4:41 p.m.

Elijah Zae Little's Profile Photo, Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, shoes and outdoor

“Ok, love you Sposito.”

That’s how he’d leave my office everyday.

Some days he was there because he’d been in a fight. Some days he was there because a teacher had sent him out of their room. Most days he was there to sit in the quiet of my dark office and just…be.

I’d type away on my computer sending out emails and he would splay out in a chair, legs straight, feet pointing up, staring at the ceiling with his hands folded on his chest.

We’d talk about class, or working out, or cooking. He’d lie to me about the girls he was “talking to” and he’d school me on the definitions of phrases I’d hear in the hallways. Home seemed hard and the streets he lived on took their toll on him from time to time, and while I could feel his anger and frustration, I can’t recall him ever complaining to me.

I’d catch him in the halls out of class and I’d give him a look.  He’d run over to me and wrap an arm around my neck, pull me in tight and say,

“listen-to-me-listen-to-me-listen-to-me…”

“Ok, I’m all ears. Just remember when I saw you ten minutes ago in my office, you promised me, promised me, you were going right to class.”

“…”

“Hello?”

“You’re right, I did you dirty.”

Elijah-“

“Sposito.”

“No.”

“Sposito!!”

“What?”

“Just write me a pass.”

“Sigh.”

His “bro-hugs” knocked the wind from my chest and his smiles, though not abundant, were contagious.

We both left by the end of the school year. He went back to his home district and I moved on to start my own business. We had one final hang-out in my office, a hug by the buses at the end of the day, and that was that.

They said the 911 call came yesterday at 4:41 pm.

The house fire moved quickly and aggressively. A firefighter was injured and the house was completely destroyed. It’s unconfirmed but they think Elijah ran upstairs to try and wake-up and save his older brother before the smoke and flames overtook them.

Selfless and brave.

I tried to remember what I was doing  yesterday at 4:41. I couldn’t remember exactly, but I think that’s when it started getting really windy outside. My house shook and my windows rattled and branches broke from trees.

Was it him? Was he calling out to me? Was his spirit yelling in rage and fear while I was comfortable on my couch playing with my sons and scrolling through Netflix?

I cried in my room when I got the news. I sobbed and focused my mind and my heart, trying to reach out to him across the void.

“Be at peace,” I said.

I’ve built many relationships with kids over the years as an educator. It’s hard not to love them all. They annoy you and push you and make you angry. You come from different cultures and different backgrounds, or from the same cultures and the same backgrounds-but your story is always different. Then one day they come into your office and the facade falls away. They look exhausted. Minutes pass in silence before you feel something shift. They talk to you. You listen. 

You get to know them.

I look at my news feed and I am on edge. So much hatred exists. It worries me. We don’t listen to each other. We just respond, immediately, and blindly, fueled by our own mission and emboldened by the Tweets and Snaps we rely on, too heavily.

What are we afraid of?

What would happen if we turned it all off, sat together in a room, stared at the ceiling and just talked? What if we actually got to know each other? Shared our fears, respected our loyalties? Loved each other for our differences? Learned from our differences? Understood the world a little better through our differences?

I’m not picking a side, I’m just passing on what I learned from Elijah. Do with it what you will, but I urge you to use it positively; you never know what selfless hero is staring at you from behind a false bravado. Listen to them. Let them be. Your world will be better for the relationship you had, no matter how tragically short it may be. Believe me.

So, no more shootin’ the shit and no more hugs. I’m left with a short movie of him in my mind:

He leaves my office, swinging his arms, looking right while moving left. He disappears past my line of sight going the exact opposite way I told him to. I can’t see him, but I know he’s still in earshot.

“Be good! Go to class!”

“Ok, love you Sposito,”

I love you too Elijah.

 

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

 

 

Adventure Jacket

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Manual labor.

Listen, we can all do it right? The lifting, the dragging, the pushing, the whatever. Hell, I love snowblowing at night, and there isn’t a man in New England who hasn’t watched a plow take out a mailbox and think, “Now that would be a fun job.”

No, the reason we should thank all of the laborers out there, doing the jobs we take for granted, isn’t just their physical strength and toughness, it’s that they do it- Every. Day.

I’ve had my fair share of terrible summer jobs. I’ve mowed lawns for fourteen hours a day, I’ve loaded tractor-trailers full of packages, I’ve wheel-barrowed gravel for tennis courts, and I’ve mopped kitchens. And yes, those jobs were long hours and I would work six out of seven days a week, but then summer would be over and I’d be back at school with a fat wallet and nine months off before finding my next backbreaking endeavor.

But could I do it for years? How many mailboxes would I cover in snow before I’d stop giggling and start yawning? How long before the drone of lawn mowers never stops ringing in my ears? How many times could I slip into cold wet clothes or climb a pole to return power to a neighborhood full of ungratefuls before I said, “Screw these people.”?

It isn’t for everyone.

It reminds me of my oldest son.

The four year old is my worker. We bought him a shovel for his birthday. He runs to it when it snows.

Mike-not so much.

I think about him as I clear the driveway. The precipitation was more sleet than snow, so the snowblower can’t pick it up. It’s just me, three hundred feet of driveway, and the boys and our shovels and… wait-no, it’s just me and my shovel.

The little one forgot his gloves and disappeared into the house an hour ago. I’m ten feet from the end of the driveway when I hear Mike’s footsteps crunch over the ice.

I wipe the sweat from my eyes. I look at his appearance between shovels: boots, ripped wind-pants, tee shirt, a leather aviator’s jacket and a shovel slung jauntily over his shoulder gripped in glove-less hands completes the ensemble.

It isn’t really working-attire which bothers me, and he’s about an hour and twenty minutes too late which would not have gone over well when I was a kid. With a sigh I point to the spot next to me, too tired to lecture him.

“Sorry I’m late Dad, had to get my adventure jacket.”

I nod wearily and show him what to do. I give him a little section to work on behind me so he can be out of my way.  It doesn’t take long before he stops.

I look back. The shovel is over his shoulder again. His eyes are on the horizon. It’s the last straw, and I prepare to unload a lecture. My eyes light up and my body tenses. What kind of a lazy son have I raised? Where have I failed? Didn’t he see me out here for the past hour busting my ass? What will happen to him when he gets a job? He can’t just stop working to daydream. When I was a kid I-

“I didn’t know it snowed in Japan.”

“Huh?” I ask.

“Japan. Does it usually snow here?”

“Are we in Japan?” I ask.

His eyes squint as he locks me with a glare. 

“Yes. The map. We followed the map here, remember? We have to find our way to Shark Bay, and then…the treasure.”

For a second I believe him. Something does seem different. I look at him in his aviator jacket. His nine year old body looks old and wise and tough-as-nails. My fourth grader has morphed into an intrepid adventurer. As he looks off into the distance I think to myself, “I would follow you anywhere.”

I finish the driveway myself. I stand there at the bottom, leaning on my shovel breathing hard.

I smile as I look at my work.

The driveway is clear and black and my son is fighting a horde of invaders over by the playscape.

Yep, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC 

 

 

 

 

41 Years Old

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I love egg rolls.

The crispy edges, the chewy wrap, the bits of salty fillings, all erupt through the tangy sweetness of duck sauce. 

In my other hand is a skewer of teriyaki beef. It is cooked and seasoned to perfection. I grunt my approval as I tear into the hand-held food with reckless abandon. The next bite goes in before the last one is swallowed. Hot black coffee runs down my throat, slaking my thirst. On and on I eat and drink until a smattering of small, empty, white cartons and crinkly aluminum bags litter the table before me. It’s delicious and satisfying. I feel full and content.

It’s been years since we’ve eaten Chinese food.  But tonight, on my forty-first birthday it just seems to make sense.

It’s not a sexy or exciting milepost. It’s the year of strange muscle-pulls and chronic back tightness. It certainly isn’t worth spending a lot of money at an expensive restaurant.

But sexy or not, I was born on this day so what the hell, a little MSG and eating with chop-sticks to break up the monotony sounds pretty good.

I look around the table and see my three favorite people. Not bad.

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I thank them for my dinner and homemade cards as I bring my scraps to the trash-can. That’s when I see the mystery puddle.

“Why is it wet over here?”

It’s a common question in our house, one rarely met with a confession.

Tonight the silence is legitimate. No one has spilled, no one used the faucet like a squirt gun, and it’s been three hundred days since our last potty accident. Nope this mystery puddle is coming from…where?

So, ends my forty-first birthday. Chinese food and a trip to Home Depot. 

I sit there alone in the kitchen, still in wet shambles, as I try to figure out what’s going on. It’s tough not to get frustrated in these situations. I have a problem and I don’t know exactly what it is or how to solve it. 

I’m forty-one, out of shape and I can’t handle the smallest of home improvements.

What do I do? How much will this cost? How will we pay for it? Why am I not better at this? What’s wrong with me? Why-

No.

Stop.

Stop the negativity.

Stop the self doubt.

Stop whining.

Stop sitting.

Start doing.

I smile as I unbox the new faucet that evening. My son is upstairs. I call him down to help me.

We turn on some music. He fits perfectly under the sink. His little fingers are winding their way past pipes and hoses, and a song is on his lips.

What is it about tools and music and working with your hands that can bring us together?

We laugh under there in the tight space. Knuckles are skinned, screws are lost,  and more than a little gas is passed.

In the end he does it all by himself. I simply lie there coaching him and handing him tools. His pride is apparent as he turns on the faucet. 

I tousle his hair and put my arm across his broadening shoulders.

My son.

The leak has stopped, the problem is solved, and a right of passage has occurred. 

Forty-one is starting off pretty damn good.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

87 Flips

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“Dad! Can you smell that?”

This is never a comfortable question coming from a four year old.

“What Benny?”

“It’s Spring!”

I smile. He’s a few months early, but I smell it too. Last week the thermometer in my truck registered -4º F. Yesterday, February 5th, it was 53ºF and sunny.

Winter in Connecticut.

As a life-long New Englander I know I need to take advantage of the warmth, who knows when it will return.

“Okay boys, I am going to workout with the tire, so leave me alone for a little bit. I have to get to a hundred,” I announce.

“Ok!” they lie as they run from the playscape to the trampoline.

The tire was a gift. My dad picked it up from a farm equipment supplier. My wife wrapped it in a bow for Christmas.

My health journey is eclectic. I’ve spent years in the gym, I’ve trained for and run a half marathon, I’ve studied Judo, I’ve had two personal trainers, I’ve participated in mini-triathlons, and I’ve run a Tough Mudder.

I’ve been through a CrossFit phase, a rowing phase, and I am currently on a kettle-bell and functional strength phase. Yesterday, I inquired about competing in the Highland Games.

I know what I need to do, and my knowledge is extensive, I just can’t seem to find the one  workout that sticks.

My current workout is big, heavy and frozen to the ground.

I roll it behind the garden. It splashes down with a muddy thud. I inch my fingers under it and squat down. I pop it up easily. The mud splatters my shirt as it falls. Ten flips to one end of the garden, ten flips back to the beginning.

On and on we turn, the never ending cycle of man vs. exercise. My hands start to ache and my back is on fire. My legs are warming up and sweat stings my eyes. It doesn’t seem too hard at first, but soon enough I’m doing math:

“I’ve done thirty, that means I have seventy to go. No, wait, this length will be thirty. Ok wait, if the first length ends on an odd number and I am headed back to the start that means it will end on an even number…damn, now I lost count…ok so I think this is my third length and I am halfway through so…”

The grunts become louder. The rest at the end of the garden becomes longer. The boys want me to record them doing tricks on my phone, “Ok, but just for a minute,” I say with relief.

Mud from my fingers smudges across the screen. I am breathing heavily. Part of me wants to quit right here. I’m halfway through, that’s pretty good for my first time out, isn’t it?

I can feel the tire behind the garden. It’s mass has a gravity to it, pulling me back.

I go.

At flip number seventy, my mindset changes. It’s gonna feel so good to get there, to get to one hundred. Nothing can stop me. I am a machine. I can feel the mush transforming into iron.

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There’s just something about an outdoor workout.

86

Yes! this is it, I’ve found what will get me healthy!

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This sucks, but in a good way! I am committed to this!

8-

“Dad! I have a bloody nose!”

I sigh as I pull my hand out from under the thick wet rubber. The kid is leaking everywhere. He’s tough but I can see a tinge of fear in his eyes.

“Ok, Bud, no problem, let’s go.”

We fumble our way into the house, shedding muddy clothes and boots as we go. 

I feel guilty as I head into the kitchen. We were out there too long. I have to get dinner made before basketball practice which is thirty minutes from now. I can see the tire  halfway down the garden path. It sits there waiting, wondering where I went. 

I didn’t reach my goal.

I failed.

The ache in my shoulders disagree with me.

I suppose it’s like life. We strive for our goals. They sustain us, they gives us hope, but sometimes we focus so much on finishing, we don’t appreciate the journey.

What if the mud and the sweat and the pain is what we strive for?

Who would we become? What would we value?

It might just make us love ourselves a little more.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

For proper tire-flipping technique check out this link!

 

There’s A Penguin In My Freezer and A Machine Gun on My Stairs

img_1228His eyes burrow into my soul.

We stand there facing each other, neither daring to move a muscle. I admit he has me at a disadvantage, I had no idea he would be there.

But none of that matters right now. What matters is the razor sharp beak standing between me and a frozen steak.

Do I talk him down? Do I inch my hand forward? Do I strike hard and fast, and hope that I am faster?

My stomach gurgles in response.

With a nod I gird my loins.

My right hand is a slingshot. The icy enclosure saps my strength. The glint in his black eyes shakes my resolve. A war cry pierces the air as my left hand knocks my tuxedo clad opponent to the ground. I slam the door closed.

The steak is cold in my shaking hand. A grim smile spreads over my stony countenance.

We are safe, and fed…for now.

I let the steak sizzle to fetch my reading glasses. They are upstairs on my nightstand, a short jaunt up the stairs…take cover!

I dive to the left, rolling to a stop a few feet into the living room.

Is it what I thought it was? But how? The stairs were clear just a few minutes ago.

I chance a look in the mirror at the base of the stairs.

img_1168I stare into the vacant eyes of heavy artillery. It seems unmanned, but is it? Has the trigger-man camouflaged himself in the deep carpet of the hallway? Does he bide his time simply waiting for a better shot?

I can’t be sure, but I need those glasses.

I’ll have to chance it.

For the second time in five minutes I find myself breathing hard, muscles tense, heart slamming in my chest.

A tennis ball waits at my feet. Inspiration!

I slide down the wall, my eyes never leaving the mirror. I feel a familiar fuzzy texture brush against my fingertips.

In one fluid motion I grab the ball, swing around the banister and heave with all my might. It bounces off the wall as I take the steps two by two.

I squeeze my eyes and grit my teeth waiting for the hot lead to tear through my soft flesh.

The shots never come.

All is safe.

Wildlife is in the freezer. Weapons are in the hallway.

At what point did I lose control here?

Who can be behind these traps?

I may never find the answer.

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-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

3 Keys to Unit Design

 

Teaching is difficult.

Amid the day to day crises of crying students, angry parents, and lost prep periods, the curriculum marches on.

Planning units and lessons becomes less and less frequent, and relying on the stuff you did last year becomes the norm.

The dawn of Common Core has left some districts, and many teachers, to wonder how to manage it all, and still provide quality teaching and learning for their students.

The task is not impossible, and the process is not unfamiliar. It will require some time, but your students are worth it. 

The following three keys can help you create a rigorous standards-based unit:

1. Review YOUR standards.*

  • For math and ELA go to: http://www.corestandards.org/read-the-standards/ 
  • For science go to: https://www.nextgenscience.org/ 
  • Determine which standards are represented in your particular unit and get familiar with them. 
  • Identify recurring concepts from the standards.
    • Ex. I reviewed the Middle school science standards on Force and Motion and it deals with Newton’s Third Law, gravity, electricity and magnetism.

2. Create assessments.

  • Use three different types of assessment throughout the unit:
    • Traditional paper and pencil (multiple choice, short answer etc.),
    • Writing activity  (essay, lab report or powerpoint)
    • Project (poster, model, song, video, debate, etc.)
      • Be sure to have clear grading expectations.
        • Creating rubrics with students is a great way to deepen their understanding and create a collaborative environment.
  • Create your summative assessment**. This end of unit assessment should give students the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of the standards. Projects work best here.
    • N.B. students can work on summative assessment projects throughout the unit.
      • Specific due dates related to components of the project keep students on task and limits opportunities of procrastination.
  • Use various assessment tools to create formative diagnostic assessments.
    • These formative assessments are based around individual topics. In the above example, you may have them write up a lab on magnetism, have a multiple choice quiz on electricity, and design an experiment around Newton’s Third Law.
    • Some benefits to multiple assessments are: varied student data in the gradebook, opportunities to check students’ understanding and provide feedback. Assessment is the tool to inform instruction and planning.

3. Schedule the unit.

  • I use the following formula:

Number of weeks in this unit ÷ number of concepts + three days to review = unit scope and sequence.

  • Set hard dates for your summative and formative diagnostic assessments. Do not waiver!
    • Moving-on is difficult for many teachers, especially if they feel students aren’t “getting it.” But, if you provide students multiple opportunities to demonstrate understanding, and use those results to adjust instruction, students will learn. Every time you push back a lesson you take time away from the next unit. Do not sabotage your scope and sequence trying to reach 100% mastery! 
  • Break down each standard or concept further. 
    • Ex. Q. What about Newton’s Third Law do they need to know? A. Measuring force, and mass.
  • Starting with the interim assessment, work backwards to develop your daily lessons. These lessons should create experiences for students around the specific concepts on the upcoming assessment.
    • Ex. if students are designing an experiment to test Newton’s Third law, they will need to watch videos of similar experiments, witness teacher modeling of Newton’s Third Law, participate in labs, etc.

A well designed unit will help you for years to come. Use rigorous standards-based assessments, take a step by step approach, and use the volumes of resources available to you. 

Roll up your sleeves and immerse yourself in the work, you never know who you’ll inspire.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

 

* Understanding the standards in a linear way (from grade level to grade level), is essential to differentiation, but the core of your instruction should be built around grade level standards. Above or below grade level instruction should be provided to students on a case by case basis.

**follow this link for a comparison of summative, formative and interim assessments.

In Need of Adventure

Seek.

“The key is on the table! Just go!” 

Something, or someone, is yelling at me. I can’t hear them. It’s as if they’re behind one of those police mirrors watching me try to escape that tiny, poorly-lit, soundproofed room. 

Still, I sense something so I turn. I put my hand against the cool silvery surface, and look into my own eyes. For a second something familiar passes through me and runs up my spine. It’s the answer to my quest. But just as quickly, the energy passes, and with a shrug I go back to my search.

For seekers like myself, we fear the same thing: There is no quest. There are no secrets to be revealed. Life is what it is, and you’re wasting it asking questions for no reason.

I rage against that logic for fear it will drag me down. I battle it with weapons like intuition, meditation, and prayer. I ask questions. I look closely. I think deeply. I listen to every word, every nuance you say. 

And sometimes, I act.

“In need of adventure. Saw tracks on the pond on the way to day care. Gonna try and skate around it. Not to worry I’ll stick close to the shore.”

I hit send and try to imagine my wife’s reaction. If we were face to face she would squint and look out the nearest window. Her muscles would tense and she would take a few seconds to respond. She’d throw out some sort of nonchalant response like, “Cool. The ice is probably thick enough,” which would translate to, ” Oh my God, you’re going to die an icy watery death.”

Luckily, through the power of technology, by the time she replies “Ok,” I am already laced up, and on the pond.

I take the first few strides wondering if the ice is indeed thick enough. The pond groans and stretches, and a crack races out from the tip of my right skate.

A smile creeps over my face. It isn’t my first time on thin ice.

The cold shreds through my flannel, and tears form at the corners of my eyes. My feet cramp painfully and my back is exhausted from my poor form.

It’s exhilarating.

I’m alone on the pond on a cloudy winter day. Logs thrust up through the ice, and trees bend low, their branches trapped by the frozen surface. Grass and algae suspend motionlessly beneath me, waiting patiently for the thaw. Groans, cracks, the scrape of my skates, and my breath are the only sounds I hear.

I stop to take a picture of a floating stone. I see its brother a few yards further. Who threw them? Some timid soul wanting to check the thickness? Some vandal trying to break the near perfect surface? Either way I thank them. It makes for a cool picture.

I stop to take a close up of the ice. Rows of tiny bubbles hang there in the thickness and it fascinates me. I try to wrap my head around this process. Can anyone ever say they watched an air bubble become trapped in ice? My imagination wanders, but my feet tell me it’s time to turn around.

I wasn’t out long, and there are certainly more, and greater adventures out there, but this one captured a piece of my heart. There’s something about the cold that helps define me.

Cold grey days are easy to dismiss.

Sometimes you have to seek to find beauty.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC