I learned more about the art of teaching as a coach than I did in college – undergraduate or graduate. To this day a great classroom session feels like a great practice, and vice versa.
One vital coaching lesson that carried over is this: standards are more important than rules because standards create a culture, and culture creates ownership. Ultimately this brought me to a succinct set of beliefs, which I'm sure our teachers here at Cathedral are already sick of hearing: Fake it 'til you make it. Embrace the Monster. Teach the student, not the subject. What you permit you promote. Be easily pleased and rarely satisfied. Fail forward.
When working with players, however, I had a few other standards I championed, and none was more vital than this: Do not allow yourself to be a victim. Over time it was abbreviated to DBAV - Don't Be A Victim.
In literal terms all of us are victims at some point in our life. All of us will be taken advantage of at some point; we will all be dealt a bad break; tragically many will be abused or neglected. I'm not immune. In 2009 I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer just a couple months before my oldest child was born. I almost never discuss this; actually, I will only talk about it if it allows me to preach DBAV.
This was a trying time for Susan and I. At the same time we were debating a name for our little girl, I was doing the darkest type of math: Would I see my daughter enter school? Would I live long enough to see her graduate? Would I get to walk her down the aisle? Would I live long enough for her to even remember me? Like I said, a melancholy formula created from a mixture of the unkown and the natural tendency to peer into shadowy corners of the mind.
Then a single moment in which the tables were turned put an end to all my calculations: When I told my players of my diagnosis, and my need to miss practices for treatment, a senior stepped forward (Gianna, I’ll never forget you): "Coach Ek, we are all behind you. And that means we won't let you be a victim.” Then with a grin, “So don't bring whining or excuses in here!"
Literally I was a victim. Why me? Why this rare, genetic anomaly surfacing just before I became a dad? But in the truest sense I could/would choose not be a victim - I would, with the help of family, friends, Faith and players, re-frame my role. If that's unclear, just look at Joseph Hibler for a living example.
The moment a child (or an adult) makes an excuse or whines they have abandoned ownership. They have said, "I don't have power in this situation,” and by this abdication the extension: “I’m the victim.” This purchase of temporary protection at the cost of accountability and/or righteous defiance is not one we should accept. Worse than allowing a child to make this transaction would be modeling it.
When students and players refused to take ownership or whined I always countered with, "Are you powerless?" The trained (and required) reply was, "No - I am powerful beyond measure."
Those who use excuses and victimhood as refuge from life's realities, even for a moment, are left with the foundation for a habit that has a dire consequence: truths, whether good or bad, are relentless. When they finally catch up, will our children be powerless and inadequate, or will they be powerful beyond measure? The answer to that question is a vital one because today's world is more chaotic and spontaneous than ever - while we can't control much, we do own our reaction. What reaction do our children practice?
As is so often the case, we need only look to our Savior - as He wept in the garden He was all too human. Yet He was fully prepared to take victimhood to a level that can only be described as out of this world. He did not whine or make excuses, and His defiance of earthly victimization opened Heavenly gates. The Lamb was sacrificed, but transcended victimhood.
All of what has been written above can be misinterpreted as lacking sympathy or compassion for those with struggles. Nothing could be further from the truth. That's why in my next blog I'd like to discuss The Drama Triangle, and the feeling many have that they must rescue the victimized (as prep, maybe look at Jesus’ reply to those who tried to “rescue” him from slander and abuse). Until then please consider what things exist in our homes, sports teams, clubs and organizations that perpetuate excuses, inadequacy and a lack of accountability. Here at Cathedral we should work together to eradicate any sense of powerlessness from our children’s lives as we form them in Christ's image.
Stranger: "Is it always like this?"
Parishioner: "Actually, this is our first year of Trunk or Treat..."
Stranger: "No, I mean the Church, these people - are they always like this?"
Parishioner: "Yes, I suppose we are. This is a great place filled with great people!"
Stranger: "This is actually my parish; I live nearby...but I haven't been around for awhile."
Conversation at Trunk or Treat 2014
My Dear Cathedral,
I need to thank you. And in showing this gratitude both humble myself to you, and express my love for you. This past week you reminded me exactly how you formed me as a boy, re-embraced me as a man, form me as a father, and shape my very spirit.
When I saw the hallways filled with parents for conferences, I recalled my days inside these classrooms. I remembered sitting at the kitchen table with my mother, who refused to touch my paper or pencil ("It's your name at the top, not mine!"), but always demanded that I focused not on being the best, but rather my best. And I had visions of laying in bed while my dad read books to me. We finished "White Fang" together, and then he handed it to me and said, "This book was your grandpa's. You'd have loved meeting him, and he'd want you to have it." Then he knelt next to the bed and we began our Rosary. That bridge from what was Cathedral to what is Cathedral is why I love you.
And when I saw the Little Saints line up down Sheridan I began to consider my own children, the first of whom will enter next year. I considered how your "Family of families" has entrusted me with their children, and how ready Susan and I am to entrust our children to play, learn, love, laugh, be hurt, be healed, and find God with your children. Parenting is hard, tiring, daunting, even intimidating. With you, however, we feel confident.
Then I heard Marissa, Natalie and Jonathan present at the All Saints Ceremony. I stood across from them wondering at the poise, wisdom, and purity of their words. I heard Marissa speak of her own Saint as if she was a best friend she spoke with daily. I felt the presence of those in Heaven right behind me as Natalie weaved together a narrative and analogy that was both moving and eloquent. Finally, Jonathan choked me up as he spoke about the saints around us, both living and dead, and how we are a part of their journeys. As he spoke I looked past him to the Holy Family Chapel. This is where I went when my grandmother held on for her final days. That is where I cried when her husband was taken suddenly, the victim of what can only be called a broken heart. I lashed out and demanded answers here when my friend, John, fell into a coma and was taken in his early twenties. And I knelt there in humble wonder, hours after Monsignor Tucker asked me if I'd be the next leader of your school.
In short, Cathedral - you've always been there, and I love you for that.
Which brings us to Trunk or Treat, 660 kids and at least that many adults: All of us crammed into a parking lot laughing, joking, hugging, shaking hands, and becoming one community on behalf of our children (with Shaggy, Velma, Scooby, Pope Francis and a few other friends helping). While the dialog that acted as this letter's introduction was relayed to me, I did have my own powerful conversations on this evening. One stood out in which I ran into an old friend who was a year behind me in school. "Jeremy," he said, "I can't believe you're sitting in Sister Mildred's office...again!"
We both laughed at this, and then he asked, "But really, isn't it surreal? I mean, think what this place meant to us. Now, you get to help shape that for someone else."
That opportunity, Cathedral, is why I love you. That trust, Eagles, is why I pray in gratitude every morning when I enter the office. All of my memories, Family of families, is why I hold you close to my heart. Seeing you embrace a little boy like Joseph, CRC, is why I am awed by your beautiful spirit. And the knowledge that we can disagree with each other, without being disagreeable to each other, is why I respect you.
Like any relationship, we will face difficult and trying times. But we will fail forward, we will never waste a crisis. And always we will have our arms open to those with the mightiest battles, highest hurdles, most difficult obstacles - I love you most because you hold firmly to Padre Pio's brilliance: "If you knew the value of suffering, you'd never give it up."
I always knew I loved you, but this past week, Cathedral, you out-did yourself.
With all my heart,
Jeremy J. Ekeler
The good news: we are proud and overwhelmed by the number of conferences already scheduled.
The bad news: Parents, showing up to conferences is not enough.
Let me explain...
Conferences are not about the teacher talking at the parent. They're not a report from the nervous educator behind his/her desk to the squinting/nodding/grimacing parent on the other side. And they're certainly not only about a letter or percentage on a sheet of paper.
That's not a conference; that's an accounting, a one-way transaction.
A true conference is a microcosm of something much more powerful: the collaboration of adult forces on behalf of the best interest of a child. In other words, it's a give-and-take based on a relationship of mutual care and concern for a child.
Every bit of research - whether another predictable graduate study, or the groundbreaking The Nurture Assumption by Dr. Judith Rich Harris - verifies that adult involvement and concern in student learning has a positive correlation to student success. That's why it matters that you ask about their day, take interest in their homework, show up to their performances, put the iPhone aside so as to be present when they tell their stories, and know/remember their teachers' names.
As a teacher I loved conferences, and it surprised me to hear colleagues gripe: "We only see the parents of kids with high grades," they'd say. Or, "Well, the ones we need to see won't show up," they'd complain. They'd joke about how they should just put an audio loop on play: "Your son or daughter has a high B or strong A. They work well in groups and are a joy to have in class..."
As I considered this robotic reply I wondered aloud why I didn't have these same complaints, and that's when a teacher of freshmen punched me in the gut: "You teach advanced courses - kids in there are hungry to learn because their parents are invested in more than the grade. They really want to know if their kid is growing, not just showing up and doing school."
I repeat: "...hungry to learn because their parents are invested..."
Parents of my students didn't show up to conferences. As a matter of fact, they attacked conferences. Coming from various income levels, racial backgrounds, and educational pedigrees, they nonetheless shared this trait: They wanted blunt answers about how they could work with me to make good students great ones, and great ones extraordinary. Always respectful, always polite, always demanding a spirit of TOGETHER, these parents didn't give birth to prodigies. No, they gave birth to children...and then they invested in their child's future with the educators they trusted.
In that spirit, our teachers at Cathedral may request that you do some "homework" before conferences. This small task could be as simple as jotting down a few ideas or considering a few points prior to meeting with them. The goal for our teachers is to extend our hand in the hopes that you, their first teachers, grasp it. Then, together, we will form a bridge to successful futures for the children of Cathedral of the Risen Christ School. After all, that's what a family of families should do.
So don't think about just showing up to conferences. Instead, let's focus on teaming up.
If your child has an application with this icon on their mobile device (phone or iPod), please DELETE. If you don’t know, even more reason to take action and look for it.
The application Kik is a dangerous social media platform that ostensibly is about group messaging, but actually exposes its participants to a wide array of users. Stories abound around the nation of children being propositioned, seeing pornographic images, and even being abducted. I created an account recently to better understand Kik, and was immediately inundated with “Kik Requests” from dozens of people with veiled identities – I felt both disturbed and out of my depth. Google it and you’ll feel the same.
Here at Cathedral the app was prevalent (discovered Kik being used in 3rd grade), and we had a handful of very unpleasant run-ins with it. These run-ins ranged from inappropriateness to brushes with a world no child should be exposed to. I hate dramatics, so take my word: if you allow your son/daughter to be on this app they will encounter serious, and likely dangerous, encounters they are not prepared to handle.
All of that being said, we are in the role of counter-puncher: There will always be a new app, always be a way to get around the system, always adults with bad intentions. Please help us by…
1.) Considering Covenant Eyes: http://www.lincolndiocese.org/ministries-offices/diocesan-offices/freedom-from-pornography/1532-covenant-eyes-internet-protection
2.) Monitoring Phone/iPad Settings: http://www.lincolndiocese.org/ministries-offices/diocesan-offices/freedom-from-pornography/tools-for-parents
3.) Checking phones/iPods (all of our incidents at Cathedral have involved iPods).
4.) Most importantly, start or continue the conversation about decision making, human dignity in the real and virtual world, and being a responsible person in a culture where digital footprints are forever.
5.) When you feel a student is in danger, contact the school administration. You may take screenshots of text and messages to send to the administration, but DO NOT screenshot photos or images (this would be considered possession and distribution).For more information, please read the below articles regarding Kik and 7 other apps surfacing…
The 8 Worst Apps for Kids: http://www.education.com/magazine/article/worst-apps-kids/As a reminder: Phones & iPods are not allowed in school.
If we find one the teacher will confiscate. If they confiscate and it has Kik on it the phone will be brought to the main office and a parent will need to pick it up.
The spirit here is student safety, not punitive judgments.