Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Happy Year New

I always find the end of the calendar year a challenge.  The cold weather sets in, there’s no sunlight, and we’re all too busy to realize that the cookies and chocolates that we've been devouring aren't the best diet.  It’s hectic and many of us find the days of December to be stressful.  Yet, there’s an activity that you can participate in to rejuvenate and reinvigorate yourself over the Holiday Break:  Reflection.  Many of us have experienced significant changes during 2013, personally and professionally.  Whether these changes have been for the better or worse, it’s important to remember and reflect.  It seems that hindsight is always clearer than when the path was ahead.  But, reflection for some is only a beginning.

A few years ago as I rang the Salvation Army bell at Walmart I thanked a contributor and said, “Merry Christmas” to him.  This older gentleman replied, “and a Happy Year New.”  At first this struck me as being odd, but I wonder if it was a slip of the cliché or a restating of it in a new context. I’d like to think that he was telling me to have a happy year and make it new: to move beyond my trials of that year and make the new year a happy year. To do this I needed to do more than simply reflect. I needed to rethink and use my 20/20 hindsight.

The root of reflection is improvement, not just remembrance, so reflection can lead to a new and different coming year. To make a year brand new, then, we need to identify what needs to be different in 2014. To honestly answer this question we need to begin with the individual. It’s too easy to point out reasons why things can’t change – it’s much more difficult to create the positive energy necessary for creating a year that’s new.

We must be the change we wish to see in the world.   Mahatma Gandhi

Through my reflections of 2013, I’ve been truly impressed with the many initiatives that you have endeavored with to make NNCS and the North Country better.  Most recently – the Angel Tree, Snack Pack Program, Key Club helping the elderly and offering free movies, food drives, bell ringing, PTSA Story Hour, donating to families in need, caroling, coming in on weekends to decorate the elementary hallway, collecting coats and mittens for children, Fun Nights, foreign language students teaching elementary, acceptance of special needs programs, and the PAL program.  Your generosity and empathy is overwhelming. I’m sure that Ghandi would be impressed. But what would you change about 2013, if you could, to make 2014 a new year?

I’d like to regale you with a personal story. About 15 years ago my health was not good, my teaching position was eliminated and my wife’s teaching position wasn’t a tenure track. I was fortunate enough to be able to retain a job, but it wasn’t in the middle school – where I had taught for 10 years. After my second week of teaching that September, I visited with Mrs. Chorba, my principal and mentor. I asked her to find a way to get me back to the middle school. As we discussed my dissatisfaction she had discovered that my request came from the fact that I found the climate much different from what I was comfortable with. Her words cut me to the core, “If you don’t like the climate and ‘feeling’ of the school, then what can you do to change it?” This sage advice was the beginning of a personal realization that I could have a significant impact on others and my surroundings. Shortly after this, I began working with the policies and procedures at the high school and district levels. It dawned on me that the only time I felt like I couldn’t enact positive change was when I told myself that I couldn’t. I learned the difficult lesson that sometimes change is good. What once seemed uncomfortable to me ended up being a tremendous experience. I came to learn that my new school was filled with wonderful teachers and students whom I learned a great deal from. I enjoyed working there and I am a better educator because of my experiences there. As I now reflect on that long-ago adventure, I’m unsure if the school climate was influenced positively by me after my conversation with Mrs. Chorba, or influenced negatively by me before my conversation.

Working in schools, we look to make a positive impact on the lives of children.  You have done so and then some.  You have influenced more than just your students, you have made an impact on me.  I am genuinely impressed by you and I challenge you to own your day and make the new year truly new.

Merry Christmas and Happy Year New!

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