Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sleeping Through the Night

The topic of sleep is abundant throughout Lent. The disciples sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane while Jesus prayed for the strength to carry out His Father's will for Him, and my habit of going to bed early on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday to stave off hunger pangs are two examples.

Okay...they may be the only two examples.

But, as I have mentioned in a previous blog, I have come to accept sleep as a luxury instead of a necessity. I think about the disciples falling asleep and deserting Jesus in His moment of need and I come to realize that maybe sleep is overrated. I also come to realize that my lack of sleep has made me somewhat obsessed with it as a topic.

And why shouldn't I? To my daughter, Elizabeth, sleep is just about the most important part of her life-- and not because she's a good sleeper. No, the reality of the importance of sleep is made evident by the question most frequently asked to parents of a 4 and 1/2 month old:

"Is she sleeping through the night?"

This question is followed by what may be the 2nd and 3rd most common questions asked to new parents:

"How many naps does she take?" and "Is she a good sleeper?"

Sadly, my answers to these three sleep-centered questions would be: no, many but for extremely short durations, and no. In my estimation, whoever coined the phrase "sleeping like a baby" was a fool. I've never walked on so many pins and needles in my life.

I realize that my honesty with Elizabeth's inability to get quality, night-long sleep will bring a plethora of sound, proven advice on the many remedies at mine and Emily's disposal. Let her cry. Feed her food. Give her water. Don't let her sleep during the day. Don't give her a pacifier. Give her a pacifier. Establish a routine. Keep her room warm. Keep her room cold. Keep her room dark. Keep her room bright. Play music. Play static noise. Be silent. Rock her. Leave her. Cover her up. Swaddle her.

Basically, there are as many ways to get a baby to sleep as there are babies.

On the other hand, I am the proud parent of a baby who doesn't "sleep like a baby." She's already displaying her exceptional nature.

Nothing seems as much of a rite of passage/measuring stick of not only Elizabeth's journey from newborn to night-sleeper but our abilities as parents as this "sleeping through the night" phenomenon. Elizabeth is somewhere in infant cyber-sleep on this continuum. Emily and I must similarly be lost in sleep.

To all who ask this question of new parents, I politely retort (and vow never to ask this of new parents):

1. How many hours constitute the night?

2. What is one's definition of sleep?

3. Does "through" involve a potty break/change, early morning (er, I mean late "night") snack or merely the completion of one sleep cycle?

It seems that until more definition is given to this vague requirement of sleeping through the night, a below average score for either Elizabeth or Emily and I is unfair.

The world of education calls this listing of requirements/criteria by which one is evaluated a rubric and it is an essential yet, sadly, rarely used part of the educational process. Too often students receive assignments and eventually grades without any idea as to what is expected (see my retort above) or how they'll be graded (i.e. 4 straight hours of sleep = 10 points; 3 hours = 5 points; less than 3 = 0 points).

In addition, a rubric should reflect the important concepts/objectives behind the assignment. For example, what does "sleeping through the night" have to do with child development? Of course it is an important facet of Elizabeth's growth and progress (it has to be, right?) but why is it given more merit than rolling over, holding up her head, following noises, making noises or grabbing things with her hands (all things Elizabeth can do, by the way). So, not only should a rubric help to identify point values it should also identify areas of importance based on those values.

If you have a worksheet with 10 items and assign it a value of 10 points and yet deduct a point for each item that is spelled incorrectly, you've actually just given a spelling grade instead of the subject or concept behind the misspelled words. Things like neatness and spelling have merit and should be given weight, but the concepts behind such attention to detail should be given more and be heavier. Otherwise, the grade that is assigned is for something other than the skill being addressed.

Sleep is important, but should it be given a heftier point value than focused gazes, following and mimicking sounds or fine motor skills?

As Catholic educators we must ensure we are doing more than just getting our students to sleep through the night. We must get them to define night, compare it to day, articulate the connotation and relationship between night and darkness, list out the stages of the cycle of sleep, summarize the benefits of sleep, classify behaviors during sleep into the different stages of the sleep cycle, and even evaluate the conditions conducive to sleeping.

As you can see, teachers must first identify the objectives behind classroom activities before telling students to complete an assignment. If these objectives are specific, student-centered and measurable, they can help to form the rubric by which the students will be assessed.

Teachers must be purposeful in not only their planning and instruction but also their assessment/evaluation. Answering the question "how" when it comes to an assignment is powerful. Answering the question "why", though, is magical. Both are vitally important when it comes to evaluation.

Strategies abound for how to get Elizabeth to sleep. Less evident is why such shut-eye through the night, whatever that means, is important.

Teachers, it's time to wake up and no longer keep our students in the dark when it comes to how and why we'll assess them.

Even if darkness is conducive to sleeping.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Sound of Silence

One of my football coaches in college, Kirk Doll, would constantly say to our linebacker group, "It doesn't matter how you start, it's how you finish that matters." Coach Doll would say this to emphasize that no matter how well we may have started during a particular play or game, was not nearly as important as where or how we ended up on a particular play.

Examples of this abound in the world of athletics. Michael Phelps came from behind to claim gold from Milorad Cavic in the 100m butterfly during the 2008 Olympics. Behind for the entire race, Phelps out touched Cavic by 1/100 of a second.

Leon Lett went down in sports' infamy when in the 1993 Superbowl a hustling Don Beebe stripped the ball from Lett's hands moments before what should have been an easy fumble return for a touchdown.

During the 1995 NBA Playoffs, Reggie Miller single handedly score 8 points in the closing 16.4 seconds of a game for a victory over the Knicks.

The same thing is true in life, too. A baby chick is so much more attractive than an egg; a butterfly more visually stunning and graceful than a caterpillar; riding a two wheel bicycle is so much more liberating that a tricycle.

There is truth to this in the spiritual realm as well. Consider the examples of Peter and Paul. Peter, a liar and a coward, and Paul, a mercenary killing members of the very group that he would later join and lead, were used by Jesus to establish the Church after Jesus' Ascension into Heaven.

Truly, it doesn't matter how you start, it's how you finish that matters.

Even take Jesus as another example. Prior to spending 40 days in the desert, the time observed during Lent, Jesus was reluctant to fulfill the prophecies claiming His Royal Priesthood. After this 40 day fast and spiritual wrestling match with the devil, Jesus emerges prepared to be the Messiah-- teaching, preaching, performing miracles, saving us from our sins.

This liturgical season of Lent is a time for Christians to literally "turn" back to Jesus. Receiving ashes on our foreheads during the Celebration of the Eucharist on Ash Wednesday, we are told to, "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel." Jesus hopes that through the season of Lent we will be better on Easter than we were on Ash Wednesday.

Jesus is telling us, "It doesn't matter how you may have started, it's how you finish that matters."

Lent is a time to strip away some or all of the distractions that keep us from Christ. It is a time to simplify our lives. It is a time to go hungry, as Jesus did, so that we can recognize our spiritual hunger for God.

It is a time for us to enter our own desert. Some place where it is just God and us. Some time when and some place where nothing else is happening, except listening to God’s voice.

There will be many desert experiences throughout our lives. Some, like each Lenten journey, will be self-imposed through an increase on our own parts in prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Others, like the death of a loved one, or a disappointment in trying out for a team and being cut, or not getting a job, or having our affection for another rejected will transpire unexpectedly.

But, it is precisely during these desert experiences that God is speaking loudest to us. C.S. Lewis writes, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

God will use those desert experiences, if we let him, to speak to us. It will be His opportunity to shout to us- to hit us over the head with what we should be doing and how we should be acting. But, He lets us make the first move. He’s waiting for us in the desert. He went there and met the devil. We enter our deserts and meet Christ.

He’s there ready to speak to us; are we silent enough to listen?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Family Matters

I draft this blog thousands of feet in the air traveling from Cleveland back to Tampa. Last night, Sunday March 6, my aforementioned brother, Joe (the one who is tattooed for Jesus) was inducted into the Cleveland Benedictine High School Athletic Hall of Fame. Arriving in Cleveland late Saturday night, that night and Sunday night were the first nights spent away from my daughter Elizabeth and the first nights spent away from my wife Emily since the birth of our child.

To say that I wasn't excited about the prospect of sleeping uninterrupted through the night would be a lie. Equally false would be if I said that I actually got such sweet slumber. In her four short months of life, Elizabeth has changed my sleeping patterns-- I was up every two or three hours anyways. On top of my inability to sleep through the night, I missed both Emily and Elizabeth fiercely.

But, this ceremony honoring my brother and a handful of other Benedictine alums, despite the personal and financial sacrifice, was not an event I was willing to miss.

Because to the Zelenkas, family matters.

In fact, in his acceptance speech, Joe linked the importance and connection between the Benedictine family and that of our own. First, my brother thanked our Mom and Dad; Mary, our sister; his wife and kids, Rebekah, Ben and Grace; our Uncle Dave (our Father's brother); and me. Citing the love and support offered to him throughout his life by these close family members, Joe recognized the important role his family has played in his many successes.

Second, Joe highlighted the fact that five Zelenka men have walked the hallways of Benedictine. Our father, Robert; his older brother, Joe; and his younger brother, Dave, all attended Benedictine prior to our 2nd generation attendance in '94 (Joe) and '97 (me). In addition to our attendance as students, our Uncle Dave worked for many years in the school and the adjoining St. Andrew Abbey as its Cafeteria Manager and Caterer.

Our family's many layered connection to Benedictine is not an exception to this historic school. Many students bear the legacies of their fathers, grandfathers, and I'm sure even great- or great-great- grandfathers. Multiple Men of Benedictine return to their Alma Mater to teach, coach and work in Administration at the place they called home for the years of their high school careers. The Benedictine Monks of St. Andrew Abbey bridge many of these generational gaps and offer an institutional history and stability akin to the familial pillars provided by our forefathers and mothers. My father and I had at least one teacher in common. I know that my he and my brother shared a few more. Again, to be connected to Benedictine in multiple ways is the norm, not the exception.

Because to the Men of Benedictine, family matters.

But, this atmosphere of family is possible because of more than just Benedictine High School's age. There is a spirit, an aura, a palpable soul at Benedictine made manifest by the charism of St. Benedict, the founder of the order: Ora et Labora, translated as Prayer and Work.

Every day, every class, every lunch period and even every practice begins with a prayer. Mass is celebrated as a school and by teams before every sporting event. The Rosary is prayed on the bus to away games. Players visit the campus's grotto before and after games and practices.

This reliance on prayer is coupled with an emphasis on hard work. Whether it be studies, extra-curriculars, or spiritual growth, a strong work ethic is modeled, encouraged and honored.

This coupling leads to the cultivation of a community. Our prayer is by nature communal. Our work is more fruitful when done in communion with others. Praying with others before beginning the work in which we will all partake is the leavening agent needed to rise from a school to a community and from a community into the heights of a family.

Any Catholic School worth its salt will have combined ingredients in a similar way so as to create its own unique, family atmosphere. Combining its traditions with prayer and hard work focuses the efforts of the whole in a unified direction. The school community then begins to love and support each other (students, teachers, parents-- everyone) in the same way that a family does.

It is said that a family that prays together stays together. I'd venture to add to this cliche and put it in terms of Catholic Education: the school community that prays together can become a family and the school family that prays for each other can come to realize that what truly matters is each other.