Roman Nowak is a High School English Teacher in Rockland, Ontario in Canada. He is a Student Success Leader, an Agent of Transformation, and is also a fitness enthusiast. I am fortunate to know Roman because of Twitter as the host of BuildHOPEedu and also for sharing quotes about being kind and caring for each other. Roman and I had this conversation at the end of February before the stay-at-home order. His message is what we need now during the COVID-19 pandemic and after so we all build hope and spread kindness.
I am from a Polish background and there is no letter in the alphabet for “W” so my last name is pronounced “NOVAK.” Pronunciation of names is really important to me. I always give my students some history and background of my name and want to make sure I pronounce their names correctly. I live in Rockland that is northeast of Toronto.
This is my 15th year in teaching with a varied background in the elementary yet mostly in the secondary system. Since French is one of our official languages, I’m a high school English teacher but in a French-language district. English is a second language for many of our students. I was called a Student Success Teacher and was that coach who worked with students who were just on the cusp of failing. I worked with the teachers on how to be proactive and work on preventing failure. This is my second year back in the school system because I took a leave from my school. My district lent me out to our provincial government to work on policies and programs for three years to support student success for our twelve French-language districts. I missed the classroom a lot and came back to be a full-time classroom English teacher and do a couple of cooking classes here and there because that’s a passion of mine. So I’m having fun on a daily basis.
Find the sunshine. Be the light. Help make the world a better place.
What it was like when you were a student
I came from a very conservative family with a religious upbringing. My dad used to be in the military. I’m a first-generation Canadian with my sister. Both of my parents are from Poland. I have always been taught to follow the rules. When I was a student, I a compliant student doing what was expected of me. There was a fear of not doing what I was told to do because of what my parents might say or do. I was that student who succeeded very well and followed the rules.
Was I good at school or just good at following rules?
I was an extremely shy kid yet won a public speaking contest. When I started teaching. I found students that didn’t fit that system. There are many people who don’t know how to use their voice. I’m going to try and be that model. I want to transform schools. I think there are some that work but a lot that don’t work. I’m not afraid to stand up when something doesn’t work. It’s not acceptable for students to not pass, not get their diploma, or not move on to the next grade. It’s important for us to put in the work for all children. We don’t need to have all the answers.
My wife, Émilie, and my two daughters, Eva and Kaléa in grades 2 and 3, are my heart and who keep me going.
Your journey as a teacher
Early on, I wanted to become a teacher. In high school, I did have some teachers who tried to discourage me. I actually really wanted to go into dramatic arts. That’s where I found my voice. I took drama classes, did a musical, but to my parents, that was not a real job. They wanted my sister and me to have stable, traditional careers. That’s why I chose to teach and it all worked out for me. I bring in that drama outlook to my classroom every day. I volunteer with plays and have fun in class. Yet, I don’t push them to have a voice yet since English is a second language for my students. Many don’t want to speak out.
FlipGrid came to my class when they were doing a tour of Canada. I use FlipGrid to get them comfortable using their voice and to let them talk and drive the class. If they deviate from a lesson, I let that happen. The worse thing is when students want to talk and we say it’s not time now or forget about it later, then what they’re learning is that no one wants to listen to them. I’m learning that I listen more and may learn some things that were not planned. Not all students like sharing or using FlipGrid because they don’t like looking at themselves mainly because they are afraid of the judgment of what others will say about what they said. I encourage them to work on getting comfortable with speaking so they want to share their voice when they need to. It is important to give students that window to shine.
This is Barbara: Instead of transcribing everything, make sure you listen to Roman’ sharing some of the things his students have been doing:
- The story of Cédrick becoming a member of @teamcanada
- Pay It Forward project video
- Spreading random acts of kindness
- Independent Research projects – TedTalk style
Quotes you share on Twitter
It was a goal of mine to put up a quote every day. In June this year, I will have put up a quote every day for three years. It was a mission I gave myself when I started with Twitter and became involved in Twitter chats. I really wanted to do something that was important to me reflecting and having that positive outlook. Some quotes also are linked to posts I wrote.
“If you feel like you’re losing everything, remember that trees lose their leaves every year and they still stand tall and wait for better days to come.” -unknown
The host of #BuildHOPEedu
When I was working with policies and programs, I was involved with almost 22 Twitter chats a week. I grew so much as a person and loved it. I eventually wanted to write because it is a passion of mine. I like to speak and go to conferences to learn. With everything I was putting out with the quotes and posts, I also wanted to reflect and learn with people. Kindness was something I wanted to focus on, but there was so much that fit under building HOPE. So I created the hashtag #BuildHOPEedu look at what I wanted to learn. If we create hope for what education could be, we have compassion, empathy, and kindness. In March, it was my one year anniversary for that chat.
“Help others achieve their dreams and you will achieve yours.”
– Les Smith
If we really want our students to strive and thrive, we have to be there for them. We need to break away from this mass education where everyone has to follow the same lesson at the same time. We need to allow students to be empowered to learn and feel successful. Let’s get them to find that passion that drives them to want to learn. I try things and sometimes they don’t work out. I have bad days. My kids have bad days. There are always those moments especially now with this pandemic, but we can power through and keep trying things to be there for students. I’m also a Fitness Enthusiast.
Roman Nowak is an HS ELA Teacher in Rockland, Ontario, Canada. An educator for 15 years, Roman is passionate about student success, school transformation, and building HOPE in schools through authentic learning experiences. Husband, father to two beautiful daughters, educational leader Roman collaborates with educators from across the world to spread kindness, to build impact globally, and to tear down the four traditional walls of a school.
Interested in checking out more of the Rethinking Learning podcasts and reflections, click on the podcast tab at the top, the logo below, or go to https://barbarabray.net/podcasts/
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