Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Hating This Whole Election? Shake It Out

Life is completely unpredictable. We have unlimited data, advanced technology and understand the science behind it all, but never know what is really going to happen. It's not the end, it's a new beginning. One that you may or may not want to start. No one has a choice to stay where we are.

That's the beauty and privilege of life.


Life is not always happy. It can be extremely devastating at times, almost too much to bear. But, that's what keeps us growing, breathing life into us to try harder and overcome whatever obstacles we face.  Often times it's someone else, we believe is causing all this unhappiness. We all have or have had bosses, friends, family, co -workers, neighbors who have been impossible to work with, live with or be around.  Many times we don't have the option to just up and quit our jobs, not go to school or move away. That's life.


Maybe you voted for Hillary and are in despair or supporting Trump and are tired of all the political bashing. During this election aftermath, as many are doing, I'm looking at this from my parenting and educator's heart and here are three things I will keep in mind; try my hardest to model and discuss with my students (of all ages) and the children I parent (whether they are biological or not):

  •  Failure is inevitable: Fear of failure is one of the main factors with underachieving children. We want all children to be educated so they can make good judgments, have self confidence and bring about change? Low self esteem does not discriminate across color, gender, culture or economic status. Let them understand and face failures. Whether your families' candidate won or loss there is a lesson here. Some one is always failing, and that someone is going to be you from time to time. It's a lesson, a way to improve and grow. Not to fear but to learn from. When one person or party fails, reassure them, genuinely, that you understand their worry. You are going to want them to do that for you when you fail.

  • Hate is not a way to move forward: You know what hate does? It masks personal insecurities.  Yes, anger is a normal emotion, but it can be a deadly one. While you can't go through life happy 24/7, controlling your anger is what allows you o be happy. Aside from hate causing anxiety and stress, it can also cause heart disease, impair your immune system and lead to strokes.  So who is winning now? The hater or the one being hated? When people want to talk about the election, the candidates, or anything else you may feel passionate about, find ways to calmly explain your viewpoint and have empathy for the other person across from you!  We boast equal rights, except when we don't equally agree with someone. Stop the hate.

  • Social Media is NOT complete truth, EVER: Does anyone believe in compromise anymore, or the middle ground? Social media has turned us into extremists. Politically, personally, professionally, all behind what we call the "echo chamber."  It's fact: people act differently online then in person. Remind your children that what they see, is not always what they get and definitely not always what is real. What is real? Talking WITH others, having a PERSONAL conversation.  We have lost the ability to listen and to give each wait time to understand what we all are truly saying. We wonder why kids can't read or understand? Because often times, adults model this notion of getting half of the information and/or jumping to conclusions and dismissing all other opinions, thoughts and research.
Want to raise a generation and live in a world who aren't quitters? 
Fail and learn from it.

Want to be healthy and live a life you can enjoy and bring change? 
Don't hate.

Want to be a real person who can carry on a conversation with someone who is not like you? 
Stop believing everything you see, read and hear via the media.

What do we do now? Make a plan for ourselves, our families. Whether you voted for Hillary or Donald. This is life. OUR American Life. It will be much better when we can live it together.

Shake It Out..."I like to keep my issues strong....then restart...hard to dance with a devil on your back so shake him off..."  Keep dancing!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Peer Learning: With A Little Help From My Friends

Connor remains purposely "hands off" and coaches the younger learners to figure it out as they learn together.

I found the different ways that younger kids approach problems and projects interesting. It was often different from how I would look at things.
They often question the process more than I would and are a lot more fluid in how they learn and approach things.

Connor Aguilar

Thinking back to High School, I don't recall tutoring or volunteering to help kids.  Perhaps, I was too consumed in my own life: sports, friends and school work.  In defense, I don't even remember hearing about these opportunities. In college, there were a handful of times I volunteered, when asked or expected to because of my sorority or college courses  I certainly wasn't asking about volunteering, and didn't even know about service learning projects. How embarrassing as I was seeking a future in education...

It's embarrassing and yet enlightening. Enlightening because as I observe this current generation of millennials and now digital natives, I see them volunteering and doing more service than my generation talked about, let alone participated in.   The media can often portray our younger generation as corrupt and consumed with themselves and their technology; yet, if you look closely enough you will see a completely different side. And if you don't, let them show you. Offer them ways to show you the side of serving others and what that looks like.

While peer teaching is not exactly a new way of teaching or learning, it certainly has been picking up popularity. But I prefer to support activities which involve peer learning. Why? Because when we teach others there is an instant role assignment. I'm the teacher, you are the student. When there is  peer learning, we BOTH learn TOGETHER. Right away the stigma of an authoritative role is taken away and lines are blurred and crossed to see both sides of the learning taking place. According to a web article from Stanford,  "It is not a substitute for teaching and activities designed and conducted by staff members, but an important addition to the repertoire of teaching and learning activities that can enhance the quality of education" (Boud, 2002).  

Since little has been researched among K-12 students, last summer, Rockhurst High School and the STEAM Studio  teamed up. Greg Owsley (Rockhurst High School STEAM Director), JW Clark (Rockhurst High School STEAM Coordinator) and I developed and conducted a research project involving RHS students and STEAM Studio K-8 participants to see what they could learn from each other. 

In summary, the 16 RHS "coaches" (participants in the research project) chose this project as their service learning hours and came to the STEAM Studio twice a week to share knowledge they gained from their RHS classes (robotics and other classes) with almost a 100 (98 to be exact!) K-8 youth in the after school programs.

The RHS coaches approached every activity using this model with the K-8 youth at the STEAM Studio.

We were invited to share our findings at the international conference, ISTE this past month. Connor, Krishon, and Brion (Rockhurst High School students) along with a few STEAM Studio youth, our STEAM Studio Coordinator, Laine Eichenlaub, Greg, and myself spent two hours presenting and sharing the interesting and effective strategies we found from the 12 week research project. Here are some of those findings...

 Unlike other service projects in which the affect was direct and right now, STEAM Studio was about giving kids skills that they could use for the rest of their lives

Krishon Harris

"I found this to be a really cool idea for teaching high schoolers how to teach and explain things like teachers.
I also found that the kids seemed to be really interested in the topics provided and wanted to learn more."

Ethan Fetters
  • Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song. Motivation. How do we motivate humans to learn, to work, to do anything? There has to be an interest! One of the questions on the post-survey (at the end of the project) given to the RHS coaches was "how do you think you will made a difference?"  Over 50% of them said they felt they made the most difference by raising interest in the areas of STEAM. What is interesting is that none of them thought this would happen when we asked them in the pre-survey (beginning of the project). This goes to show that they felt after they worked with the youth they definitely observed some sparks flying!

I found this project interesting because it provided an environment in which I could both learn from the kids and help them.
It was cool to see all of the different projects come to life with the resources in the STEAM Studio.

Mitchell Roberts
  • Gonna try with a little help from my friends. I'm happy to report that our RHS boys are coming back to try more activities and continue this research project for the 2016-2017 school year!  This next time around we will be focusing on what the K-8 youth are learning and how they feel about learning from older peers as we also continue to track data from the high school students.  This will enable us to find interesting and creative ways to motivate learners to not only learn STEAM content, but learn from each other.

 We do know that peer learning can facilitate friendships.

Friendships that increase confidence in both parties and motivation to learn...together.

Let's get by with a little help from our friends.


  • The ISTE presenters: Greg Owsley: Teacher, Rockhurst High School, Laine Eichelaub: STEAM Studio director, Connor Aguilar, Brion Dennis, Krishon Harris, Rockhurst High School Students & Research participants

Our crew who represented the Rockhurst High School/ STEAM Studio research project at the international technology in education conference in Denver, CO in June, 2016.
  • To our 16 new friends, the "young men for others" Rockhurst High School service learning/research project participants who worked with 98 STEAM Studio youth: 

Brendan Odrowski
Brian  Medina
Brion Dennis
Connor  Aguilar
Ethan Fetters
Jacob Bamesberger 
Keaton Schieffer
Krishon Harris
Mitchell Roberts
Sam Lee
Sam Keitges
Seth Harper
Sherlock Gong
Steven Madigan
Thomas Leggio 
Ting Gong

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Peace and Protect: Don't Back Down

Our next generation is watching what is happening and they have questions,
most recently about the Orlando shooting. What do we say?

I use to think a two year old asked a lot of questions, but at least I knew the answers to them. As my kiddos get older I am finding that they ask more questions that I often don't know the answers to.

Most recently is this week, why did a man go into a dance club and shoot people? How come he was so mad? Did he know them? Am I going to get shot at my dance studio? Did he die? What happened to those families? Where did he get the gun?

As a parent and educator, I have been through countless hours of safety training, have had experiences with lock downs, drills, and intruder alerts.  I've had to research best practices about being proactive or reactive when there is danger. I have discussed with parents, teachers and students on how to handle scary situations and what to do to prevent them. However, nothing can fully prepare you for a school, church or club shooting. I do feel it is incredibly important that our youth feel safe: physically, emotionally, mentally and so on. We know that protecting them from harm and fostering peace in the classroom, community and especially at home is imperative.

How do both get taught together? When we protect others: we shield them, defend them, keep them from harm. It is an active role that requires one person to build a secure environment 24/7 which could involve some violent act. Teaching and promoting peace means to provide a calm, restful, and quiet place in a nonviolent way. It appears to be utopian, ironic and impossible.

But it is possible and here are some tips on how...

1. Take the time to talk:  Being proactive is very helpful when approaching difficult topics with kids. They may not ask questions, so letting them know what happened before they hear it elsewhere is ideal. It preps them for what could be the unknown. Depending on the ages of your kids or youth you are around, you will know how much to share. But, the bottom line is, let them know what is going on. They should hear it from a trusted adult they know, that first hand from another child or TV newscaster.

2. There ain't no easy way out...  Shootings, killings, act of violence are hard to explain and understand. Giving simple facts about what you know about the situation is key. The shooter was bullied, or mentally ill, perhaps on some drugs...whatever the situation. It's crazy and scary to kids to hear that someone randomly kills someone else.  Limiting exposure to media is what many psychologists suggest. Research shows that kids often think the act is reoccurring when they watch it over through social media and it becomes a constant reminder that they may not be safe themselves.

3. Gonna stand my ground: Every family has an opinion on gun control or freedom to bear arms.  Every family has an opinion of what protection means for them or what peace means for others. Talk to your kids about how you feel and WHY.  Explain to your kids that other families will have other opinions and WHY. Educating our youth on the issues and each side is how we can actually protect them and promote peace. Understanding and accepting different points of view is what actually can bring us together.

4. Stand me up at the gates of hell: In this age of technology, we are exposed to many dangerous situations.  Yet, many of us are closed off to what is really going on around us as we look down and are glued to our devices.  Kids are no different. The shootings, the bullying, the violence and the stranger danger are sickening, saddening and down right psychotic. Keep reminding them to put their phones away, look around, be observant, talk to each in the moment.  Encourage them to notice any warning signs and report them immediately. Here are some helpful sites to get the conversation started:


5. In a world that keeps on pushing me around: Remind kids they are loved, remind them that even people that have different opinions need love, remind them that it's ok to stick up for themselves. Most importantly, keep reassuring them that you will do what you feel is right to protect them and keep them safe. We need to live out of love, not fear. Studies show fearful people have anxiety, depression and personality disorders.  Peaceful people have a more fulfilled and enlightened life. They are more aware of the world and emotionally stable. 

This is an opportunity to explain how your family can cope with and discuss these types of issues. It doesn't help to place blame on others nor draw attention to the person who committed the horrendous crime. It's an opportunity to feel sympathy for the victims and their families, to help your kids/students understand, or at least talk through their own concerns.

Let's raise our youth to be more aware of the world around them and find ways to protect and promote peace. Don't back down when it comes to helping our next generation.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Sister Act: What A Week In A Convent With Nuns Taught Me

Whether you are near or far, you are always needed.

We are called to serve others.  Sometimes it's comes at the most challenging times, other times it's actually perfect timing.

My mission trip to Philly was both.

As a professor at Rockhurst University, I am blessed with the opportunities to participate and lead service immersion trips. Serving over winter break provides me the opportunity to be away when I am not teaching, my kids are in school during the day and there's not much action during the wintry mix of early January. However, it does fall on the first week my kiddos are back in their routine, courses need to be organized for the semester, and the aftermath of Christmas is in high gear.

Helping others is never convenient. It's just not. If it was, everyone would do it. Serving others is a calling, it's done with out the expectation of reciprocation. I flew to Philly thinking I would be serving the homeless and helping in the urban Catholic schools, what I experienced with 9 students and my fellow faculty companion was much more than I could have anticipated.

So I went, and stayed in a convent with a group of nuns for a week.  What does that look like?


It actually looks like this...
    Our last supper serving at a homeless community center in Camden, NJ.

Here are 8 lessons I learned from my week with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Chestnut Hill. A group of soldiers who carry out their mission daily without reservation or judgement about those they serve or those who choose not to serve.

1. Let go of judgement you don't know you have.  This is powerful. I had thoughts floating around in my head about the homeless, until I sat down and talked to them. Looked them in the eye and saw what they were sharing...from their soul.

2. We shame so many people without getting to know them.  That person who is on welfare, that person who lives in the multi-million dollar house, it's all relative. We tend to look at others without really seeing who they are.

3. Acting is not always about doing something- most often it's about listening, We don't listen, deeply.  We hear people but do you listen to what they are really saying? How often do we take the time to really listen to someone, without thinking about offering our thoughts or thinking about what we are going to say back?

4. Meet people where they are- not where you think they should be.  Every adult is responsible for their own life. If you are in their life, you are there to support them and to accompany them on their journey. Not to give them a road map, but to show them their options of routes to take. Some take longer than others, there's the chance of getting lost along the way, but usually they will find their way back. Perhaps you are the gas in their tank.

5. Try to greet everyone with a smile.  This is so cliche' but if you do it for a day, you will feel like you are walking on cloud nine. It only takes a second and it will change their day... more so, yours.

6. Quit searching for love. It's there. See it.  I'm not expert on love, but I've learned from my week with Sister Jules, Sister Celeste, Sister Rita and Sister Michelle (and many other of my Sistas) that it is there. RIGHT.IN.FRONT.OF.YOUR.FACE. It may not be pretty, but what a rewarding feeling, to love and experience love unconditionally.

7. Don't help. Serve.  No one is a superhero. Quit trying to be one. When you help someone, there's this feeling of paying back. You changed my tire, you took my kids for an afternoon, you covered lunch, I'll pay ya no no.  Serve people with humility- no strings attached. It all shakes out the way it should in the end.

8. Cross boundaries. Do things that blow your mind.  How many times do you go beyond your comfort zone? Yeah, that's what I thought. In a world of instant gratification we need to challenge ourselves to be patient, to be risk takers, to let our excitement be our passion. You live once, try something new, try helping someone new.

I may not be converting to be a nun, but I am converted. After my week with a house full of nuns, I'm learning to let go of judgments, trying to live more simple, being mindful of my actions and reaching out to those who need it most, no matter their economical status.  It will be a daily challenge, but one I am excited to act on because of my new Sisters.

Turn your magic on. Make someone feel alive.
Get someone through their adventure of life, 
without judgement, without expecting something back.

Sing it Coldplay!

Special thanks to:
  •  Sister Jules, Sister Michelle, and Sister Celeste, who accompanied us daily and put up with our questions, lousy Monopoly game tactics, and card playing sharkness!  You saw the good in us and daily loved us, reminded us to mindful of our actions, to "see" others,  and gave us "treats!".  You changed our lives forever though God's love.
  • Sister Rita- Personally, you forever changed my thinking about serving others with your witness and straightforward, yet loving attitude. You opened my eyes to what it really means to serve, hold people accountable and share kindness to all, no matter what.
  • Sister Delores, Sister Jane, Sister Linda: what you accomplish daily in your ministries is beyond amazing. The passion, humbleness, dedication and soul you put into every task you do, no matter how small it may seem was and is an inspiration to all of us.
  • The Notable Nine: Abigail, Angie, Clare, Emily, Grey, Leanna,  Nellie, Nicole, and Peter- So many memories and quality time together. I am awe of the sacrifice you took to service a week of your time, the happiness you shared constantly with others and each other, but more than anything, your sweet souls that will continue to serve in the ways you are called to do so. Thank you for one of the most memorable weeks of my life!
  • Kenneth Mellard: Thank you for driving us all over Philly and Jersey and being there for us each and every day.  I enjoyed being your co-pilot even though geography is obviously not my strength. Your insight and thoughtful reflection was appreciated and makes me beyond grateful that I was lucky enough to take this journey with you and those who's paths we crossed.