**** Reflections of an EduDad ****

Dr. Joe Mazza

You’re not as bad as you think

il_340x270.496335635_3h4jThink with me as I transition a 4th of July experience into our work as adults (whether at home or at school) working for kids.

Fourth of July weekend was a great opportunity to unplug, spend time with family and friends, introduce our son to the annual fireworks show and enjoy our favorite backyard game – “bags” (depending on where you live, you may call it Bags, Baggo or Cornhole). When explaining the game to new players, I often use the term “21st Century horseshoes” without the need for a divot tool or new sod for your lawn. I started playing bags when I lived in Chicago in the early 2000s at a Bears’ tailgate, and have been hooked ever since.

After 14 years of playing this social game during BBQs, family gatherings and tailgates, you start to identify yourself into the category of a “veteran player” meaning you’ve got a good deal of experience playing, have a personal style of toss and come to expect a certain level of play from yourself vs. close friends, family members, and in my case – my father-in-law.

So as the title of this post might hint at, my father-in-law beat me five full games (up to 21 points each) in a row on July 4th. And he didn’t just beat me, he won handedly every game, and left me feeling like I had forgotten how to play the social game I’ve come to love. Over the next 24 hours he made a bunch of playful jokes at my expense which, of course I expected from him.

Taking off the bean-bag playing lens and putting on an students, educator, parent lens – we all (now matter how much experience and expertise we have) have days where we lose 5 games in a row in our own right. Maybe a conversation didn’t go the way we had hoped. Maybe we failed to articulate in a way that was easy for another to understand. Maybe a lesson fell flat on its face. Maybe we forgot to pick our kids up from an event! Regardless of what it was, disappointment happens daily as a part of life. We are human beings, and now matter how hard we try, we’re bound to miss the mark at times. However, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to today’s youth to set our sights on honing our skills by working not only harder but smarter, facing our fears and trying new things even if for the first time. We as adults are role models, whether we assume the role formally (as a teacher/parent or not), someone is always watching, learning, planning, mimicking based on how we respond to adversity. In making the time to reflect on our successes and shortcomings daily, we can hit the reset button and face our challenges in new ways. In this world, adults need to understand, embrace and model resilience for today’s youth.

The next day, on Saturday, July 5, 2014, I got the bean bags and boxes back out. I set them up, asked my father-in-law to play me again and we got to it. Two hours later, I had completely turned the tables, and beat him six times in a row, which immediately got me thinking deeper about this experience. I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was. This thought was not just about bean bags, but of a constant spirit to be better at what I do from one day to the next.

Below are 5 considerations (not excuses) on why we’re not as bad as we think:

  1. Each day brings different variables (We must take into account sleep, events, exercise, season, weather etc)
  2. Level of experience with task (First timer, veteran, knowing audience)
  3. State of yourself (YOU are constantly changing, interpersonally, coming to grips with your own emotional intelligence)
  4. Policy changes (Every year policies changes in some way. How we embrace/combat them affects our work in navigating our challenges)
  5. Who are your role models? (Who inspires you daily? Who do you find yourself hanging out with when you have time to yourself? Do you find yourself with positive peers or negaholics? What do I know about these people? Have I shared enough of myself to truly know these people and have them know me?) This fifth idea has been an evolving one for me. Just recently, I’ve begun learning from 100 new people around the world during #ptcamp using Voxer, Twitter, blogs and ApprenNet. This experience has gotten me out of my comfort zone, and has opened the doors for me to learn more about a topic I am passionate about from others with unique and important perspectives in supporting my growth. Refreshing the people I learn from daily is very important to me, and ensures the perspectives I need to grow will continue to evolve around me.

There are certainly more variables than the five I have listed. I encourage you to think about times during your life and career that you fell flat on your face. How did you approach it? How helped you? What did you learn about yourself during the experience? Please comment below on where this idea tok you.



Categorized as: Teacher/Leader Preparation Programs


  1. I constantly emailed this weblog post page to all my friends, because if like to read
    it next my friends will too.

  2. Great post, Joe! #3 reminds me of what the instructor at Hot Yoga says, “The positions don’t change, you do.” It’s such a great reminder that we are constantly changing and getting better at what we do. At the same time, I would say that it also means that we bring something different to similar situations, maybe we hit our target, maybe we don’t.

    I love how the very next day you got the bags back out (called cornhole where I’m from) and played again. Like Ben’s son, your inner voice wouldn’t let you give up. Love the perseverance!

    Thanks for your insightful post,

  3. Love the post!! Especially love the Penn State cornhole image!! I’m PSU Class of 1995… Thanks for the inspiring read this morning!! @la_profe_s

  4. Tim Scholze says:

    Joe, Awesome post!

    I had a couple of years of “falling on my face.” I left my teaching job of 14 years because of how I was being bullied and didn’t know how to handle it emotionally. That was five years ago and I thought it meant that I was no longer to be a teacher. Well, about just over two years ago I was working on an assignment for an instrutional design class and I some how got involved with teachers and administrators via twitter. This was the spark that helped reignite my passion for teaching.

    Last summer I was so passionate about getting back into the classroom that I moved to North Carolina and was 1,000 miles away from my family. North Carolina only lasted a semester as the culture shock, bullying by another teacher, lack of any administration, and being away from my own children was too much to handle. I again thought that maybe this meant I was not supposed to be in education. But, I kept asking myself, why am I so passionate about students and education? It took a visit to my good friend Jimmy Casas’s high school in Bettendorf, Iowa, talking to my good friend Tim Johnson (@Supt_Johnson), and getting involved with awesome teachers in Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota to realize that I was meant to teach and that I can do it well. I tried to carry myself through the past five years when in reality I needed faith, my family, and my twitter PLN to help me through.

    Thanks again for all the great thing you do for all of us in education Joe.


    • Joe Mazza says:

      Hi Tim – Thanks for writing. I’m sorry about your experiences you described. Keep your head up. Learn from these experiences (+/-) and don’t be afraid to fall on your face in the best interests if kids. They need us to model that it is OK to fail and pick yourself back up while trying to do something great.

  5. Joe,
    Really liked your post! After smiling about the bags story and it bringing back fun memories of playing them, I focused in on your main point. Your five considerations are really on-point and so good for us to refer to. Some of them, we may not have thought of, and some we can easily forget to consider sometimes. We forget to think that those variables may be the reasons causing us to not be on our “A” game, and then end up beating ourselves up when we shouldn’t. Being aware of when to consider things and not make up excuses is really important too. The key is to take the consideration and then grow from it.

    Side-note! I just noticed your live traffic feed. That’s so cool! I noticed the Greek flag and then noticed that was me! I’m on vacation! :)

    OK, back to the comment! Thanks for your “from the heart” reflective post. It’s great when a personal point in life can make us connect it to our professional life. Made me think lots!


    • Joe Mazza says:

      Hi Maria – Hope you had a great, well-deserved vacation. I got to spend some quality time at NAESP with your Asst. Supt Jeff Zoul – what a great guy who truly gets what is important in education and leadership. We need to blur the lines between home and school to truly build the relationships necessary to help kids. Thanks for working so hard each day for the kids of D109.

  6. Jay Posick says:

    I especially related to your third point, state of yourself. Most days don’t go as planned and it’s how you deal with these unplanned occurrences that truly allow you to get back to the state of “normal”. I find the best way to get back to normal is to visit classrooms, watching our students and staff learning with and from each other, and realizing they are why I come to school everyday.
    Great post!

    • Joe Mazza says:

      Jay – thanks for writing. Visiting classrooms, like you said, is the best way to reset your mind to what is most important about our jobs as educators. Those elementary kids can make you forget about your worst nightmares by just sending a smile your way. Keep rocking, Jay! Love learning from you on #ptcamp.

  7. Thank you for this post. I should probably re-read it every day to combat the negative self-talk tape that too often plays in my head. You too?

    • Joe Mazza says:

      Bret – My advice would be to join an #eduvoxers group to spend time listening and talking to more positive role models within your PLN. I run from negaholics whenever I have the chance.

  8. vsullivan311 says:

    Joe, I’ve learned a lot from the thinking you’ve shared via your blog and twitter. This particular post really hits home. It reminds me of a colleague’s words when the tone begins to darken, “Volume does not equal volume.” I plan to share this with my staff. Thanks!

    • Joe Mazza says:

      Glad you took something away from the post. If our faculty meetings could be more rooted on conversation starters vs. agenda items, imagine what kind of a close-knit learning organization we could build..

  9. Joy says:

    Joe, what an uplifting message and an important reminder not to be so hard on ourselves on those days when we miss the mark. It is important not to feel doomed but hopeful about a new day.

    • Joe Mazza says:

      Joy – Thanks for commenting. The doom can eat us alive at times since we put so much into it and care so much. Refresh buttons aren’t just for your devices.

  10. Ben Gilpin says:


    Your post provoked a lot of thought and reflection. One thing I couldn’t stop thinking about was the intangibles – perseverance, determination and grit. I often believe that a person/student that demonstrates these qualities is one I’m not worried about.

    I have several stories that I could share…

    I have a nine year old son Troy that I have been taking golfing for the last couple of years. Troy has watched me and has begun playing all nine holes himself. At our local course the second hole is approximately 160 yards, but the first 130 yards is all over water. The forward tees are about half of the distance. For years I always had Troy hitting off the forward tee. This year he has wanted to attempt the longer, more difficult shot. All year long he has dunked ball after ball in the lake. Then a couple weeks ago Troy stepped up and hit one that I thought had a chance, unfortunately it landed in the river that connects to the lake. He was dejected. A few more days passed and we went to play again. We got to the 2nd hole and I suggested going to the forward tee (I was running out of grubby golf balls to give him). Troy looked at me and said, “I’m going to make it!” It wasn’t what he said, it was the way he said it. His tone and look were that of determination and grit. And I’ll be…he made it. He ripped one over the lake and unfortunately it landed in the green side sand trap. Troy didn’t care, he made it over the lake and he was now able to check that off the list of things to do.

    As I reflect on your post and that event I immediately think of attitude and determination. It is vital that students believe in themselves and show grit in the process. Thanks for the post, I appreciate you making me think.


    • Joe Mazza says:

      Ben – Great story about your son. What an accomplishment and a #DaddyProud moment for you all. I’d bet the more we can put kids in a position to take those (safe) risks, even if they seem nearly impossible – from a young age – the more likely they are to comfortable taking them when we are not around.

      Thanks for sharing, Ben. Hello to Troy and great shot!

  11. tom keeley says:

    and sometimes you just gotta switch it up.a good old fashion butt kickin can really clear your head

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