Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Attitude of Gratitude

Luke: 17: 11-21

As he continued his journey to Jerusalem he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him.

They stood at a distance from him and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”

And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed.

And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan.

Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”

Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

Dear Readers,

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC), 'Pro Plancio,' 54 B.C.

This Thanksgiving, many of us will be gathered around a table. Most of us will be sitting in the same places we have sat in every year since we were children. The menu will be generally the same. The conversations will range in tone and topic. Most likely, all of us will be invited back on Friday for left overs. ---

Ahh, Thanksgiving with family. Yes, I am looking forward to it and I’m very grateful that I have a loving family to be with this Thanksgiving.

I wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving and I hope you can find some time to reflect on the blessing for which you are grateful. The wonderful reality behind God’s blessing is they are given to all of us unconditionally. In the Gospel from Luke, all ten were blessed with healing and yet, Jesus made no requirement nor expectation for his act of kindness.

Gratitude is the response of people who experience the graciousness of kindness, the generosity of loved ones, and the blessings of God in our lives. When we respond with gratitude we acknowledge the presence of the divine.

This Thanksgiving, I will be praying for all of you and your families. I will be praying that God will continue to watch over you and your children, and that God will bless you with a sense of fulfillment as you gather with your loved ones over the next few days. 

Also, I want you to know how grateful I am that you are part of the educational community.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What Allows One to Give?

 The Stone 

by Anthony de Mello

An old woman had reached the outskirts of the village and settled down under a tree for the night when a villager came running up to her and said, “The stone! The stone! Give me the precious stone!”
“What stone?” asked the old woman.
“Last night the Lord appeared to me a dream,” said the villager, “and told me that if I went to the outskirts of the village at dusk I should find an old woman who would give me a precious stone that would make me rich forever.”
The old woman rummaged in her bag and pulled out a stone. “The Lord probably meant this one,” she said, as she handed the stone over the villager. “I found it on a forest path some days ago. You can certainly have it.
The villager looked at the stone in wonder. It was a diamond. Probably the largest diamond in the whole world for it was as large as a person’s head.
The villager took the diamond and walked away. All night the villager tossed about in bed, unable to sleep. Next day at the crack of dawn the villager woke the old woman and said, “Give me the wealth that makes it possible for you to give this diamond away so easily.”

What allows one to give what one has to others? What allows one to give easily?

Perhaps we can find the answer hidden in our own sense of gratitude. Since the beginning of our academic year so many Catholic educators have given their time and their talents so generously: those who share our ministry by investing their time as coaches, room parents and school advisory members. What allows those engaged in Catholic education to give so generously? 
I believe what motivates all of us is found in the Mission of Catholic education--our response to serve out of Gratitude. Thanks for co-creating and living the Mission of Catholic education through your generosity. 

Thank you for all you do for your school, your children, and the Church.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Forget Everything You Learn in School!

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” -Einstein

The need for 21st Century Learning may not be so '21st Century.' --I would say, it has been rediscovered as necessary in order for our children to be successful later in life.

Although, Einstein was a product of the 19th century and offered his insights for the 20th Century, he continues to inspire us for the 21st Century. One only has to read his quotes to get a sense that this great thinker possessed the 'heart' and the 'mind' of what 21st Century Learning aspires to offer today's students.

How about this one...

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” ~ Albert Einstein

Ouch! As I read his words I find myself secretly agreeing with Albert, even though I've been an educator for over 25 year. I guess, I was kind of like that 'fish' that never really could 'climb that tree.' As a result, I spent most of my K-12 years thinking I was 'stupid.'

Life, however, has a way of making one 'smart' or at least it has a way of stripping away the facade that facts and knowledge measure a person's ability. I'll never forget my freshman year in college, when, in order to be admitted into a religious order, I had take an IQ test. Upon receiving the results, I laughed out loud when the counselor told me I scored superior. "How can that be," I asked, "when I always tested as average in school?"

His explanation was my first real 'life lesson'--he said something like this, (I found this definition on line) that 'my' intelligence measured 'my' capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and demonstrated my aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc....--not just what I knew or memorized., I began to ask some questions like:  Why did it take so long for my ability to surface? Why couldn't the teachers see my ability?  Then it hit me, the real question was, Why couldn't I see my own ability?

It's very simple: WYTIWYG! What You Test Is What You Get! And the 'Y' is plural. It not only refers to what, 'you,' the teacher will get by externalizing the results for a grade--but what, 'you,' the child will internalize and believe about him/her self later in life. I know I did.

At my school--there were no tests to measure my ability only my knowledge (or what the book said). There were no tests to score my level of creativity only my level of regurgitation. There were no exams that asked for understanding or synthesis--only exams that wanted facts, correct spelling and proper grammar. There were no projects based on interest, passion or, only handouts that required you 'colored in the lines.' As a consequence, the perception of my ability was being shaped by tests that kept telling not just how 'little I knew' but more insidiously, they were communicating just how 'great' was my 'inability' to learn.

Einstein was right...I really needed to forget school in order to understand the value of my education.
Once I climbed down from the 'tree' and started listening to how life was educating mind opened up. College was awesome. I was being asked to think, to synthesize, to make correlations, to apply to real life and I was damn good at it. Although, a victim of my own doubt from time to time...good professors and a strong passion kept me moving. When I graduated with my BA and credential I was surprised to learn on my graduation diploma that I earned Magna Cum Laude. You see, even though I knew my grades, I still couldn't believe I was that smart--guess, I still have to come down off that tree.

So, what experiences from my life's 'education' opened my mind to help me score with superior intelligence? Upon reflection, perhaps it was the 'education,' that came in the form learning piano and guitar, which I taught myself when I was in 7th grade. Or maybe it was the 'education' that came in the form of writing stories and plays and then performing them for our family and friends when I was young or later in high school when I performed in the theatre. Perhaps my 'education' is result of reading countless fairytales, watching classic movies and as my mom always said...'when you were little you were always taking things apart to see how they worked.'---Life was actually making me very 'smart' --who would have thought that the learning I was doing only paralleled my schooling--because it was never part of my classroom experience.

If you would have asked me at eighteen, do you see yourself becoming a published author, a national presenter, or a educational leader sitting on boards and representing elementary principals from 3 states? I would have had no hesitation and answered, 'I'm not smart enough to do those things.'

Yet, all I needed to do was 'forget what I learned in school' and the value of my life 'education' rose to fill the void.

So, how could it have been different? Who knows? I think rather than dwelling on my past...I'm going to look forward and draw some conclusions. How could 'that' child, (me), be served by education today?

Simple: 21st Century Skills & Project-based learning.

In my next edition, I will share my insights around both those essential themes.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Innovation in Proclaiming Mission & Marketing Message with our Annual Report

A charism is a living gift, a breath of the creator Spirit at the service of a dynamic history that is never simple repetition of the past.                                
-The Holy Family of Bordeaux

A Catholic School’s Mission is ‘incarnated,’ so to speak, within the ‘message’ of a Faith Community’s charism and is brought to life when the story and the traditions of that community are intentionally celebrated and proclaimed.

The School of the Madeleine’s Advisory Board and Parent community took an innovative and bold ‘marketing’ step, this past school year, when they became convinced to start proclaiming the school’s Mission and to stop merely producing promotional materials. As a result of this vision the parent leadership brought to life the ‘story and the traditions’ of the Madeleine’s Catholic Mission and has attracted many new families to community.

How? By publishing an Annual Report that embodies the school’s Mission and Charism.

The argument might be raised that annual reports have been around for quite awhile and therefore not particularly innovative. Yet, the Annual Report, the Madeleine is modeling for Catholic Schools, is very innovative. In fact, the leadership of the Madeleine has been asked to provide seminars to other Dioceses and has even facilitated workshops for the national convention of the NCEA on how to create an Annual Report for Catholic elementary schools, modeled after the Annual Report created for the Madeleine.

Why? The Annual Report modeled here captures the Mission of Catholic education and encapsulates it into an educative message framed by a single school year.  The Annual Report becomes the vehicle of proclamation, by highlighting how the school lived its Mission in the following areas: Catholic Identity, Founding Charism, Educational Significance, Parochial/Communal Service and Responsible Stewardship.   The Annual Report, then, celebrates the school’s commitment to Catholic education and shares that message of success with all its stakeholders as well as potential enrolling families. 

Just as the school’s Mission is ‘incarnated’ within our message, so to is our Mission alive in our annual symbol and theme. The image of the child reaching toward the star with the theme “From Vision to Reality” permeates the Annual Report for 2010-2011.

And although inspiring, that symbol and theme for 2011 was replaced with that of beautiful butterfly with the caption “Trust Your Source: Listen, Believe and Emerge” for 2012. In 2013, the symbol was that of Phoenix with the theme "Rise Above: Let Go • Break Through." This year our reflective statement is: Stand! Out-Together-Strong with our symbol of the Star. 

Each year the Mission of the school finds the best way to incarnate its message. The Madeleine empowers those who have been at the school the longest and who have experienced the Mission the deepest to be the ones to help create and fashion the symbol and theme—the students. As the class of 2014 entered into their final year, the class shared how they needed to grow and what they hoped to take with them as graduates.  The symbol and theme they generated reminds them of, this, their yearlong journey.

The graduating class then offers their symbol and theme to the whole educational community as point of reflection and this becomes their parting gift to the student body, the families and the staff. As a result of this innovative approach, the cover the Annual Report is a direct result of the graduating class. The same process will be done for our class of 2015 whose symbol and theme have yet to be realized.

Clearly the Mission and the Message are alive in the Annual Report. Therefore, what better tool to proclaim and to promote our Mission and our School? As a result, the Annual Report now replaces all ‘promotional’ materials. The cost to produce flyers, folders, brochures and other items is now focused on proclaiming our Mission. As marketing costs were reduced so to was our use of paper and the waste of disposing of out dated materials.

Now, when a family visits the school rather than leaving with ‘reams’ of promotional and informational documents, they leave with our beautiful Annual Report and customized flash drive (attached to a student created key chain) that contains all the forms and information needed to apply to the Madeleine electronically, if desired. More importantly, now all our visitors, family members, and stakeholders, as a result of our Annual Report, have the opportunity to carry, hold and embrace our Mission.

Yes, our Catholic School’s Mission is ‘incarnated,’ and brought to life because the story and the traditions of our Catholic School community are intentionally celebrated and proclaimed through the innovative process of creating and publishing our Annual Report.

To view the full report click here: 2012-2013 Annual Report or receive more information or a template of the Annual Report please contact me at

Memorializing Your Mission: Empowering Students to Use 21st Century Skills to Author Your School's Yearbook and Classroom Projects.

Memorializing Your Mission: Empowering Students to Use 21st Century Skills to Author Your School's Yearbook and Classroom Projects. -Ken Willers, Principal • School of the Madeleine

“In 21st Century Learning, students use educational technologies to apply knowledge to new situations, analyze information, collaborate, solve problems, and make decisions.”
–British Columbia Ministry of Education.

As a team of educators of a Catholic elementary school, our vision is to foster and create an environment conducive for 21st Century learning. Our vision is one that builds on the strengths of our colleagues while taking advantage of emerging technologies to provide expanded learning opportunities that will be critical to the success of future generations. 

Our vision, however, is not limited only to the learning taking place within the walls where direct instruction happens, but expands to include the learning experience that occurs beyond the classroom. For the purpose of this brief submission, we want to share how this vision was realized by a group of students, who, while creating the school’s yearbook exhibited high-level 21st Century learning skills. Our partnership with Picaboo Yearbooks made this amazing experience and vision of 21st Century learning a reality.

Watching how easily our students used the Picaboo interface and how quickly they adapted to it was astounding. Observing the high-level of collaboration and communication between peers was remarkable. Witnessing the students initiate a process of design and create such an amazing yearbook—left no doubt in my mind that given the right tools, and placed in the right learning environment, students would make tremendous achievements and truly demonstrate 21st Century skills.

It was evident that the technology we were using to build the yearbook integrated wonderfully with the 21st Century skills we were also trying to inculcate in our students. “Creativity and Innovation • Communication and Collaboration • Research and Information Fluency • Critical Thinking-Problem Solving-Decision Making • Digital Citizenship • Technology Operations and Concepts.” –Premier’s Technology Council, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2010.

The 21st Century difference, evident as a result of our partnership with Picaboo Yearbooks, was that our students achieved all of this on their own—there were NO adults involved in the design, planning, collaboration or execution of the Yearbook. The Yearbook advisor merely served as the liaison when initiating our contact.

Our students spent all of their time memorializing memories and being creative unlike past years when students spent countless hours trying to navigate around troublesome software. We saw this as yet another sign that our 21st Century vision was becoming a reality. Finally, we knew there was something qualitatively different in how our students engaged the interface because they created the entire yearbook in only 5 weeks.  

What would cause a school to have to create an entire yearbook in such a short period of time? Let us explain.

Last April, at the NCEA convention, a group of us discovered the Picaboo Yearbook booth in the exhibition hall. Although, we didn’t want to engage the vendor because our school already had contracted with a yearbook provider, we were fascinated by the e-yearbook we saw displayed in their booth and after speaking with the exhibitor learning more about the customer service benefits we were convinced. Needless to say, by the end of that day we had signed up and cancelled our previous yearbook provider. 

Although, some might consider this a bold move, we knew, for those reasons alone (cited above), and the fact that no other yearbook provider could compete, that we were making the right business decision--even with only 5 weeks remaining until the end of the year. What we didn’t know at that moment was the transformative impact this decision was going to have on our students and on our vision for 21st Century learning that resulted in moving from adult driven instruction to student directed learning.

Yes, it was truly transformational to see our students execute this vision of 21st Century learning and not be dependent on an adult. As Steve Hargadon, Founder Classroom 2.0; Social Learning Consultant, Ellumniate, wrote in Education Week, October 2010, “Twenty-first-century learning will ultimately be learner-driven.”

Our students transformed the process of making a ‘book’ into an experience of creating ‘memories.’ One of them even said, “it’s not about the book, this technology makes it easy for us to focus on the memories.” Ultimately, the partnership between Picaboo Yearbooks and our students led us to a deeper realization: that the ‘memories’ created along with the 21st Century skills applied by our students, transformed our yearbook into the ‘memorialization’ of our Mission.

In response to our students’ excitement, we were visited by the president of Picaboo Yearbooks, Bryan Payne.  After meeting our students and visiting our school, Bryan summed it up beautifully, ‘Look at what is possible… When innovative schools with innovative vision, inspire innovative students to use innovative tools…we actually empower and prepare our students for a future they will be called upon to create.’

But the story of innovation doesn’t end there…

This school year, the Madeleine students are partnering with Bryan Payne and Picaboo Yearbooks to develop grade and subject specific 21st Century Project books. We are very excited to be a pilot school. Our students using Picaboo Yearbooks generated this idea. “If we could use Picaboo to create a yearbook—why can’t we use the same interface for classroom projects?” Bryan’s response was, “Let’s do it!” So, as of now, our 4th & 5th grade students are collaborating to create History Project Books. Our clubPYB, small clusters of students, are creating Event Books, Classroom Yearbooks, and Collections for Catholic Identity Books and we are exploring ways to use this innovative technology to generate student porfolios. All these projects follow the premise of building and using 21st Century Learning Skills and all projects will be student-directed.

Together, our students, teachers and the team at Picaboo Yearbooks are immersed in 21st Century Learning and in response are transforming our Yearbook and our Project Books into the means of ‘Memorializing Our Mission of Catholic Education.”

View the video of the School of the Madeleine’s Picaboo Success Story at: