Sunday, June 15, 2014

How My Dad Made The 3 R's Into The 3 P's.

Now that I have my own children, I am reminded daily of the importance of being fair. Did both boys get exactly the same amount of cake? Did I give my oldest son the same amount of attention as my youngest today? Well, it turns out that parents like to be treated fairly too! I wrote a blog post for my mom on Mother's Day, and it only seems appropriate that I do the same for my dad on Father's Day. Both of my parents had a tremendous influence on my journey as a teacher, and it becomes more apparent to me with each passing year.

My dad is an incredibly patient person. Either that, or he hides his frustration and anxiety really well. I can't remember him ever raising his voice when speaking to us kids. I'm sure he did at some point, but what's important is that I don't have any recollection of it. My brothers and I did plenty of things to work up his ire, but he consistently reacts to everything in life with a calm and even disposition. This is the same peacefulness that I try to achieve with my students. There are a lot of behaviors and circumstances that push me to the edge of losing my cool in the classroom every day. But I dig down deep, focus on that quiet, inner core of strength my dad modeled for me, and pause to collect myself before reacting to an incident.  Because I can channel my "inner Dad," I'm able to promote a safe, comfortable environment for my students.

The "Mastery Mindset" is a theory that as been making its rounds in education circles for a few years now, and I am a huge proponent of its message.  However, I have to break the news to Carol Dweck (the principal researcher of the theory) that my dad had this all figured out a long time ago. When I was young, I can distinctly remember my dad listening to tapes, yes cassette tapes, of motivational speakers during his down time. He also read many books by authors such as Lee Iacocca and William Bennett. Although none of these authors specifically promoted a mastery mindset per se, the way my dad interpreted and internalized their work resulted in his own personal mastery mindset. Despite being a young father with a two-year accounting degree, he was able to buy and successfully expand his own business over the past 20 years. He had many set-backs, but always found a way to continue moving forward in his business.  This forward momentum is partially due to his confidence in taking risks, expanding the business when others might have been hesitant. This is the exact same way I approach my career as an educator. If a new strategy for the classroom is proven to improve student learning, I jump in with both feet. When I hit a roadblock in its implementation, my first question is, "How can I fix this?" If I wasn't comfortable in taking some risks in my professional life, I would stagnate as a teacher. I thank my dad for instilling in me a positive, problem-solving mindset that has enabled me to find joy in teaching each and every year.

If you would spend any amount of time with my dad, you would find that he has this quality that puts others at ease.  I don't know exactly what to call it, so I'll say he's personable, but it's really so much more than that.  It doesn't matter if he's playing with his grandsons, talking with the parish priest, joking with the employees of his construction business, or golfing with fellow business owners, but anyone who spends time with him immediately recognizes that they can be themselves around him. I honestly don't know how he does it, but I have a feeling it has something to do with his humble manner and self-depreciating humor. I try to create this same experience in the classroom for my students, but it is something I'm constantly working toward and trying to improve. How can I be a leader around whom others feel comfortable? How do I develop trust and confidence in my circle of students and colleagues? My dad has a natural talent for this, and I think it's amazing how he has become a leader in his community in such an unassuming manner.

Although the traditional foundation of education for many years has been the 3 R's, Reading, Writing, and 'Rithmatic, my dad has influenced my educational career with the 3 P's of Patience, Positivity, and Personability (okay, not a word, but neither is 'Rithmatic!). I'm not sure if he would agree with all of the praise that I'm heaping on him, but what's more important than whether or not he intentionally strives to cultivate these talents is that I perceive them as a positive influence in my life, and they have thereby become "real" to me. I may never know which students I'll impact that most or what I'll do that will result in that lasting influence, but if I'm patient, positive, and personable, those interactions will organically occur. Thanks, Dad, for living these qualities on a daily basis. Whether you know it or not, I've noticed, and so have a lot of others who love you.  Happy Father's Day.

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