I Lost My Father To Covid-19: Why My Loss Is Different


March 14th, 2020, family and friends gathered for a small dinner to celebrate 50 years of marriage for my parents, Harold and Tomoko Lowe. Conversations and laughter were flowing, and the many smiles reflected the joy in the room and the pride and happiness my parents must have been feeling. It was everything my parents would want to celebrate their lives together- just a humble, happy group of friends and family gathered quietly to celebrate what they considered just another day/year in their lives.

Unbeknownst- this would be my last memory of my father.

My Mother (Oba) and Father (Ogi)- 50 Years!

The following Wednesday, I called home to tell my parents that I had come down with symptoms of the virus and was getting tested immediately. I would learn that my father had already become ill with flu-like symptoms two days earlier, and was ‘toughing it out’ as he always did. I would suffer dearly with my symptoms that night into Thursday as this virus took flu like chills and sweating to extremes. By the time Friday arrived, along with my results- it was no surprise to me that I was positive for Covid-19. That was March 20th- and I may have been the first identified case in my town. While the call with my results will be remembered, it will always be overshadowed by the next call I made to my parents.

Upon connecting with my mom and telling her of my positive results, I could sense in her voice that something else was worrying her. She informed me that my sister had just left to take my father to the hospital. I knew immediately that he had to be in bad shape to agree to go. He was coming up on 77 years, but he was strong, healthy, and as active as those 10 years younger.

Personally, my symptoms were already dissipating, except for a feeling of being exhausted. My mind and body continually urged me to lay down and nap. Morning, afternoon, or evening- I found myself wanting to stay in my bed. Saturday night, I asked my son to move a zero-gravity deck chair up to my bedroom, to the dismay of my wife, just to have a place to sit down rather than just lay in my bed. It was a move for me to defeat the urge to lay around and it was the decision that made the biggest change in my recovery mentally.

As the nurses updated us over the weekend, my father seemed to be stable and this carried over into the beginning of the week. He continued to struggle with his lungs and and breathing, but it was still a surprise to be awoken in the middle of the night (Thursday Morning) to learn that he needed to be intubated. Having followed the news of the virus, I had a deep fear of this happening and knew this was not good news in his battle.

My own battle had begun internally over the next week and a half, as life continued on. My mother began to show symptoms, needed to be admitted, and spent 2 days in the hospital. I was official recovered as my quarantine timeline came to an end. Inside, I was bottling my mixed emotions- sadness, anger, relief, and frustration- along with the personal challenges of suffering and recovery for my mother, my sister, and myself. We were all dealing with the virus while everyone else worried about changes to lifestyles and families throughout the NorthEast. My mind was bombarded with thoughts and worries of personal issues, family issues, the virus, lifestyle changes, economics, recovery, etc… and I had to accept that there was no way for me to see my father.

Part of the unprecedented changes in society were rules preventing anyone from visiting patients in the hospital which included my father. While I know that my father would rather limit visitors anyways in normal times, I also know that he would have wanted someone to be there. In his darkest hour, I was prevented from being there to simply hold his hand. In his darkest hour, I felt fortunate that my mother was recovering. In his darkest hour, I felt fortunate that I was recovering and my family remained symptom free. In his darkest hour- I was not there for him.

(In his darkest hours, I am thankful that the doctors and nurses took our place so he could have someone by his side. They became his family for the 19 days he was there and for this, I am eternally grateful.)

Ogi and Oba with their grandkids

My father’s darkest hours ended 13 days after being intubated, and upon hearing the words from my sister of his passing, my mind went blank. Nothing that can prepare you to hear that you have lost your father, and there I was, standing in front of my wife and kids, trying my best to tell them that ‘Ogi’ (Japanese for Grandfather) had passed away. I had kept my kids informed throughout this ordeal, but like myself, hearing these words came as a surprise and still hurt.

While I expected to continue to sob tears of sadness after my kids and wife were done hugging me, I didn’t. My dad was gone, yet I had no urge to emotionally explode. I had suffered with the updates from the hospital for over 2 weeks, yet I never saw him suffering. My dad was gone, yet I could only visualize seeing him healthy and celebrating 50 years of marriage. My sister had set up a video call through the nurses towards the end, however, I chose not to participate. I chose my last memory of him to be that of celebration, not of intubation. My dad was gone, yet I had no urge to emotionally explode, and I don’t know why.

I have cried multiple times thinking about him. I have cried watching Grey’s Anatomy (Binge watching with my daughter). I have cried at commercials. I have cried at night falling asleep. I have even cried for no reason. These only last a minute or two at most, but they are all in thought of my dad’s passing. These passing moments are recognized, yet I still have this void that has no closure.

My mother and sister have been quarantined with each other and had each other to lean on throughout this time and I am thankful for that. While I live only 5 miles away from them, it was as if I was in California. My mother was fearful to take any chances under quarantine with this virus even for a quick visit for a hug. A hug that I wanted, a hug that I needed. I know it was not a decision she made lightly, however, it is one that left me on the outside looking in- just as the virus kept me on the outside of my father’s death.

Understand that I know and recognize that all of my family was and is there for me. Physically, my wife and kids were there for hugs and talks anytime I needed. However, there is something about being isolated and away from my mother, my sister, my nieces and nephew, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins that leaves one empty. I had communicated and updated my Aunts, Uncles, and cousins throughout the time period, but we have not been able to gather and reflect on the life of my father- together. We utilized Zoom to provide some resemblance of a gathering, but the lack of physically being together is strikingly impactful. There is no one and nothing at fault for me to hate. The circumstances are all out of our control- and I hate that.

I lost my father to Covid-19; I am not sure that I will have closure; I don’t know if I ever will.

Until we meet again….

10 Thoughts a Teacher Hopes All Parents Know


In my 15+ years of teaching 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students, I tried to keep a very complicated system as simple as possible. We kept our standards high and did our best to reach them. I only asked one simple question to determine the success of my students and their efforts….”Are you PROUD?”

Whether I was talking with the smartest kid in class, or the one who struggled the most, this one question was all I could ask for from each and every student. There is a connection when you look a student in the eye and ask this one question that any standardized testing will never be able to capture. Let’s remember that every student is an individualized learning anomaly. As parents, it is hard to keep an open mind when your child is grouped with his or her peers and is struggling in comparison. However, just like learning to walk, each child is able to rise on their own 2 feet when their mind and body are ready to do so. The main objective for both parent and teacher is to be a great supportive net to help each and every child when they are ready, and be there to support them in good and bad times.

With that being said, I always wanted my students’ parents to know 10 things when their child was in my care:

1. Your child does not treat me as they do you. You are their parent and they will test you 100 times more.  Don’t get me wrong, they will also test me in the classroom (it is a part of growing up), however, I have the power of peers, the Principal, and you on my side. If you teach your children to be respectful, chances are they are being respectful!

2. In Elementary School, your child will tell lots of stories of what goes on at home! We only believe half of what they say, but the question is what half do we believe?? ūüôā

3.  I am not perfect. I, too, will make mistakes. I am sorry. If there is a problem, please approach me with a mindset of what is best for your child, and don’t hold it against me. (Remember I know we are both not perfect- see #2!)

4. Your child’s education is not about you and any embarrassment you may have. I simply want what is best for your child to be successful. This may mean being honest with your child. There is nothing wrong with being honest about negative behaviors you are observing with your child as long as you reassure them you are there to support. Please work with me if I approach you. I am doing so to help your child, not to inconvenience you.

5. Most important- Stop focusing on getting Straight A’s!! This is propaganda being pushed by society. If your child gets a C, it does not mean they are failing, it means they were average. There is nothing wrong with having a goal of A’s, but getting some B’s and C’s in 4th grade will NOT stop your child from getting accepted into Harvard as you may have planned. I do not give out grades, your child earns them. Be PROUD of a “hard earned C”, because it is better than an “easy A”!

6. Elementary School is NOT as easy as you remember it. Sure adding and subtracting is easy for you now, but can you find the mean, mode and median? How about naming the parts of a plant cell? Indirect objects? Prepositional Phrases? How about labeling all 50 States and their Capitals? Trust me, your child is not struggling to frustrate you. Take a deep breathe, remain calm, and listen. (Remember that I have to do this with 25+ students everyday!) Frustration is a fine line- It is good cause it means they still CARE and desire to be better! However,  you have to be careful, because the next step is to quit. Make sure your child knows “You are not allowed to quit!” No matter how frustrated they are, let them know you care too and will help or get help for them!

7. The most important skills your child needs to learn in Elementary school are- Study Skills! From flash cards, to note taking, your child must learn to study for Secondary and Post Secondary years. Especially keep an eye on your child if they are a straight A student- as elementary school may be too easy, but eventually the subject matter will become increasingly difficult and they will be ill-prepared to study and ill-equipped to handle failure.

8. Don’t compare your child’s learning to any other child’s learning. For both success and struggle, asking your child to be like another child is just wrong. Keep it focused on what your child can accomplish. Forming better study habits or asking for help, are reachable tasks that can help a C student shoot for a C+ or B on the next test/report card. If you know your child has worked hard, be proud, show encouragement and your child will continue to put forth the effort and blossom!

9. Don’t compare me to any other teacher your child has had, or will have. We, like the students, are unique in our own ways and styles of teaching. What makes this great is that it mimics the real world where your child must adapt to others in leadership. From colleagues to the boss, your child must use the experience of school to help adapt into the workforce. Social Skills are important to learn during these years, so empower your child by allowing them to handle their issues. Your support is important, but your personal involvement should be the last option.

10. Lastly, but most importantly, I care for your child as if they are my own (In my mind, they are a part of my family and always will be). I have but 180 days to instill a passion to be a life long learner and empower them to chase their dreams. It is NEVER about straight A’s, but rather taking steps forward, no matter how small. Failure is NOT an option.  I will be there to help out even when they have moved on to higher grades if ever needed.  I am just a phone call or email away, for help, or simply to update me!

Just like every other profession out there, 10% are bad teachers. Unfortunately you will have to experience one or two educating your child. Use it as a learning experience in adapting to make the most of a bad situation (for you and your child), and never hold it against your next teacher! Do what you need to support your child and document everything!  Lastly, if your child is struggling and you feel there is something wrong, ask for your child to be tested. Document all of your worries and things you see, approach your teacher, and don’t stop until you see results. Lastly- remember to “Thank a Teacher” when you appreciate the work they are doing. At a time of teacher evaluations based on standardized tests, government mandates, and the norm of teacher bashing, a simple handshake or a note is priceless in uplifting the spirit of a teacher.

To all of the parents whose children are now considered “my kids” also, I thank you!  Thank you for your support. Thank you for your input. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your efforts. I did my best everyday to be a positive influence on the students.  I am proud to say that your children have had as much of a positive influence on me!

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In Education: Technology Need Starts with a Simple Question…..


In life, you come across numerous questions “Who are you?”,¬† “What is the meaning of life?” Of these thousands/millions of questions, which ones are truly life changing? To bring about change, small or big, we must stop asking so many questions, but rather ask the right one(s).

Working in a field where my interactions have the opportunity to touch and influence thousands upon millions of lives, it is imperative that the right questions are asked, and that the right answers are available. How many of you are positioned in the same boat? In Education, you need open-ended questions to have a a proper discussion about how any educational based product/ program will support the users of the district. Any discussion asking or answering questions that are close-ended will lead you down a path that will ultimately not support you and your district. The simplest yet most impactful questions need to start with the ‘WHY?’.

The classroom is a parallel entity to a home. It is but another room until it is occupied and becomes a safe environment for its occupants to learn and grow in. Introducing technology into the classroom must be done with a purpose, one that does not interrupt or cause conflict. This is the biggest issue with today’s flooded educational application market. Where ever you turn, someone has an app that will solve a Math, ELA, Social Studies, or Science issue. With so many solutions available, WHY are there so many struggles with implementing technology into our classrooms?

The answer is simple- the end solutions have not considered the impact on the classroom and teachers. Even the greatest ideas will fail to be implemented into a classroom if we fail to recognize the lives and processes of teachers and complicate their modalities. One such example was a fantastic application to be used with math programs. It was an adaptive program that used an algorithm to identify the best learning path for each individual student as questions were answered. Imagine having a classroom of 25 students all participating in the lesson being taught, and each student working at their particular level with unique problems being delivered to them in a systematic approach for their learning! AWESOME, right? So why did this program die out as the years went by?

The design of the product did not focus on the ‘use-case’ of the classroom. Any teacher would agree that the overall concept of the product fits a true need of the classroom- however, there were major flaws that did not support the ‘use-case’ of teachers and students. In order to utilize the adaptive program, a teacher needed to make and select several choices for each lesson or assessment each day:

  1. Did they want to make the lesson or assessment adaptive?
  2. Did they want intervention or enrichment?
  3. Did they want this for individual students? Groups? or Class?
  4. Did they want a special Personal Plan in addition?

The teacher would need to make these choices every day for every lesson or assessment they wished to assign. The achilles heal- making a teacher run through hoops to simply make a lesson or assessment adaptive for their students everyday. WHY? because someone didn’t ask the right questions.

By asking the right questions, the proper solutions and teacher workflow could have been developed. Someone should have understood that teachers are craving for simplicity with technology.  How about a simple checkbox?Want to assign Lesson 3 for homework and make it adaptive? Check! and your student will get enrichment or remediation work depending on their abilities! Leave the box unchecked to assign non-adaptive work if you choose. Why? Because a teacher wants to simply make a choice of assigning adaptive work or not. Done.

For the student who needed remedial support- the Personal Plan provided a 10 to 15 minute warm up, followed by the adaptive lesson or assessment, followed by another possible remedial adaptive lesson for an extra 10 or 15 minutes of additional work. Achilles heal- Take a struggling student and ask them to sit for an hour or more with work they struggle with? Again- a great concept with unlimited potential- derailed because the designers and engineers did not ask the right questions. They clearly focused on the ‘How’ rather than first determining the ‘Why’!

From devices to infrastructure on the district end, to the feature and functionality that educational programs are offering- It needs to start with WHY. The choices that districts are confronted with are multiple and confusing. The environment to which they will be used is massive and ever-changing. There is one constant that must stay in focus….the Classroom. While we talk about how the classroom must change, fundamentally it will always stay the same. The structure of a house does not make it a home. A house becomes a home once it is occupied and becomes a safe environment for its occupants to learn and grow in. Any outside influence allowed into any home must fit and provide value without disruption, or it will not be welcomed! The same can be seen for most educational apps in classrooms as they come and go through the revolving door!

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Why the 2016 Election will prove America is a Great Country to be a Citizen of!


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There is no doubt that the 2016 Presidential Election has been polarizing. There is no doubt that feelings and opinions about racism and sexism amongst many other issues have been brought into the mainstream conversation. There is no doubt that every individual has wrestled with the question of ‘What is wrong with them? or Can they possibly think like that?’ There is however one doubt that I would like to address, and that is the doubt about how great America is.

The 2016 Presidential Election proved just how great the our country is, and more importantly, just how great the country will continue to be. While many may not like the outcome of the elections, it is a process that allowed the citizens of this nation to voice their opinions and thoughts. The voting process does not allow this to become a simple popularity contest, and thus allowed Donald Trump to win the election. Many will see this as a fault in our system, but like many other aspects built-in, I see this as a solid asset within our electoral system. Again, allowing the people of the United States to have elected the president by what is right for the entire country, not by who is the most popular. It allows the voice of the rural farmer to be just as (loud) important and the voice of the city dweller. One must listen to the needs of the person living in Michigan, just the same as to the person living by the beach in California.

Our system of ‘Checks and Balances’ allows us to be able to accept the election of a Donald Trump, and allow him the opportunity to ‘Make America Great Again’, without giving him the control that a dictator would have. You see, the voice of the people have spoken, and they stated that they wish to give Mr. Trump a chance to drive the car. The keys have been handed to him, BUT there are hurdles that prevent him from simply driving off and wrecking the beautiful automobile he has been given. He will need to work with the House and the Senate to implement changes. With both in Republican favor, this is advantageous for him, but this does not guarantee anything. Mr. Trump actually made things more difficult for himself by bashing all of the republican politicians. He will need to truly reach out and build relationships from scratch on both sides of the floor. This is good, as we need more bi-partisan discussions to make sure that policies put in place are well-balanced. He is restricted in his ability to customize this beautiful car called America. He will have to produce a budget that needs approval, with every single penny spent to be scrutinized. If he is able to find funds and misappropriations of prior budgets and use them for the benefit of his plans to better the lives of the people, then he will be revered for it! However, he doesn’t get to just spend whatever he wants on whatever he wants. The look and feel of this car will stay within the bounds set forth by Congress.

As for how he drives once the customized car has been approved, he will have to follow the laws of the land as dictated by the Supreme Court. Just as President Obama’s vision of Healthcare needed, anything that Mr. Trump would like to implement over the American people will need to be judged as Constitutional by the highest court in the land. He doesn’t get to drive off at 100 mph even if he wanted to. He will not be able to run Red Lights, simply because he wants to continue on his way. It is the supreme power of the Judicial Branch to protect the rights and privileges of the people of the United States! Even if the Republican Party banded together to support Mr. Trump in an unconstitutional bid, it would have to pass through the ruling of the Supreme Court to be implemented into Law.

You see, there are several factors that make our government the best in the world. Our right to vote is one of them. If ‘we the people’ do not like the direction the country is going, then we get to elect someone in place of those in office. Where the election of 2016 will make us stronger is in the fact that it has awoken the American people in holding our government officials responsible. This election was about the presidential race, but I believe that with a Republican sweep of House, Senate, and Presidential Office¬†– the people will be closely watching how each of their elected officials conduct themselves.

While it was evident the Republican party did everything it could to keep President Obama from implementing anything they did not agree with to a fault, it is also evident that there will be no excuses should the well-being of the people and this country begin to falter under Mr. Trump. It will be those Republicans in office who will need to be voted out should falter, and it will be those same Republicans who will benefit with a re-election should the country blossom. This is why we need to give Mr. Trump and all the elected officials the chance they earned to ‘Make America Great Again’, even if you feel that America was already on that path under President Obama.

Whether you believe that Mr. Trump is the worst person to lead this country, or the best person to lead this country, only time will tell. What we have learned is that our electoral system has spoken for the American citizens loud and clear. So, if you are not happy with the results of the election, or more importantly, from the resulting situation years from now- it is clear that you will need to let YOUR VOICE be heard in the elections to be held in 2 years, and again in 4 years!  See you then and remember that we will once again be able to continue on a path chosen, or choose another path not yet travelled down!

The Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave!!

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Technology in the Classroom: Bridging or Widening the Gap?


Bridge
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The ability to engage our students with technology, devices and apps, in the classroom is undeniable. Witnessing students who are engaged in activities that are only available in a technology environment can be inspiring. Students who are collaborating on a group essay, in real-time, with a student that is presently sick at home- was once thought to be impossible. So what could possibly be “Dangerous” about the current and future environments of our classrooms?

America’s development of our educational system has been one that continually¬†adapts to¬†deliver the vision that everyone is entitled to an equal education. From urban to rural educational systems, and everything in between, there are legal battles to ensure that our youth is grounded on equal footings to make the most out of themselves- no matter what their background and where they grow up. While we have succeeded in many areas to level the playing field, it is common knowledge that there continues to exist a gap in education when it comes to wealth.

As we look to technology and the World Wide Web to provide content and information to anyone, anyplace- we must be conscious that while the claims of opening the playing field and bringing global competition may be true, this playing field is only open to those who can afford the equipment to play. Comparing the sporting world to the educational classrooms, one can clearly see the danger I am referring to.

When you look at the sporting events that are truly open- Football, Basketball, Baseball, and Soccer- one can clearly see (just drive by your local fields/parks) that any child can afford to participate in these sports by simply getting equipment, make shift equipment if needed, and a group of kids. in comparison, select sports are still exclusive and not truly open to all- Golf, Tennis, Gymnastics, and Hockey. Whether a need of wealth for equipment, access to playing surface, or both: these sports are predominantly participated by players who have access to the funds to do so.

The same can be said when we compare technology in the classroom. Walk into the classroom of an affluent neighborhood, and you are almost guaranteed to see some form of a 1:1 environment. Can we say the same if we are to tour our urban area schools? Where are we likely to experience a Google Expeditions lesson taking place? While the message being sent is to open up experiences for those who normally couldn’t afford it, is this the experience being delivered? Which environment can afford the iPhones necessary for 25-30 students in just one classroom to go on this Expedition?

While I applaud the creation of Google Expeditions, iPads, Chromebooks, GAFE, Office365, and the countless Apps that are beneficial to teachers and the classroom- I will continue to advocate for the use case where by all students are able to take advantage of these advances in technology to better themselves and the world around them! There are advantages that wealth provides, however, we must limit this divide in our classrooms. We must be attentive to providing every student the opportunity to an equal education with technology.

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Thank You!

3 Things It’s OK to say as a Teacher!


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3 Things It’s OK to say as a Teacher!

As a teacher and parent, I find there are many opportunities to be open and honest with students. By doing so, you can build a solid level of trust from which you can build a solid relationship. Many educators are afraid to be truthful with students for fear that they will hurt the fragile self-esteem.  How can we tell students that success is getting up one more time than they have been knocked down- if they have never been knocked down? How is a child supposed to build self-esteem without ever having to hear negativity? You see, it is not that you provide negative feedback, but rather what you follow-up your statement with!

  1. “You are being LAZY”- I actually had a principal who hounded me for over 3 years to “be more diplomatic” when I spoke to students and parents. During this time, not a single complaint was ever brought to her attention, as it was only her issue with me. She even gave me a book to read “The Myth of Laziness” by Mel Levine. (I don’t think she thought I would read it.) After reading about half of the book, which brought out some good points, I found a paragraph where the author had contradicted himself, highlighted it, and returned it after the weekend. The premise for her was that LAZY was a label, and I should use the word unmotivated as they could become motivated. In being a good teacher, I gave it a try for 2 weeks, with which my students and a parent (during parent conferences) stopped me and said “You mean (I’m being) LAZY”? YES, that’s EXACTLY what I mean! You see, it was not that I was labeling anyone, but just being truthful. The students and parents understood this because I would similarly praise students when their work was Spectacular or Excellent! The statement allows every student to know what you mean with clarity, and as long as you are praising their positive efforts, you have every right and student’s understanding that their work is unmotivating. ūüėČ
  2. “I am disappointed with you(r actions)”-¬†This is an extremely powerful statement to make when you have a great relationship with your class. Throughout any school year, there are so many A-HA moments and times to recognize positive behaviors that students revel in the wave of positive feedback. Especially in elementary school, students attend with the objective to be the best student and impress their teachers. Just walk through the hallways on the first day of school if you don’t understand this. If you are meeting your students at their level, and forging a relationship built on each student giving their best effort to improve everyday, then this one phrase is all you need to hit home an important point. This phrase MUST be followed with a sincere conversation about what disappointed you, and what the student needs to do to recover. It requires a true love of the student to then say “I am PROUD of YOU”! When you get to this point, your students’ trust in you, and will be motivated to do their best everyday (except for those bad days that always come along)! There truly is nothing more motivating for kids today than to have someone who is truly PROUD of them!
  3. “It’s NOT good enough”-¬† Whether you are talking about grades, effort, or attitude, there is nothing wrong with letting your students know the truth. ¬†The truth is what they want to hear. they may not like it, but they will respect you more if you speak it. This is for every student at their level of failure. If a student gets a 90, everyone’s first reaction is to praise, however, a 90 score should draw a “It’s NOT good enough” for your best students. Why should your top students expect anything less? Didn’t you promise to push each and every one of them to reach their full potential? If the A student is short of a 100% due to a lack of focus, you must let them know. If your C student gets a C+, you must let them know how PROUD you are of them, but you must also motivate by letting them know not to be satisfied. To push every student at their level to become better and push their potential should be the goal in every classroom. It is only then that you are truly teaching to every student to give an effort that is good enough!

In the end, it comes down to the students. We talk about differentiated instruction- but this is a myth. There should never be any talk about differentiated instruction as the foundation of the job is built on the premise of doing so. If you are truly differentiating, it should be in your efforts to reach your students each and every day! You can talk about providing different content to your students, but the content is not going to change broadly. You can, however, change the attitude of which each student approaches learning!