know your boss; know your board of education; know your colleagues; know your staff; know your kids; and know your families. Know what those around you want, expect and need. When you invest the time in nurturing relationships with members of all constituent groups, you slowly amass social capital and social capital becomes your "Get Out of Jail" card when navigating a particularly political situation. Truth is, most people in an educational community have an agenda (even the principal) and it is the principal's responsibility to gain the trust of those around them so they can better understand the individual agendas and help align them in the best interest of children and the community at large. Is everyone going to like you? No so don't waste your energy on being liked (at some point in time, EVERY member in the community will not like you for some reason or another but that's ok) but instead, expend energy on gaining people's trust and confidence because they are the keys to healthy relationships. Remember - it is not about you but it can be all about the politics so healthy relationships must be at the core of the community!

3. Make decisions that are in the best interest of children... not ones that are easiest for you or less disruptive for teachers or cheaper for the district... make decisions for children that provides them access to a rich and meaningful learning environment. Of course, decisions should rarely be made in a silo; instead, all members of the educational community should have voice in some way, shape or form and it is your responsibility as the leader to listen to these voices as a way to broaden your perspective and make the best decision possible. Sound decisions generally don't come as a result of reacting; instead, sound decisions come when a leader reflects, deliberates and considers potential consequences. Effective leaders spend more time trying to be proactive and less time being reactive. Often times, when one reacts, the decisions can be influenced by emotion and that could be problematic. So, remember, always try and make the decision that is in the best interest of children because then you can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and know you did the best job possible.

Are there hundreds of other tips I could offer my graduate students (or my former self)? YES (please feel free to leave more tips in the comments section)! But in the end, these 3 have been keys to my success as a Lead Learner and I don't think any course, workshop or internship taught me about these ideas when I was first asking myself... Do I really want to lead?          

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"Little" Things

While scanning my Twitter feed, I recently came across the following…
 
One hundred years from now, it will not matter
What kind of car I drove or what kind of clothes I wore.
All that will matter is that I made a difference
In the life of a child!
 
Upon seeing this quote, I immediately thought of all of the teachers who work tirelessly each day at #Cantiague Elementary. From my humble vantage point, our teachers set the bar pretty high as to what a highly effective educator looks like and have created a space where all children can thrive in some way, shape or form. But, my thoughts didn't end there... I started to think about the thousands of amazing educators who I have connected with on Twitter, Voxer, Facebook and Instragram over the last three years who have devoted themselves to one cause - doing what is in the best interest of children. I have learned so much from our #Cantiague community and from the members of my PLN that I genuinely believe that I am a better lead learner, educator, father and person because of the educators in my life (you all know who you are and I couldn't get through some days without you).

Unfortunately, the current landscape of education is plagued by negativity because of the politics that impact our daily work and the heavy handed way in which certain ideas, veiled as the silver bullets to fix all that is wrong with our schools, were introduced... high stakes testing linked to educator evaluations, the implementation of the common core standards devoid of systemic professional development for educators, the lack of voice educators have in enacting policy and the list can go on and on and on! Since most of our time is spent on data collection or preparing for high stakes tests or giving up days of learning to give said high stakes tests, I felt it was imperative to shed light on the “little” things great teachers do… the “little” things #Cantiague teachers do... the "little" things many members of my PLN do but can’t be qualified by a number or score or test…
 
helping a child recover from a recess issue;
 
coaching a child out of the backseat of the car when they don’t want to come to school;
 
giving the child a device at lunch so they can build their relationships with peers;
 
letting a child use your sleeve as a tissue when they can’t control their tears;
 
letting a child do their homework in the morning while others unpack because no one could help them at home the night before;
 
modifying anything and everything to give every child an entry point for learning;
 
helping a child in the bathroom after they experienced serious stomach issues;
 
sharing your personal life and interests to establish a connection with a disconnected child;
 
give up your lunch period to meet with a child or just hang out with them;

climbing up a tree to save the child who felt they had no escape but to climb 30 feet up a tree;

drive a child home because the family doesn't have a mode of transportation;

hug a child who is having a bad day;

getting to know a child's passion and interests and successfully incorporating them into the learning opportunities;

support a colleague who is going through a difficult time;

hold a crying mom's hand during a conference because of the difficult subject matter being discussed; 

showing empathy and earning trust;
 
You get the idea… the list goes on and on and although there are no numbers, grades or points for these daily efforts, they do not go unnoticed – I, for one, appreciate our teachers at #Cantiague and the thousands of educators in my PLN who have changed my world with all the "little" things they do. 

So, as we get ready to enter Teacher Appreciation Week, I challenge all of us to take a moment to recognize all the "little" things the educators in our spaces do because although they may not be attached to a score or number, they are the things that impact the lives of children!  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Telling Our Story At The Bammys

In case you haven't heard, Joe Sanfelippo and I will be hosting the 2015 Bammy Awards on Saturday, September 26th! Are we excited? HECK YEA! Not only does it give us another opportunity to poke fun at each other in a public forum but the Bammys are also spotlighting a focus in education that is incredibly important to us... Telling the POSITIVE stories of our schools! Having written a book on the subject and having the opportunity to discuss the topic with other amazing educators on our radio show, we are honored to be working with the Bammy Awards to put the focus where it matters most in education - on our children and all the amazing things they do! 

Check out this video, Breaking The Code of Silence, that presents a quick overview of what the Bammy Awards hope to accomplish this year...


So, we hope you will all join us this year in an effort to change the landscape of education by flooding it with all of the AMAZING and AWESOME and POSITIVE stories of schools!   

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Spreading Positivity




We recently had the most awesome day at Cantiague as we celebrated Positive Post-It Day. As you may have read in a recent blog post I wrote, Positive Post-It Day was born from an idea shared by a student from another school who decided to reframe a bullying situation in a much more positive way; instead of responding with negativity, this student went the route of kindness and plastered the walls of her school with positive post-its. Well, after viewing the video it was clear that we wanted to celebrate something similar here at Cantiague and thus the idea for Positive Post-It Day was born. 




On #PositivePostItDay, our children and staff members filled the walls, doors and desks in our school with some of the most incredibly kind and positive notes (there were literally hundreds of notes all over the school) I have ever seen in my career. Additionally, each child wrote themselves a positive note celebrating something they are proud of within themselves – kindness can really spread when we recognize the positivity within ourselves! In the end, it was a pretty awesome day and I invite you all to click on the following link to check out some of the highlights from #PositivePostItDay…






The Positive Post-It Day experience was one of the proudest moments in my educational career because we celebrated everything that is good and right about education and recognized all the awesomeness of our children and the educators who are dedicated to making a difference! So, if you haven't done it yet, I suggest you try #PositiveItPostDay in your school... and maybe it doesn't just happen once a year... maybe it happens once a month because when you get notes like these (see below) you quickly become re-energized in your dedicated efforts to inspire students through dedication, compassion and positivity!



!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Positive Post-It Day

How many of you have heard about Positive-Post It Day (#PositivePostItDay)? It is such a positive reframing to dealing with a bullying situation and one worth learning about and celebrating! We are going to try this at #Cantiague on Tuesday, March 31st and we want to welcome our PLN to join us on so we can celebrate all the positivity in our collective spaces across the world. Interested? Then check out this 2 minute video explaining the idea...




We welcome everyone who joins us on Tuesday, March 31st to make it look however you want in your schools, districts, classrooms or programs but we are going to have the children generate at least four post-its. Here are those ideas...

1) One positive post-it to themselves - something they are proud of themselves for that they can display on their desks... I think recognizing our own strengths is an important celebration!

2) One positive post-it for a classmate where they celebrate something specific about a classmate;

3) One positive post-it for another child in the school... maybe from the same grade level or a buddy from a different grade... whatever... they should celebrate something specific they value in someone else;

4) One positive post-it for an adult in the building - someone on the staff they want to recognize and celebrate!

Being that this aligns with the idea of "Random Acts of Kindness" these post-its should be specific to the receiver but also anonymous from the giver... it doesn't matter who the post-it comes from... it is about celebrating someone else. So, label the name of the person getting the post-it but there is no need to sign your name. 

I am so excited about this day because it reinforces EVERYTHING we talk about here at #Cantiague in regards to being Bucket Fillers and we hope that our whole PLN will join us on Tuesday, March 31st (or a different day if that doesn't work for you) to celebrate #PositivePostItDay. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Student Led PTA Meeting

Our most recent PTA Meeting at #Cantiague was an EPIC one because it featured some of the best learning opportunities we've had all year. The presenters at this meeting helped our families understand the whole idea of persuasive/opinion based writing in addition to how one might develop an argument and successfully prepare for a debate. The presentations were concise, informative, thorough and accessible for all family members. It was a great morning that sparked a lot reflection and conversation as our families in attendance left the building. 

Overall, I would say it was the best PTA Meeting of the year because it was filled with great content and important information. The most awesome part of the experience, at least through my lens, was that the presenters at this PTA Meeting were our kids. That's right... For the first time ever at #Cantiague our PTA Meeting (and the learning that unfolded there) was led by our students... nine students in all - from grades 3, 4 & 5 - prepared, reflected and presented everything anyone would need to know about developing an argument, supporting an opinion with evidence, persuading a reader with research to back up claims and sway voters during a debate - our kids (under the guidance and instruction of our amazing teachers) hit a GRAND SLAM today!

The idea of amplifying student voice has been high on my list of priorities this year and we have tried a bunch of different things to make that happen. We have incorporated Genius Hour, we have given them choice in their academic pursuits and we have empowered them to lead some of the learning in the community. Last month I wrote this post about our students successfully lead a professional development session for our staff and today they impressed again by leading and facilitating our monthly PTA Meeting. With the support of their classroom teachers, they came prepared to share their journey as it related to developing opinions in writing to persuade a reader or building their argument to win a debate. Their presentations were really awesome and the truth is, I did not preview anything nor did I have a say in what the kids shared... the meeting was all theirs from start to finish and they were AWESOME! Actually, you can check out a ten minute excerpt from the meeting right here... you don't have to take my word for it - you can see them in action sharing their awesomeness...




Words cannot accurately capture how proud I am of our kids and how impressed I am with their knowledge, maturity and composure - I never could have done this at 9 years old. In the end, I guess amplifying student voice can look different in different places but the bottom line is we must create spaces where children feel respected, valued, heard and empowered so they can successfully teach and learn. So, I challenge my fellow educators to turn up the volume and amplify their students' voices! 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

41 Things I Know About Education

This month I turn 41... that's right I have moved beyond 40 and am heading towards middle age, or at least that's what my son recently told me. Although getting older comes with some drawbacks (aches are common, sitting on the floor with a kid to read is great until you have to get up and eating something spicy after 7pm can lead to some problems, etc), the last couple of years have also been pretty amazing. Being in my 40s has been quite empowering and has amplified my voice in ways that I never knew possible. I have learned a lot about myself, a lot about the people around me, a lot about what matters in life and a lot about the world of education, especially the current landscape of education, which is a rocky one. 

I have been an educator for almost 20 years and I have learned more in the last year or two than I did during the first decade of my career and that is an awesome feeling! Last year, right before I turned 40, I wrote this post in honor of my birthday, and I have decided that I might make this a little tradition so now I am sharing 41 things I know about education...

1. Kids come first and doing what is best for them is the most important part of our work as educators, even when it's not easy!

2. As educators it is our responsibility to always be learners FIRST!

3. The conversations in schools must shift from the teaching and instead be focused on the learning... how do our kids learn best?

4. Successful schools are built on relationships that are rooted in trust, empathy and respect! 

5. Yes, we can be sympathetic towards others but more important is showing empathy... it's more about "I can understand where you are coming from..." and less about "I feel sorry for you!"

6. Have fun in your classroom... in your school... and in your district! People thrive in environments where smiles and laughter are the norm and not the exception.

7. Tell the story of your school... because if you don't someone else will and they won't do as good of a job!

8. Listen more than you talk... and most important is giving kids a chance to be heard. 

9. Schools MUST be a safe haven for kids because that is critical to addressing the gaps in the quality of education that exist in our country!

10. Racism is a system issue that continues to plague our schools and impact our kids!

11. We need to shift the focus from trying to close the achievement gap to trying to address the opportunity gap!

12. Branding your school or district is not about making money or slapping a logo on the building... it is about creating an identity that the community is proud of and embraces!

13. Any successful change in schools comes as a result of relationships rooted in trust and respect.

14. Our kids are much more than a number so instead of creating data walls that focus solely on test scores, create student profile walls that give us the hard and soft data points... the test scores from the classroom and the fact that the child was a selective mute three years ago; reading levels and the knowledge that a child lost a parent; etc. Our kids are complex and rich... don't devalue them by reducing them to a number.  

15. Empower the educators around you to have a say in their professional development... give them voice and choice!

16. Professional development must also resonate on a personal level if it is going to be sustainable. 

17. We cannot let professional development happen to us... we must take control of our own professional development and personalize it to best meet our needs and the needs of our students!

18. Educational leaders must try and learn something every single day! If we want our schools and classrooms to be hotbeds for learning, then we must model those expectations and be true life long learners!

19. Our children need time to be creative in school... whether it is centers, art or genius hour, our kids need time to create! 

20. Our children need to have a voice in their learning - we must give them a space to pursue their passions and interests! 

21. All staff members have an area of expertise so let's tap into it and share it - we have so much to learn from each other!

22. Educators need to create a PLN... a school or district based PLC is a great thing too but we need ideas beyond our context and our PLN can provide those to help us broaden our lens and point of view!

23. The most important people in a school are the secretaries, custodians and nurses... never forget it!

24. The principal can set the tone of a school... they can build and nurture a positive culture or breed a destructive one! The Principal's impact is far reaching... be thoughtful if you are a principal!

25. Go out during recess and play with your kids... even if it isn't your day to be on recess duty. Recess = unstructured joy! 

26. As educators it is our responsibility to model appropriate digital citizenship and how to create a positive digital footprint!

27. Technology does not equal innovation!

28. Be kinder than necessary... even when you're having a bad day. 

29. Don't embarrass your students in front of each other. Public humiliation breeds contempt not obedience. 

30. Use a morning meeting or a peace talk or some sort of classroom meeting time to nurture a sense of community and family in your classroom!

31. Let your students lead some of the professional development for the staff!

32. Invite your families to be ENGAGED... not just involved!

33. Once you take a behavior problem to the principal, which depending on the level of severity may be necessary, you have lost all authority with that child.

34. EdCamps are rooted in sharing effective practices and discussing good pedagogy... not just spotlighting the coolest new tech tools!

35. Don't be afraid of BYOD... be prepared but also let your kids have some freedom!

36. Explaining the real life connections to everything we teach may help students see the importance.

37. Take risks with your teaching and learning!

38. Create a staff blog where people can share all the awesome things happening in your space.

39. School should be about a balance between uncovering the answers and asking the right questions.

40. Take the work of educating children really seriously but don't take yourself too seriously... in fact, get over yourself. 
41. Kids should always be at the center and come FIRST!

Clearly the list could go on and on but in the end, I think these 41 points are critical to the success of any educator, student and learning organization. 

What do you think should be the next thing on this list? Please leave a comment below!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Dear Governor Cuomo

Dear Governor Cuomo,

My name is Tony Sinanis and I am a Lead Learner at Cantiague Elementary School in Jericho, New York, which is a suburb of New York City. Over 400 students attend our school each day (our highest enrollment in the last seven years) and the one common trait most of our children share during their days at Cantiague is a smile. That's right sir, our children, for the most part, are happy to be at school because they are in a space where they feel safe, respected and valued (their words). Not valued like a test score because that would be completely demoralizing and dehumanizing; no, we value our students for the WHOLE child who attends our school each day. The mathematician, the musician, the only child, the author, the tech enthusiast, the Minecraft expert, the soccer star, the child who splits her time between two homes, the nurse helper, the professional developer (yes, our students have led a PD session for our staff), the reader, the child of immigrants, the student leader, and the list can go on and on. You see, we devote much of our time at Cantiague to getting to know our children and learning about their passions, interests and readiness levels. Do we address the Common Core State Standards? Yes. Do we prepare them for the high stakes testing each year? Yes. But we do not define our children by standards or test scores.... we define our children by what makes them an individual; by what excites and interests them; and by what inspires them. You see, we have made a collective decision as a staff to focus on these priorities because that is what we believe will make a child college, career and most importantly, LIFE ready! 

I have been an educator in public schools for almost twenty years - I spent eight years as a classroom teacher in the NYC public school system and in Hewlett; then I spent one year as an assistant principal in Valley Stream; and finally I have been an elementary principal for almost nine years in Valley Stream and now in Jericho. During my time in each one of those schools along my journey I have come to realize that we can train almost every child to pass a multiple choice test - trust me, I have seen it happen. We can turn around almost any school and address the achievement gap if we integrate scripted curriculum, "research based" programs and rely primarily on test preparation and benchmark testing - trust me, I have seen it happen. We can even push staff members with threats of accountability and consequences - trust me, I have seen it happen. In all of these instances though, what I haven't seen is sustainable change; I haven't seen a staff that stays in tact for years to see change "stick" for the long term; and I haven't seen children who are happy to come to school. In every one of these situations I have seen people (students, staff and administration) come to feel like widgets; interchangeable pieces in a "game" controlled by people outside of the schools. 

For the life of me, I cannot understand how we could let this happen - why do we want our children to be subjected to these types of situations? Is that what you want for your daughters? I highly doubt it because I know for sure that is not what I want for my son. Unfortunately, with your recent proposal to see state test scores account for 50 percent of an educator's evaluation I think more and more schools will look like the above. It will not be about what is best for children - in no way, shape or form! It will not be about what is best for a community - it might actually be the opposite! And it will not be about encouraging our educators to take risks with their own teaching and learning. Nope... the opposite will happen governor. We will stifle schools. We will stifle creativity. We will stifle passion. We will stifle risk taking. We will stifle innovation. We will stifle our children. And for what? Higher test scores? For more teachers being rated ineffective? Or are you just trying to annihilate public schools? Please, explain to me your rationale because I do not understand how your plan will help us promote college, career and LIFE ready kids.

With that in mind, please share with us how much time you have spent in public schools across the state of NY? Months? Weeks? Days? Or is it just hours? And based on these experiences do you know there is a "crisis" in our schools? Have you spoken to students about this crisis? Have you spoken to educators about this crisis? Have you spoken to families about this crisis? Or are you basing your call for action on recent test scores? If that is your sole data point for suggesting that high stakes tests carry even more weight then I think we are in big trouble. How about if we used a similar system to rate you? Let's say your popularity numbers dipped one month? Could we rate you as developing? Let's say that drop in score continued over the course of a year? Should you be removed from office because you were clearly ineffective based on that one data point? Does that seem fair or logical to you? Hmmmm... that doesn't sound like the best way to judge you on your performance and thus the suggestion that educators be judged in a similar fashion makes no sense to me. What research do you have that shows evaluating teachers based on how children perform on high stakes testing is an effective way to improve schools? Have we seen this work elsewhere? What research speaks to the positive impact of high stakes testing on children, their learning and their academic performance? Please share this with me because I have done some research and I don't see anything that says this model will be effective at improving schools and weeding out the "bad" teachers that you think are plaguing all our schools. 

From my perspective, as someone who only has twenty years experience as an educator, I have to believe there is a better way to assess us and to hold us accountable. Trust me, I am all for accountability because I can stand behind everything I do in our school because I believe it is in the best interest of children. Can you say the same? Can you stand behind 50 percent of an educator's evaluation coming from a single test taken by a child (in some cases children who are only 7 years old and have yet to master tying their own shoelaces)? Do you think placing more value on high stakes testing is in the best interest of our children? If so, please explain how because I don't see it. I watch our kids, staff members and families become increasingly anxious as we get closer to the state tests... and why? Because they are nervous about how they are going to perform and no matter how much I try and keep the temperature down in the building, the pressure mounts and becomes almost stifling. Is that what you want for your daughters? I can tell you that it is definitely not what I want for my son. 

The more I think about it, the more I have to believe you are being misguided in your attempts to reform schools. Someone, or some group of people, is giving you misinformation and leading you to believe that educators are the enemy. We are NOT the enemies! In fact, most of the educators I know try and help children develop and amplify their own voices; we try and be the advocates for our children; and we try and create a space where children feel safe, respected and valued. I think maybe you need to spend more time in schools before you try reforming them. Come to Cantiague - our doors will always be open for you because I want you to see the smiles for yourself. I want you to see the children who love coming to school because of outdoor recess; I want you to talk to the children who love coming to school because of our library and the independent reading time they get during the day; I want you to watch the children who get to explore their passions and interests during Genius Hour; I want you to interact with the children who see themselves as authors and have recently mastered Google Docs as a way to publish their work digitally and thus gain access to an audience that goes beyond the walls of the school; I want you to come to a school where we put kids first and we know that kids are much more than a number and test score. If you can't make it all the way down to Long Island then I am guessing you will pass dozens of schools along the way that have created similar environments for their children where it is understood that being able to answer a multiple choice question is not an indicator of college, career and LIFE readiness; no way! Go visit a school where children are given voice; where staff members take risks with their teaching and learning! Go visit a school where critical thinking, collaboration and questioning are at the center - not test prep or benchmark assessments. Go visit a school where children are smiling and use that as the model for reforming schools - not the value added model that has not been proven to work! Please Governor Cuomo, make our kids and their well-being the priority - don't let them fall victim to the business of high stakes testing!

Respectfully,

Tony Sinanis
Dad to an AWESOME 5th Grader
2014 New York State Elementary Principal of the Year 
Lead Learner at Cantiague Elementary School (2012 Blue Ribbon School)