A Letter to My Daughter on Her 24th Birthday

One of the more annoying things that happens to you when have a baby is the constant reminder to “enjoy it because it goes so quickly.”

It didn’t feel like it was going quickly when we had to put you in your swing in the middle of the night to get you to go to sleep, or when we had to record the vacuum to soothe your colic, or when I let you fall down the stairs.

But as is frequently the case, they were right.

It feels like yesterday when I would sit beside your crib and then your toddler bed saying your prayers and playing the mix tape Christy made for us. “She’s a Dancer” is forever etched in my mind.

It feels like yesterday when you and your sister got much too quiet for much too long, and we found you in your room, every square inch of it and you and your sister covered in baby powder.

And it feels like yesterday when I would worry all the time about your safety and your future and your happiness.

I don’t worry anymore.

You are more, much more, than I could ever have dreamed. You have a graduate degree and a job that (I know I’m biased) you do so well. You have a husband and a house and a whole bunch of sweet animals.

But those are not the reasons I no longer worry.

I know now how it turns out.

You are wise and smart and thoughtful and compassionate. You see people as they are, and you love them unconditionally. You surround yourself with good people, and you connect with the little ones we entrust to your care everyday.

Now I was lying just a little when I said I don’t worry anymore. I’ve come to accept that at 4 or 14 or 24, I’m still going to worry about you. You and your sister have my heart…and that will never change.  Your happiness means more to me than anything.

No wise words of wisdom in this week’s blog. Just a genuine wish that you see yourself as I see you and that you know how much you are loved.

Happy Birthday Beautiful Angel!

Grace in Victory and Dignity in Defeat

Last night the Mustangs won a state basketball championship! They’ve never done that before. It was an amazing run in the state tournament, and it was a decisive win.

But that’s not what happened for the boys earlier in the week.

The boys lost in Districts in what was literally a Sports Center moment a Sports Center moment. You have got to believe that the Warriors will remember that moment for the rest of their lives…and so will the Mustangs.

It’s one thing after an amazing quarter to have your hopes for state dashed. It’s an entirely different thing to have them dashed in the final second of the game and then watch it played over again on the national stage.

These are the moments we live for in sports, and this week the Stangs suffered a difficult loss and celebrated a win at the highest level for the first time in the school’s history. What a ride!

For one team, it will be the most exciting game of their lives. For the other team, I hope it is a moment that defines their character and their grace and their dignity in defeat.

Because we all suffer defeats…lots and lots of defeats.

One of the best things we can learn when we get knocked down is to get back up.

More important is to learn to get back up with dignity and to recognize that sometimes in our defeat lies another person’s victory. It’s not fun. Of course I wish the victory was ours. I wish our boys’ team was the one being celebrated on Sports Center, but we weren’t.

But we will be.

When we learn to fall down and rise again, when we learn to do it with class, we will be victorious.

I spent too many years watching my father root for the Cubs not to know that losing is hard.

But I also got to see them win a World Series.

There will be a time for us all to win, and in those times I hope we do it with grace and remember the sting on the other side of the court.

And there will be a time when we are the ones feeling the sting.

It was a wild ride this week, and I am proud of both those teams.

Take What the Day Gives You

I spent Saturday catching up on things around the house, watching Netflix, playing games, and curling up on the couch with a book. There was a blizzard after all, and you should always take what the day gives you.

We are campers. Nothing beats napping in a chair under the tress, reading a good book by the lake, or roasting s’mores by the fire. It relaxes me. But without fail, when my family goes on vacation, it rains. No kidding. Every time. We’ve gone camping in places that were experiencing a drought…until we got there. I have so many pictures of my children on vacation in the rain. Rain can put a damper on a camping trip unless you learn a valuable lesson.

Take what the day gives you!

A friend we camp with taught me this early in our Bounder Motorhome adventures. He found a way to enjoy naps inside when it rained or a day in the water when it was brutally hot. While I was pouting, he was embracing what the day gave us.

I love the anticipation of a party or a concert or a vacation. It helps extend the fun beyond the actual event. But when it doesn’t go as planned, I used to get disappointed. One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned is to take what the day gives you.

Once I embraced what the day gave me, I could laugh when the rain fell just as our cruise ship was pulling out of the harbor or the time we rode an intense ride at Adventureland in an absolute downpour.

This weekend gave us a blizzard. I got the most amazing text just as the snow began to get heavy from a friend who was in a chair with a warm drink and a book. She was enjoying her blizzard. It really was beautiful.

The weather can mess up our plans…so can our attitude.

Take what the day gives you, and enjoy the fact that rain on every single vacation you’ve ever taken results in a ridiculously large collection of one of your children in a poncho. I wouldn’t trade a single moment of it.

Pay It Forward

I still think of myself as the young, new teacher in my first job.  I remember that feeling of being in a bit over my head, of learning, sometimes the hard way, about the art and the science of teaching, and mostly of feeling supported and cared for and nurtured.  I was surrounded by mentors.

There has never been a time in my career when I have not had others encouraging me, teachers who encouraged me to try innovative things in class, administrators who encouraged me to pursue leadership opportunities.  I have been blessed, and I still feel very much like that young, new teacher in my first job surrounded by people who raise me up and make me better.

I hope I can do the same for others.

The strongest leaders know that the success of the organization does not rest on one person.  The strongest leaders are focused on finding talent, nurturing talent, and encouraging talent.  Each one of us should be focused on others.  The more we can do to show the people in our lives that they are smart and capable and cared for and nurtured, the better our organizations will be.

Talented people are not a threat to our own success.  They make us better.  New teachers with new ideas make all teachers better.  New administrators with new ideas make all administrators better.  As the people in our lives get better, we get better.  As we focus on nurturing others, we are nurtured ourselves.

Jim Collins calls it Level 5 Leadership.  The best leaders spend their time finding the right people and helping them reach their full potential.

It feels amazing when others invest in me. It makes me feel worthy and capable and important.  I want my time to be focused on making others feel that way. I want all of us to be focused on that.

Amendments

Political drama inspires me. It always has. I know every line of Hamilton, but likely more concerning is that I know almost every line from every single episode of The West Wing. It is possible I have spent too much of my life watching television and movies.

I was struck this week by a line in the Hamilton song “Non-Stop.” Alexander is trying to convince Aaron Burr to help him write The Federalist Papers, but Burr says, “The Constitution is a mess.”

The response is what got my attention. “So it needs some amendments…we have to start somewhere.”

I think there is a belief that leaders somehow have all the answers. Of course that is not true. Don’t get me wrong, I hope that people have studied and reflected and gained experiences to help them lead, but leadership in itself does not infuse you with magical powers. In most cases, leaders are just the ones who are willing to start somewhere.

And we all get it wrong sometimes…that’s why we need amendments.

Our job, all of our jobs, is to do our best with what we know at the time. It is also our job though to learn more and to do better. Leaders are learners. When we know better, we do better.

Of course Aaron Sorkin knows this too. In one of my favorite scenes of The West Wing, when discussing one of the most long-standing issues in the world, Leo says to Sam, “You’re one of the big minds of your generation. Have you thought of anything yet?”

Sam says, “No.” But he adds, “You know I’m not done thinking, right?”

As you start a new week, look for places where you can lead. Choose to be the one who is willing to start somewhere.

It Is What It Is

I’ve thought a lot this week about what I am passing on to my children. They are such bright lights in this world, and I am blessed beyond measure to have them in my life. They have grown into amazing women, and I am grateful for the part I have had in that.

We had a good week, but that will not always be the case.

As they are doing all of this adulting (as they call it), they are no doubt going to have challenges. I know I cannot protect them from hard things, but I hope that I have passed on an understanding that sometimes it is what it is.

Most things in life can be changed. Hair color, clothes, jobs, relationships. In fact, most things in life do change. It’s the very nature of things.

It is what it is, but we can almost always change it and make it better.

We can see hunger and provide food. We can see hurt and provide comfort. We can see need and provide help.

Rarely do we ever have to accept that it is what it is.

But sometimes in life it is what it is, and we can’t change it. There are things that happen that are beyond our control.

But even in those moments, we have some control.  We can control our response. We can choose to stay positive. We can choose to see the good in things. We can choose to get help when doing that is hard.

I wish with all my heart that I could wrap my children up in a bubble and keep anything hard from happening. Of course I cannot. But I can pass on this prayer…

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

The courage to change the things I can.

And the wisdom to know the difference.

New Math

I get a little nervous when I post about something I know is controversial, but what good is a blog if you aren’t willing to share your truth.  I saw a funny video on social media today.  On one side of the screen was a person solving a 2 digit multiplication problem using an algorithm.  It was quick and effective.  On the other side was a teacher showing how to solve the problem using a much more complex and time consuming method.  The point of the video was to poke fun at “new math.”

I have a different perspective on this than others, even likely in my own family.  I was good at school.  I am a visual and auditory learner, so traditional instruction worked well for me.  I was motivated and engaged, and I always wanted to please my teacher.  I took good notes and memorized algorithms, so I rocked my mathematics grade.  But I had no idea what any of it meant.  I could multiply any number of digits, divide the longest of numbers accurately, convert fractions to decimals and vice versa, all of it.  But I had no idea what any of it meant.

I have, by many measures, been successful.  (I am, by many measures, still a work in progress.)  My lack of depth in mathematics understanding has not held me back from doing what I love.  But what more could I have done if anyone had taught me not simply to use an algorithm to get to an answer.

It is not an accident that I taught language arts.  My language arts teachers did not only teach me to memorize vocabulary and regurgitate what I wrote in my notes.  They taught me to read for meaning, to analyze, to connect ideas, to think.  They taught me to use what I read to grow as a thinker and as a person.  Yes, they also taught me the foundational skills I needed to read.  I learned phonics and decoding and vocabulary.  But it didn’t stop there.  As they were teaching me those foundational skills, they also taught me the deeper communication skills that have led to my success.

I had many great teachers in mathematics, but none of them taught me the deeper skills, only the algorithms.  I don’t think I even knew that what I was learning was an algorithm.  I think I thought it was mathematics, but understanding that 37 can be easily be broken down into 30 and 7 which can be faster to manage in your mind is foundational.  Understanding that when you divide, the number gets smaller because you are, in fact, dividing the number up is foundational.  No one talked to me about those things.  “Check your work.”  I learned an algorithm for that.  Multiply to check your answer in division.  Easy.  But if I had understood the foundational things, I would have been able to look at the answer and decide if it even made sense.

My father understands this.  So do my brother and my sister.  They are “good at math.”  What that really means is that they knew instinctively, without being explicitly taught, the deeper skills.  They sorted it out for themselves.  I did not.  Again, I got good grades in mathematics, but I remember the frustration when my father would try to help me with my homework.  He understood something that I did not.  But neither of us knew that at the time.

We know better now.

We must teach foundational skills, in language arts and mathematics and all areas.  We must teach phonemic awareness, decoding, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.  We must teach number sense and procedural and fact fluency through a variety of strategies including, yes, algorithms. No one does lattice math in everyday life.  Our teachers are striving to help all students understand not just how they got an answer, but why. So we also teach inquiry and reasoning and communication skills.

Our teachers are working to create the thinkers and inventors and scientists and mathematicians and philosophers of the future.

Nothing is as simple as a social media post makes it…especially not mathematics.

 

Why Is the Sky Blue?

I was on hold this week with an institution that works primarily with children.  The hold message was cute, all about those crazy questions that young children ask.  At the end of the message they said, “But we still haven’t figured out why the sky is blue,”

What?

We know why the sky is blue.  Scientists began answering this question in the 1800s.  Tyndall, Rayleigh, Einstein.   If you’d like a simple answer: NASA Spaceplace . If you’d like a more complex answer: Scientific America.

I know this wasn’t a science lesson; it was a marketing message.  But our messages matter, and our youngest learners are capable of far more than we think sometimes.

We walk a line with children.  The line between wonder and awe and knowledge and understanding.  Do we want our children to be inspired and mystified by a sunset?  Or do we want them to know why the sky burns red?

Yes.

We want them to do both.

As educators our job is to inspire and to inform and, best of all, to help curious learners discover things on their own.

Curiosity creates hungry learners who are engaged and interested in learning the why.  Wonder and awe has inspired some of our greatest knowledge and some of our most beautiful works of art and literature and music.

We know these are intertwined.  We know that students who study music are often better mathematicians.  We know that when students write about something or speak about something or draw something, they are more likely create greater understanding. It’s why we teach science and art, and science in art, and art in science.

We can, and must, both inspire and inform.  The best of us empower students to ask amazing and complex and difficult questions, and then help them develop the skills to find the answers.

Why is the sky blue?  Curious and engaged learners found the answer to this most challenging question.  What question will your students answer?

 

Positivity

There is a feeling of hope that comes with the anticipation of a new year. There is a sense that whatever happened in the old year is done and gone and this next year can be something entirely new.  (This, by the way, is also my favorite thing about school years. They start and stop, and we get the chance to rebuild and re-imagine.)

One word

Resolution

Goal

There are many ways to define that thing we do as the calendar turns over, but essentially they are all about choosing a focus for the new year.

This year my one word, my resolution, my focus is positivity.

I cannot control most of the events in our world, but I can work to influence where possible.

I cannot control many of the things that happen to my family and friends and colleagues and students, but I can support them in the good and bad times.

I cannot control the people around me, but I can control myself.

This is not the first year that I have chosen positivity as my word.  In fact, I have set this as a goal many times.  But I am older, and hopefully wiser, and I understand better now what a challenge this can sometimes be.  There was a time when people called me Pollyanna.  There was time when I believed that all I had to do was want to be positive, and I would see the glass as always half full.

I know better now.  Positivity is a choice, but it is a choice to behave in ways that make it more likely to be successful.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

There are many things in life that I cannot control.  But there are many things I can.

I can control what I eat.  I have such a better outlook on things when I’ve made healthier choices in food.

I can control whether or not I work out.  It’s not about looking better (although I do have my eye on a new swimsuit), but I feel better all day when I have moved in the morning.

I can control how long I sleep at night.  It is almost always harder to deal with daily stress when I am tired.

I can control whether or not I take the time to meditate.  I’ve come to believe in the power of mindfulness to influence my reactions to things.  (Check out the Headspace app sometime.)

And I can ask for help when I need it.

My work, my relationships, my life are all more enjoyable when I engage in them with positivity.  A goal without a plan is just a wish.

I have a plan.  What’s yours?

5th Grade Reflections

A 5th grade class adopted me this year.  I’m not sure I can put into words how grateful I am for purposeful time spent with students in a classroom.  I joined them for World Foods Day, and then I had the chance to spend some time writing with them.  They were curious and kind and funny and thoughtful.

They have dogs and cats and brothers and sisters and many, many ideas about the world.

They love sports and swimming and playing the trombone and the violin and the piano.  They love to write and draw and cheer.

Some of them love Fortnite; some of them hate Fortnite.

And they love their teacher.  (She is one of the best!)

We talked about the blog and why I like to write.  We talked about telling your story and about sharing your voice.  We talked about making things personal.

I asked them to spend a little time reflecting on the things from 2018 that made them grateful.  Gratitude can help shape our view of the passing year.  Sure, some hard things likely happened, but some amazing things happened too.

Finishing all of the Golden Sowers.

Visiting California’s Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Getting my loving, crazy ball of fluff who is a black, brown, and white dachshund named Belle.

Going farther on grandma’s farm than I have ever gone before felt like a brave adventure.

Meeting my best friend in the whole world.

Going on a train to the top of Pike’s Peak and fishing on the mountain where the water was so clear.

Feeling happy and relaxed sitting by a sparkling lake surrounded by my wonderful family.

Going to Disney World.

Seeing the beautiful Pacific Ocean and palm trees.

Eating macaroons for dessert with my friends on my birthday.

Getting an awesome teacher who likes to read books and who I get to see almost every day.

We also spent a little time (but not nearly enough) talking about their hopes for the new year.

A trip to Paris.

The Eagles winning the Super Bowl.

The Huskers winning a bowl game (the Huskers going to a bowl game).

Of course there were hopes for things.  Dogs, cats, trips, games.  But more of them hoped for things less tangible.

A good middle school year.

A new friend.

A great life for my family and a great life for me.

And more than a few of them shared this hope…that everyone will be kind.

Out of the mouths of babes, but these were hardly babes.  These are young adults poised to finish the elementary years with courage and perseverance and grace.  They are smart and wise, not always the same thing.  They are young enough to argue about Fortnite and old enough to discuss friendship and kindness.  And they reminded me once again about the importance of our work.

I am grateful for the young people in our schools, and I am grateful for the adults who are helping shape their lives.  And I am grateful to the 5th grade class who adopted me this year!

happy new year

 

Why I Live Where the Air Hurts My Face

As the weather took a sharp turn this month, I’ve been asking myself the same question.  Friday it was sunny and 54; Saturday it was snowing.  Nebraska weather is never boring.  One day you can be in shorts and flip-flops and the next you’ll need a winter coat.

So why do I live where the air hurts my face?  The week of Thanksgiving seems like the right time to share my answer.

I live in a place where there are four, beautiful, colorful, seasons…sometimes in the course of one week.

I live in a place with wide open prairies and Sandhills and rock formations and forests and rivers and lakes.

I live in a place where you can stand under a waterfall while you tube down the river or cross country ski for miles.

I live in a place where people are kind. Strangers hold doors open and compliment your boots and smile at you and say thank you.

I live in a place with small towns and big cities. Urban, suburban, and rural.

I live with family and friends and neighbors and colleagues.

I live with people who care about me and people for whom I would do anything.

And so do you.

I’m grateful for my family.  And my friends.

I’m grateful for my aunt who came to town to be with her sister when she had surgery.

I’m grateful that surgery was successful and that healing is beginning.

I’m grateful for the people at Makin’ Waves where I’ve been getting my hair done for 30 years.

I’m grateful I have a job with purpose that I love doing.

I’m grateful for the Huskers and for Husker fans who stay to the end of the game even though it’s freezing and snowing and we’ve had a losing season.

I’m grateful for the abundance that is my life.

And yours.

I am also grateful to live in a place that recognizes we have to be intentional about a focus on being kind and addressing mental health issues and ensuring people have food and shelter and healthcare and a quality education.

If I am not able to say it to you directly this week, I am grateful for you!

And I am grateful I live where the air hurts my face.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Play the Game and Move On

It’s state championship season. Softball is done. Volleyball was this weekend. Football is coming up. All state musicians have been selected, and state marching band winners have been announced. The fall is winding down, and the next season is gearing up.

Some of our teams won.

Some of our teams lost.

That’s how it works.

Our students are engaged. Some of them played football and then at halftime stepped onto the field to play in the marching band. Some of them played softball and are now on a basketball court every day.

Some of them have a state championship.

Some of them never will.

But we know that being engaged in school activities pays dividends, whether you win a state championship or not.

It is a connection, a place to belong. It instills work ethic and perseverance and grit. It builds relationships and teamwork and collaboration and communication skills. Students who are engaged in activities have higher GPAs and fewer behavior incidents and better attendance, whether you win a state championship or not.

In life sometimes we get the job, sometimes we beat our best time in the half marathon, sometimes we reach our goals. And sometimes we don’t.

Learning that the journey is more important than the destination makes us better people.

Set goals.

Make a plan.

Work hard.

Then play the game and move on. The next journey awaits.

I am thrilled for the Mustang volleyball team. Two state championships in three years is an incredible accomplishment. I hope they savor the moment and enjoy the win. And then I hope they move on. The next journey awaits.

Counting our Scars

Someone asked me about my scar this week.  Not the one on my chin from the time I fell up the stairs.  Not the one on my leg from the time I missed when I was climbing over the chairs at Rosenblatt.  Not the one on my arm from the unfortunate mishap with a pair of scissors.  The big one.

It got me thinking.  I have a lot of scars.  (I may have passed clumsiness on to at least one of my children.)  Big scars.  Little scars.  Scars that healed well.  Scars that did not.  I’m guessing you have them too.

Life leaves scars.  And scar tissue.

Scar tissue helps repair our body. New tissue forms to replace the injured.  Then in time scar tissue breaks down, and you regain the flexibility that can be limited by it.  Such is life.

But sometimes releasing that takes work, and releasing scar tissue is necessary for our healing.

I have worked out much of the scar tissue in my body.  I think we are always trying to work out the scar tissue in our lives.

But I don’t mind my scars.  They’ve made me who I am.

 

A great listen about not dwelling on your scars…Kenny Chesney’s  I’m Alive

 

Lulls

As November nears, I am reflecting on a conversation a friend and I had when we were assistant principals together in a middle school.  The beginning of a school year is busy, but there was this magical time after conferences and before winter break where there seemed to be a lull.  We talked about how we should probably be using this time to get ahead.  Once January hits there is almost a feeling of a race to the end.  Things move fast, so it would make perfect sense to use this time to get ahead.

But we needed rest.  We needed time to just be in our school and in our lives.   We needed time with students and teachers.  We needed time with family and friends.  We needed to recharge.  We made a conscious choice not to use the lull to work ahead.  (We made the same decision on snow days by the way.)  We made the conscious decision to just enjoy the moment.

We did not regret it.

Every job is different, even within one school.  People find their lulls at different times of the year based on the work they do or the things happening in their lives.  But it is essential to our overall health and well-being that we find them.

If this is a busy time for you, I hope you are able to find a small lull in an otherwise busy week.

If this is not a busy time for you, I hope you able to enjoy the lull.

Busy is an epidemic.  Once in a while, we need to be calm and be still to be well.

 

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

This week was state cross country, so it hardly seems fair to say that slow and steady wins the race.  But more times than not, when looking at a situation over time, slow and steady wins the race.

Cross country student athletes have been running for months to prepare for that race.

Marching bands have been waking up at the crack of dawn to practice since summer.

Our students have been putting in the time to prepare and our coaches and directors have been putting in the work to help them grow. So many fall activities are reaching their peak right now.  As we watch the final moments, it’s easy to forget the work that went into the moment.

That’s what I took from the Husker win this week.  After the first game, we’ll technically after the second game, I blogged about hoping the coach and the student athletes would stay Calm in a Crisis.

We live in a state that takes its college football seriously.  I can only imagine the pressure the team feels every year. But the only way to win is to take it slow and steady.  One practice at a time.  One lesson at a time. One moment at a time.  That’s how you change a culture.

Any culture.

There is a powerful lesson in that for us as leaders.  Vision becomes reality slowly.  It takes calm, consistent focus.

Pause long enough to recognize where you are on your own journey.  It’s true that a journey of a thousand miles behind with a single step.  Each one of those steps matters.

October Again

Last week I made a decision. I was not going to write about October for the 4th year in a row. I posted a past blog and was going to take the month off. But all week October was on my mind, and all week I felt like I wanted to write. Writing is something I truly enjoy, and it has become one of the ways I process the world.

During the week when fun things happen and when hard things happen, I listen for a blog.

I long ago stopped looking at the stats. I write for myself, and I write in the hope that in any given week there may be a message that resonates with someone else the way it has resonated with me.

So once again I am writing about October. I am writing about how I am overcome by the beauty. I visited my sister this week. She lives in the house where we grew up. As soon as I pulled into her driveway, I was reminded why Halloween is my favorite holiday. Her house is amazing. Images of the season are everywhere. It was that way growing up as well.

There is always a week in October when the leaves suddenly shift and begin to change color and fall to the ground. This was that week. It was cold and rainy for much of the week, but yesterday was beautiful. I started writing this outside in our backyard.

Of course today is a different story. Such is October. Such is life.

This month is busy. Always has been in our schools, so it always has been for me. But this month is also state championships and concerts and pumpkin patches and campfires. It is warm and cool and colorful and full of transitions. Embrace them.

It’s conference week. Teachers are finalizing grades and making preparations. There will be staff development, and there will be a long and well-deserved weekend.

This week when I noticed the leaves and when I noticed the stress, I listened for a blog.

And I heard the reminder that the earth is beautiful and that life is good and that while I know that stress and sadness are real, I also know that hope and help are real. October is my month, and I am once again happy to share that in a blog.

My Newspaper Came in a Ziploc Bag

It was raining hard that day. By the time I got home from work and picked up the newspaper from the driveway, I couldn’t imagine there would be anything left of it. Then I noticed it was inside of a Ziploc bag.

This has been a progression for the last few weeks. It has been raining quite a bit. First I noticed that there were two orange bags surrounding the newspaper on rainy days. Then I noticed that there was a bag with a rubber band around it and a second bag with a rubber band around it when it was raining outside. Finally this week there was a bag with a rubber band, another bag with a rubber band, and it was inside of a Ziploc bag sealed at the top. That newspaper was dry despite being outside in the rain for probably 10 hours.

I guess I was just surprised that the person who delivers our newspaper had gone to such lengths to keep it dry for us.

Talk about work ethic!

I don’t take enough time to thank the people in my life.  I am surrounded by friends and family and coworkers (and apparently newspaper carriers) who go above and beyond every day.

I am grateful for each and every one of you.  Thank you for inspiring me to always try to do my best.

Not My Circus

Every day any number of issues cross my path. Personal, professional. Big, small. The same is true for all of us.  Friends confide in us. Colleagues process through issues with us. Angry people vent to us.

A large portion of my job is to handle those issues.

But there are times when those issues are not mine to resolve. There are times when my role is to listen and to support but to stay quiet.

I tend to leap to trying to solve any problem in front of me, and that is not always the right thing to do.

I was reminded this week (okay last week…remember that technology ate the first version of this blog) that sometimes the best thing to do is to pause and give others the space to solve their own problems.

I am actually taking opportunities away from my friends and my colleagues when I suggest a solution.  First of all, my idea may very well not be as good as the idea from the person most directly involved.  Second, we get better every time we have to wrestle with a hard decision or tackle a difficult situation ourselves.

I have had amazing coaches and leaders in my life who have forced me to solve my own problems.  As many times as I have wanted to be “rescued” by someone else when faced with something hard, I have grown the most when left to handle it myself.  I need to allow the space necessary for people to work things out themselves.

Another thing happens when we insert ourselves in situations that are not ours to own.  We take on the emotion and the stress of the situation.  I believe empathy and compassion are essential.  We are better people when we care.  But taking on the stress of a situation that is not ours is not healthy.  We have enough of our own issues and enough of our own stress.

When I am working through an issue, there are moments when I need to give myself space to remove the emotional response, sort out my feelings on an issue, and plan for my next steps.

And I need to pause long enough to give others the same opportunity.  It “doesn’t diminish the relationship.  It is really quite the opposite.”

Calm in a Crisis

It wouldn’t be the opening weekend of the Husker football season (we all know last week didn’t count) if I didn’t at least mention the game and Coach Frost.

Calm. Cool. Collected. That’s what I’m hoping for from the coach. That’s what I’m hoping for the 18 year old true freshman quarterback…and the walk-on back-up who stepped in during the final minutes.  There will be ups. There will be downs. Stay calm.

There were two things my parents heard at parent teacher conferences every year when I was a child. I talk. And I have energy. They usually said I talk too much, and they usually said I said have too much energy.

I own both of those comments. Then and now.

As a leader there are times when those traits help me, and there are times when those traits get in my way.

I have had to learn (and am still learning) to listen.

And I have had to learn (and am still learning) to be calm.

Leadership is fraught with moments of mini and sometimes very real crisis. In those moments, listening and being calm are essential.

I saw it Saturday in the Husker game even though we did not get the result we wanted.  And I see it daily in our district.

Great leaders are like ducks calmly gliding along the water while paddling beneath the surface. Notice I did not say paddling wildly or frantically or madly (you’ve heard all the expressions), just paddling. We’re all just paddling.

A leader in our district said it like this in a recent great blog, “do not underestimate the impact of a calm demeanor in a stressful situation.”

As the intensity of a situation rises, my instinct is to increase my own intensity. In fact the opposite is what most people need from me in those moments. They need me to be intentionally calm. They need me to listen, to seek to understand the situation, to make a decision, and to act. I’ve written in the past about these ooda loops. They also need me to take care of myself, so I can take care of them.

There will be ups. There will be downs. Stay calm, cool, collected.

I have a long way to go with this. But I’m working on it.

Labor Day

I went to the Old Dominion concert at the Nebraska State Fair last Friday. More on the State Fair in a future blog I’m sure, but for now, lessons I’ve learned from Old Dominion.

I’m relatively new to country music, and Old Dominion has been my favorite from the beginning. I first fell in love with their music, but now I’m in love with their joy.

In some ways they are new to fame. In fact, they have only released two full-length albums. The first time I saw them in concert (in a hallway at Ralston Arena- seriously- those of you who were there can attest to this) half of what they sang were “covers.”

But they weren’t your typical covers. Old Dominion is made up of songwriters, and the band was formed to showcase the music they wrote. Every one of those covers was a song that they wrote.  They sing their own songs now, but almost every country singer you know has sung their songs. Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Cole Swindell. People knew their songs, but people didn’t know them.

Most would credit the Sirius Radio station The Highway with much of their success. Break Up With Him got serious airtime.

The rest is history as they say.

About this time, those of you who can’t stand country music are wondering why any of this matters. Well first of all, there is a serious rock and even a hip hop feel to some of their music. But musical taste aside, there is a joy to their music, and especially to their performances, that inspires me.

They love what they do. I mean they really love it. You can hear it, see it, feel it. There is joy that is contagious.

I want that for all of us. I want our labor to be a labor of love.

I’m not naive. I know that we work because we have to buy food and housing and clothing. We work to contribute to an economy. And there are times when the work we do is hard. But I want to go to work most days with the same joy I felt at the O.D. concert on Friday.

I guess I was just reminded on Labor Day that our work can also be a joy!

The Wood Behind the Arrow

Our city came together this week to acknowledge that we could all use a little more kindness in our lives. #BeKind was a citywide effort to shine a light on the ability of a kind word, a kind action, a kind moment to change things for a person who is struggling…or anyone for that matter.

Our schools were emblazoned with #BeKind shirts and murals and posters and rocks. There were clever videos and social media posts. Parents and businesses joined in the movement. It was everywhere.

But what overwhelmed me was not the cuteness, although there was plenty of cuteness to go around.

What overwhelmed me was the wood behind the arrow. I learned that phrase a few years ago on a visit to Apple. It’s all about the effort, the resources, the wood behind the arrow of an idea or a product. An arrow with no wood behind it goes nowhere. An idea with no depth, no substance, goes nowhere. Last night as we were talking about the day a friend reminded me about the wood behind the arrow.

Yesterday was about more than a slogan. Schools talked about HOW to be kind. There were resource fairs where our students learned about volunteer opportunities. They wrote cards and opened doors and shared things they like about their classmates. There was action, tangible action, to BE kind. There was wood behind the arrow.

I am grateful to the city and school leaders who started the conversations and paved the way for the initiative. I am grateful for the teachers and counselors and principals and student leaders who put real thought and creative energy behind designing meaningful activities for the day. And I am grateful for the simple idea that kindness matters.

Sometimes we think making the world a better place is complicated. And I am well aware that we have complex issues that require complex solutions. But in fact, the world is made better with each individual act of kindness. Act where you are. Smile when you can. Hold the door open. Make eye contact and thank people who show you kindness. Say please and thank you. Assume the best of the people you meet. And never ever forget that “everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

Thank you for being kind to me. I hope I am kind to you. I know that this week was a good reminder that no act of kindness is ever wasted.

Lessons from the Doctor’s Office

I had a unique experience with a doctor this week.  It was unusual to say the least.  I’ve needed a new primary care physician for awhile, and this week I had my first appointment with the doctor a friend recommended.

I knew it was going to be a different experience several weeks ago.  Her nurse called to tell me that they saw I was coming in and wanted to talk to me ahead of time about my medical and family history and the reason for my visit.  She arranged to get all of my medical records, so she could be prepared for my visit.  Let me say that again.  My new doctor spent time before I ever even met her getting my history, studying my records, and asking about my needs.  She said she never wants to waste my time.

At the appointment, she was in fact fully up to speed on my past, so we could spend our time talking about the present.

There were lessons for me every step of the way.

Prepare.  Take the time to read and research and ask questions.  Make it your goal to know enough up front so that you are not wasting anyone’s time when you are face to face.  Teachers know this.  They spend their time outside of class learning content and instructional strategies, and they design engaging lessons long before they are in the classroom.

Take your time.  Making a connection with a person in more important than accomplishing a task.  Everything is easier when you have a relationship. Teachers know this.  They’ve spent their time this first week getting to know their students and working hard to build a community of learners.  Early steps are about laying the foundation.

Be human.  It is so easy in the moment to rush through what needs to be done and move on to the next task.  Slow down and focus on the person in front of you.  We are all human.  We all have good days and bad days; we all have times when we need help; and we all matter.  Be sure when you are with someone that you’ve invested in helping them know they matter.  Teachers know this.  They take time with every student, every day to help them know they matter.

I really just needed a new primary care physician.  What I got was so much more.

Never Miss the Previews

I’m a movie girl.  Rarely does a weekend go by that I do not see a movie.  The Oscars are a big deal in my house.  I’ve noticed something lately though.  Because you can order your tickets online and choose your seats ahead of time, fewer and fewer people are getting there in time to see the previews.  Theatres will be almost empty right up until the feature presentation begins.  Not me.  I never miss the previews.  In fact, they are my favorite part.

There is something about looking ahead, the anticipation, that I love.  I enjoy the here and now, but imagining the best of things to come is powerful.

This week we kicked off a new school year.  Teachers and paraprofessionals and food service staff were back in the buildings, and there was an indescribable buzz.  Fall Workshop was positive and energizing.  People were excited in a way that was contagious.  There were hugs and tears and laughter.  Sure, there was some stress and exhaustion, getting ready for students is a busy time, but the energy was undeniable.  This school year is going to be amazing.

New teachers report early each fall to learn a little more about our district and their school and the curriculum.  This year my daughter begins her own journey as a speech-language pathologist.  She will be working with preschoolers in an amazing building.  She is a “new teacher.”  I’ve been reflecting on what I want most for her and for all of our teachers and school staff as we preview the new year.

Previews are not just at the movies.  They surround us.

The anticipation of a new school year, setting up your classroom, learning your students name’s are just a few of the previews this week.

On Monday we get to preview the opportunities that lie ahead for the children and young adults in our classrooms.

Most importantly, each person is a preview of what they can be and what they can do.  Teachers have a gift for seeing the spark many times long before a child can see it themselves.  I want our students to learn to read and write and reason mathematically.  I want them to be college and career ready.  I want them to be independent problem solvers.  But mostly I want them to be the best version of themselves.  And I want the adults who interact with them each day to see that potential inside each and every one of them.

For Kelsey and for all of the people returning for a new school year, my hope is that you never miss the previews.

Mothers’ Day

My children graduated from college this month.  Both of them.  My older daughter with her Master’s in Speech, Language Pathology and my younger daughter with her Bachelor’s in Business.  Both have jobs in their chosen field.  Both are now, by every possible definition, adults.  Man, I feel old.

Obviously such times bring with them a natural tendency to reminisce.


I’ve been thinking about all of the nights I sat beside their crib and then on the edge of their bed as we said prayers and listened to music.  She’s a Dancer with Kelsey.  Return to Pooh Corner with Hunter.  I’ve been thinking about the times we would jump on my bed and blow bubbles in the tiny pool that lived on our deck.  Did anyone else have a Bubble Duck?  I’ve been thinking about sidewalk chalk and pictures at JC Penney and the zoo.

There was that phase when Kelsey would sneak food in the middle of the night and Hunter would climb out of her crib.

And also the time we let Kelsey fall down the stairs and the time we let Hunter wander off at her own birthday party.  We were far from perfect parents.  No one is.

I miss those perfect, messy, crying, yelling, laughing, sticky little girls.  But I am overwhelmed by the human beings they have become.

Three years ago I was still relatively new to this blogging thing as Hunter started her college journey.  I wrote A Letter to My Daughter during her first week of classes, and I talked about all the things I wished for her.

I hope you are creative and collaborative.

I hope you are willing to take risks.

I hope you persevere when things get hard because there will be times when things get hard.

Mostly though, I hope you enjoy your life.

They are both all of these things and more.

Their road to this moment was not easy.  No one’s is.  There were times when they were scared and sad and disappointed.   There were times when they were broke and exhausted and overwhelmed.

But through it all they seemed to be enjoying the journey.  They laughed and sang and made a lot of noise in the car.  One baked.  One read.  Both danced in a way that you could only appreciate if you saw it.  They were beautiful.

They are beautiful.

I have no wise words of wisdom this week other than perhaps to say enjoy the minutes and the days.  They pass quickly.  But I am comforted by the fact that with each passing year, they are even more fun.  And I am getting a lot more sleep.

Yes, I am overwhelmed by the human beings they have become.

I Washed My Windows this Week

I washed my windows this week. They pop out for cleaning, so it’s not as hard as it could be. But I am pretty sure it’s been 8 years since I have washed them. It’s fun to see the spring colors through clear windows. It was a sense of accomplishment.

As I was cleaning them, I wondered why it has been so long when it is not difficult or particularly time consuming.

I also cleared out a stack of paperwork this week that has been growing on my kitchen counter for years, also not difficult or particularly time consuming.

I’ve been in the middle of a job transition for awhile now. My focus has been on building relationships with the people with whom I work and learning the details of the job. That is no small task.

It’s not that there haven’t been plenty of important moments in my personal life over the last few years. High school graduations, a wedding, and this week both of my children graduated from college. Life has been moving full speed.

But I have been out of balance. Work has taken more time than tending to things like cleaning the windows. And that’s okay.

A friend taught me my favorite definition of balance. It is having enough time for all of the things you’d like to be doing in your life. And for me, I like my work. It has purpose and meaning and impact. And I like my personal life. It has fun and friends and enough time to see movies and watch TV.

I’d call that balance.

Life has seasons. Sometimes you can’t clean the windows because you are too busy chasing toddlers. Sometimes you can’t clean the windows because you are too busy transitioning to a new job. And sometimes you can’t clean the windows because at the end of day who really cares if the windows are clean.

I love this season of my life. I have loved all the seasons of my life. They pass too quickly, so we should focus on enjoying them as they are.

Roots and Wings

I went home this week, not to my personal home but to my professional home. I got to spend a little time in the school where I started teaching and where I spent 18 of the most formative years of my life. I saw the principal who hired me and the assistant principal who was my supervisor for 9 years. I saw the teachers who helped me learn what it means to be student-first and how to engage sometimes fickle middle schoolers.

I had my children while I was there.

I learned who I was as an educator while I was there.

Going home was powerful. I was overwhelmed. I have been so blessed to know the most incredible people who care so deeply for children and for each other. It is a special place and leaving there was the hardest professional thing I have ever done.

But leaving taught me that there are amazing people who are doing incredible things everyday in all of our schools. I learned that I could start over with a new group of fantastic educators and continue to do good things for kids. I learned that I could have my roots and spread my wings. They are not mutually exclusive.

I got to see my past this week, but I also got to see my future. The principal who inspired and encouraged me to be an administrator was there too. I was able to relive my 13 years in the classroom, and I was able to relive my transition from the classroom to what I do now. We don’t take enough time to reflect on our roots or to celebrate our wings.

I am grateful for all of the people who helped me to be the person I am today. I am grateful for the very special school that shaped everything I know about education. And I am grateful for the time this week to hug them and reminisce with them and remember a good friend who changed all our lives.

Be grateful for your roots and your wings.

Be Inspired and Inspire Others

On Friday I had the opportunity to do something amazing…dream big! A few of us spent some time with a gifted artist who uses his talents to help tell people’s stories. We visited schools and businesses. We stopped at a 10 story mural that told more stories than I could take in during the short visit.

Then at the end of the day we sat on a patio and dreamed about how we could help tell the stories of our students and our schools and our district. We imagined how to incorporate reading and writing and mathematics with story-telling and art. Something amazing is going to come from that afternoon. I can feel it.

There is power in helping someone tell their story. There is power in giving a voice to someone who may otherwise be voiceless. It was moving to hear about the young child who was suddenly larger than life when his image was on the side of a building, a permanent testament to the life he is living. A lesson for everyone who sees it.

I was inspired.

Art has power. Dance has magic. Music has wisdom. They teach us about the world and our place in it. They inspire and evoke an emotional response.

I want our students to be writers and readers and mathematicians. I want them to be critical consumers of ideas and deep thinkers. And I also want them to be artists and musicians and dancers and poets. I want them to be inspired and to inspire others.

Let’s not lose sight of the many ways we can help our students tell their stories!

Galileo

“Galileo Galilei. He sat in a cathedral in Pisa. He watched a lamp suspended from the ceiling as it oscillated back and forth. He used his pulse to keep time and discovered that the period of oscillation was independent of the size of the arc. A few years later he contradicted the theory that a heavier object falls faster than a lighter one. Which took some guts back in 1609, when you consider that the theory he was contradicting was Aristotle’s.” ~President Bartlett, West Wing, “Galileo”

It can feel daunting to push back on or even to question the ideas of others. When the ideas you are questioning are long-held understanding in the world, it is even more challenging. But I believe critical analysis of ideas is one of the most important “college and career ready” skills we can teach our students.

I was in a session recently where the speaker was discussing the essential questions that educational Professional Learning Communities examine. There were three. You educators know them. Then there were four. The speaker was proposing an additional question. There was a bit of a pause as the audience processed the idea of changing the work of Rick DuFour, the expert on PLCs. Could his work be changed?

Of course!

Our understanding of the world is not complete. It will never be complete. And even if it could be complete at any given time, we understand that the world is ever-changing. What we may have believed to be true at one point, may in fact no longer be true or may never have been true.

We learn new things all the time.

For Galileo to challenge Aristotle was not without controversy. In fact, it got him convicted of heresy. But it moved our understanding of the world forward.

Critical examination of facts and ideas is powerful. I want our teachers and our students alike to question things.

I hope that our students are not only learning names, dates, and scientific principles. I hope they are also learning to examine the world and to develop theories of their own.

Be willing to ask hard questions.

Be willing to listen with an open mind when people ask you hard questions.

And remember to be kind as we talk about hard things.  Everyone is just trying to make their own sense of the world.

Lessons from the Caribbean

Spring Break was amazing.  I am blessed to be able to spend time traveling and seeing the world.  This year we visited St. Thomas and St. Maarten, and we met people who embody gratitude and optimism.

Both islands were hit by the hurricanes that ravaged the Caribbean last fall.  Both islands are still very much in the early stages of recovery. St. Maarten was hit particularly hard. What was once an island of shops and bars and restaurants is now an island of rubble.  But the beaches are beautiful and the water is full of colors you can’t imagine and the people we met there were kind and optimistic and grateful.  It was humbling and overwhelming to be in their presence.  They have so much to teach us all.

“You’ve got to have a plan.”  These people had foresight and survival instincts.  They took their mattresses with them into the bathroom as they hid from Irma and Maria.  Those mattresses saved their lives when the storm blew out the windows.  They found temporary shelter for months during and after the storm, using coolers and getting creative when there was no power and no electricity.  They kept their wits about them, and they had a plan for survival.  You’ve got to have a plan.

“It is not the physical damage that causes the most pain.  It is what can happen in your head.”  We heard stories about children after the storm who kept reliving the experience, mothers who worked tirelessly to help them feel better and who are still focusing on the emotional needs of the people around them.  Trauma changes people.  Physical wound heal.  Emotional wounds linger.

“When the storm is over, you pick yourself up, find your family and friends, and start cleaning up.”  No one we met was wallowing or focusing on the negative.  They were all just taking the next step, doing the next thing.

Every person we met on St. Maarten thanked us for being there.  They are grateful to be alive, and they are grateful that people are visiting “even though the island is broken.”  It is an amazing place.  It is beautiful beyond description, and the people who live there are wise and strong.  It has always been a paradise for visitors, but right now it is also teeming with life lessons. I am blessed to be able to spend time traveling and seeing he world.

Likes, Shares and Student Voice

Our superintendent has a student advisory. He sits down regularly with high school students to get a pulse on how they are feeling about school, and he uses their insights and ideas to help shape the work of the district.  This week I got the opportunity to sit in with them.

It was incredible.

Our students are amazing.  They are smart and talented and honest.  They see through the haze of politics and rhetoric, and they are able to define issues in a way that adults may not.

We talked about kindness, and we talked about what it looks like to be bullied in this day and age.  They shared that we have done a good job addressing the old school bullying of shoving kids in a locker.  But they also shared that adults don’t truly understand what it looks like to be bullied today.

It is covert.  It is behind a keyboard or a smartphone.  It is about isolation and alienation.

One student spoke about the disappointment and pain that comes when someone posts something nasty about you on social media.  He shared that even worse than the original post are the people who pile on by liking the post.  He talked about clicking on the likes and finding people he thought were his friends.  He was articulate and thoughtful.  He said, “I’m sure they just thought the post was funny.  But I thought they were my friends.”

It made me pause to think about what I have liked or shared on social media.

We didn’t arrive at one, all-encompassing answer to prevent bullying.  But the students have a strong understanding of what is happening, and they feel passionately that they are the ones with the voice to address it.  They want to be the ones to change their own culture.

Student voice is powerful.  Our students are talking, and we are listening.

As we jump into the week before spring break, I encourage you to listen to your students.  Talk to them.  What are their concerns, their ideas, and their passions? How do they want to demonstrate their learning?

Yes, student voice is powerful.  Are you listening? (more…)

Awards Season

The Oscars are today. Movie are one of my things, so I love the Oscars. When I was young, I’d dress up and practice my acceptance speech in the mirror. I was sure I’d win one someday.

Recognition is fun.

But the older I get, the more I believe the old adage that to give is better than to receive. At Christmas I care less now about the things I get and more about the fun of giving someone else something they’ll like.

The same is true with recognition. It is better to give than to receive.

This week I witnessed an amazing woman get some well-deserved recognition. She has spent her career building programs in our district that have impacted thousands of students and changed the trajectory of their lives. She is incredible, and it was fun to be able to share in a few moments of celebrating her.

This week I am grateful not just for her but for the woman who took the time to nominate her for the award. People are busy. It is easier to delete the email about nominating someone for recognition than to take the time to complete the forms, write the letters, and recruit others to participate. But there is something powerful in being the person who took the time, who made the effort.

I went through a drive-through yesterday, and the young man working was polite, efficient, and fun. There was a link to comment on service in the bag. It is more tempting to click on that link when service is poor than when service is excellent. What is that?

We need to find more opportunities to let people know when they have done a good job.

Yes, it is awards season. Not just for movies and for actors but for everyone. The end of the school year will bring banquets and dinners and awards.

Nominate a colleague for recognition.

Write a letter of support for someone.

Be the person who sees to it that others are recognized. Even a handwritten note or a card on a special occasion can make all the difference.

Be that person!

Pause and Be Kind

“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.”  Doug Larson

I’ve decided that this is a good time for me to pause and listen.  My only thoughts for the blog this week are a gentle reminder to be kind.

Discourse is powerful.  Social media has given a platform to so many.  Email has provided a quick and easy way to reply to anyone with your most immediate thoughts.  All of that is good.

I just hope that as people are sharing their voices, they are kind.  We will not always agree.  There is power in the conversation.  The collective wisdom is almost always better than one opinion in isolation.

But we can share our voices without demeaning others.  Rarely will someone’s opinion be changed because we were cruel to them.  But if we can be kind and caring and work together, we can do amazing things.

“We are how we treat each other, and nothing more.”  Nothing More by The Alternate Routes

OODA Loops

This week I watched a school community deal with the loss of a staff member for the second time this year. It’s something no school should have to endure. Schools are families. No doubt about it. And when something like this happens, they pull together to support each other and to do what needs to be done.

Leadership in those moments is hard, but it is exactly in those moments that people need solid leadership the most. Servant leadership during the hard times involves putting your own needs aside and doing what needs to be done for the good of the organization.

A friend and fellow administrator who was also in the military taught me about the OODA loop. Developed by Air Force Colonel John Boyd, it is a strategy that has implications not just for difficult situations but for all situations. Observe. Orient. Decide. Act. In tough moments, good leaders work the loop again and again.

Observe the situation and orient yourself. The first step to managing anything is to pay attention and gather information. Most people get that. Processing the information though, making sense of it, is more complex. We orient through our own knowledge, background, and experience. The more we know, the more likely we are to make accurate sense of the information.

But this week it was the decide and act that caught my attention.

Moments of great stress can be an almost paralyzing experience. Great leaders are able to overcome that, make a decision, and act. I watched a team of people come together this week to provide information, perspective, and opinions to a school leader. And I watched a great school leader orient, decide, and act.

Servant leadership is not easy. It would be easier to stop in those moments and take the time you need for yourself. But leaders know the organization comes first in those moments. They do what needs to be done.

I watched great leadership in all its forms this week. I watched student leaders support their peers. I watched teacher leaders refuse to leave their classrooms and tend to their own needs because they wanted to be sure the needs of their students were being met. And I watched school and District leaders step up to do what needed to be done.

Leadership in those moments is hard. But great leaders make hard moments easier because they orient, decide, and act.

Days Go Slow, but Years Go Fast

Facebook has changed birthdays. Now in addition to the cards that come in the mail, the gifts that are left on your desk, and the many warm wishes throughout the day, we get to come home to all of those birthday posts on Facebook. Thank you! Thank you to each one of you who took the time to post a greeting or a meme or a picture (Kelsey Oleva- payback is coming). Reading through them was a wonderful way to end the week. They were all appreciated.

It feels like just yesterday I was turning 47, and now I am 48.

Luke Bryan’s new song Most People are Good hits the nail on the head for me. (It’s spot on in many ways if you haven’t given it a listen.) He is not the first to say this, but I appreciate his reminder that “days go slow but years go fast.” Anyone with children can confirm this. One day they are babies, then toddlers, then married. Just that fast! The same is true for us all.

This week I find comfort in that. Days are long and sometimes hard. But years go fast.

Our goals are achievable if we can stay focused on one day at a time. Walk your miles, drink your water, write your pages. Each day those things may seem like work, but before you know it, a year will have passed. You will see results. One day at a time.

Ask for What You Want

It’s my birthday on Friday!  This will come as no surprise to many of you. I am obnoxious when it comes to my birthday.  I claim a Birthday Month.  I start a countdown as soon as the calendar turns over to February.  I make sure everyone knows that it is coming and that I love birthdays.

I really do.

“Do not regret growing older.  It is a privilege denied to many.”  Birthdays are a reminder of the gift of days, weeks, years.  I do not take those for granted.

But what I have learned over the years is that I should tell people that my birthday is coming up and that my birthday is a big deal to me.

I remember when my daughter went to school on her birthday in 6th grade…excited to see how her friends had decorated her locker.  And I remember the sadness in her voice when she called to tell me that no one had decorated it.  She had great friends who cared about her.  They did not neglect her to be mean or spiteful.  It just didn’t occur to them for whatever reason, and it hurt.

It reminded me of the many years that I went to school or work excited to see how people would celebrate with me.  Or the times I passed a milestone or hit an anniversary of some kind, anxious for others to make a big deal out of it.  And many times, I was disappointed.

I have the greatest family and friends and colleagues in the world.  They are kind and caring and thoughtful. They have never intentionally missed an event or failed to acknowledge something.

But our happiness is often inversely proportional to our level of expectation.  (A wise friend taught me that.)  If we expect something grand, even something good can be disappointing.  Many times we build up what we hope will happen and then we are disappointed when it does not play out exactly as we planned.

That’s on us.  That’s on me.

I have learned that if I want something to be a big deal, I should tell people what I want and set about to make it happen.  I am in control of my own happiness.  I can ask for what I want.  I do not believe that this adage is about maintaining low levels of expectation.  I have never been accused of low levels of expectation.  I expect big!  But I have learned  that secretly hoping others can read my mind in order to “surprise me” with exactly what I wanted is foolish.  Ask for what you want.

My birthday is Friday.  Birthdays are a big deal to me.  What’s a big deal to you?  Tell me.  I want to celebrate it with you.

We’re All in This Together

I washed my car this weekend.  (I know from the beautiful weather and from the length of the line that I am not the only one.)  First I filled my tank, and then I pulled in behind several other cars.  After a few minutes, the woman in the car behind me jumped out and came up to my window.  I rolled it down, and she explained that my gas cap and gas door were open.  Whew!  Good catch before I drove into a car wash.

I thanked her, and she said, “We’re all in this together.”

Wow!  She is someone I would like to know.  The people in her life must be better for knowing her.  How is that for something that just rolled off her tongue.  She is right.  In fact it was the title of the very first blog I ever wrote,  We’re All in this Together.

Sometimes I think we overcomplicate things.  (Pause for laughter from the people who know me well.  I am the master of overcomplicating and overthinking.). Life is really not as complex as we make it.

Be kind.

Think before you act.

Treat other people well.

Stand up for your beliefs and for people who can’t stand up for themselves, but do it respectfully.

Grace is always better than anger.

Perform simple, random acts of kindness.  If you notice someone in front of you in line is about to drive into the car wash with her gas cap open, let her know.

Thank you to the woman who did that for me.  And thank you for the simple reminder that we are, in fact, all in this together.

Lean In

I saw The Post this weekend.  I am a huge movie fan; I see pretty much everything.  But I have been particularly excited for this one.  Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks…together for the first time…I knew it would be good.  And it did not disappoint.

There were many relevant themes in the film, but I was particularly taken by the struggle of Katharine Graham, the longtime publisher of The Washington Post, to lean in during one of the most important decisions in her paper’s history.  While there was no doubt some poetic license taken to heighten the story, Graham herself spoke of this in her autobiography.  Women in her era were not often in powerful positions or taken seriously in powerful conversations.  In fact, she thought nothing of it when her father handed control over the paper to her husband instead of to her.

Of course in the film, as in real life, she did find her voice.

It reminded me of Sheryl Sandberg’s TED Talk and book Lean In.  But lest anyone think this is just about women, it is not.

I am not always as confident as I should be. Many of us, men, women, old, young, are not always as confident as we should be.   We all struggle at times to find our voice. But find it we must.  Our families and friends, our communities, our organizations are counting on it.

I have writtten about this before.  In one of my favorite blogs,  Own Your Power  , I wrote about the need to find your voice and to do what must be done for the organziation.

The best leaders are good people who are willing to do what is necessary to move the organization forward. They have moved past the fear that others might not like them. They are willing to make decisions and to own the consequences. They share the credit, and they take the blame. And people respond well to them. We want strong leaders who are knowledgeable and decisive. We want leaders who will take responsibility and have the difficult conversations. The best leaders do not necessarily enjoy conflict, but they do not shy away from it.

I was reminded of all of this during the film.  No, this is not about women.  This is about all people.  It is not easy to find your voice.  But find it we must.

I Got to Work on Christmas Day

My husband and I spent a few days in Kansas City after Christmas. It was cold, but it was fun to get away for a bit. We stayed in a hotel where breakfast is provided, and each morning I grabbed some food to eat in the room. The same woman was working both days. She was warm and friendly and helped get the morning off to a great start.

On the second day a mother popped in and asked if there was any hot chocolate. The woman working showed her where it was and then suggested that she also use some of the whipped cream by the waffles to top it off. The mom thanked her and explained that her daughter was going to love that.

After the mom left, the woman and I were talking. I told her that was a clever idea. She shared that she had gotten to work on Christmas Day, and she made cups of hot chocolate with whipped cream and sprinkles for all of the kids on Christmas morning. She talked about what a fun morning it was and how each of the children lit up when she gave them the hot chocolate. You could tell from her voice and her face and her energy that she genuinely had a good time.

I do not know anything about this woman. I do not know if she has children of her own who were at home without her on Christmas morning. I do not know if she celebrates Christmas. But I do know that she is great at her job! And I am not sure that I would have had such joy in my voice if I had been talking about working on Christmas. She genuinely meant it when she said, “I got to work on Christmas morning.”

Attitude is everything.

Yesterday I texted a friend and said that I had to write a blog. I have taken a few weeks off over the holidays, but it’s time to get back at it. The response was, “Why do you have to write one?” It reminded me of the woman at the hotel. I do not have to write a blog. I get to write a blog.

Verbs matter.

Today marks the end of winter break. Vacation is good. It is important to rest and relax and recharge. But tomorrow we get to step back into our schools and do some of the most important work there is. We get to greet our students by name and welcome them back to a safe and friendly place. We get to celebrate with the ones who had a great time, and we get to provide relief for the ones who did not spend their break with an abundance of food or clothes or gifts. Do not take it for granted that everyone had a great holiday. I am genuinely happy to get back to work. I am genuinely happy to have even a small piece in making a child’s eyes light up.

Tomorrow we get to go back to work!

Mettle and Heart

Much is said in education today about grit. We know more and more about the need to help build resilient children, so they can persevere through struggles of all kinds. Whether social emotional or academic, life is not always easy for the students in our schools. Some have suffered trauma that is almost unimaginable. Some work harder than we will ever know to complete their homework and come to class ready to learn.

It takes grit, resilience, mettle, and not just for our students.

Every day the teachers in our schools are doing almost unimaginable work to help our students be successful. Whether social emotional or academic support, they go above and beyond to meet the needs. This job is not for the faint of heart.

I watch with amazement as teachers sit beside students trying to solve complex problems, prompting and questioning until that magical lightbulb moment.

I watch as teachers give high fives and hugs and tie shoes and zip jackets. I watch as they ask about the soccer game or the dance recital, as they celebrate with students after the musical or the basketball game.

And I watch as they worry about the student who needs a new coat or who might not get any gifts at Christmas.

Yesterday I saw post after post about the families who were adopted and the gifts and meals that were handed out by teachers and administrators and counselors and community members who come together every year to help through an incredible community organization called Project Wee Care.

I was once again amazed by the heart of our teachers.

I caught part of an old movie this weekend, The Guardian. It’s about rescue swimmers in the Coast Guard. After a particularly harrowing experience, the young trainee asks the experienced teacher how he decides who to save. The answer has struck me over the years as a decent motto for the work we do.

“I swim as fast as I can, as hard as I can, for as long as I can. And the sea takes the rest.”

I read a message last week from someone who implied that because we cannot do enough, we should do nothing at all. No one I know in this profession believes that. Everyone I work with in our schools and in our districts believes that each and every child deserves our best effort, and each and every child we can help was worth the work.

This is not easy. It can feel overwhelming. It takes grit, mettle. But it is the most important work I can imagine. And in this holiday season, I am grateful for the teachers who put their hearts on the line each and every day to do whatever it takes to help. You make a difference in the lives of children.

I Refuse to Manage My Expectations

The Huskers have a new football coach.  As the news was officially leaked, likely a day earlier than the University and the coach himself had wanted,  the state went crazy.  Weeks, months, years of frustration seemed to melt away in an instant.  The Nebraska kid who made good was coming home.  I was giddy.  And almost immediately I was reminded that I should “manage my expectations.”

It will likely take time to return Nebraska to its historical glory.  Recruiting may still be a challenge.  After all, despite evidence to the contrary this week, it gets really cold here in the winter.  After all, this season was less than a success in the wins and losses category.  After all, next year will be about rebuilding, and there is hard work to be done.

But still, I refuse to manage my expectations!

I choose to believe that amazing things are about to happen.  I choose to believe that a new coaching staff will find the magic, and in no time at all the Huskers will be a powerhouse.  I choose to see the best possible future for Scott Frost and his staff, for the student-athletes who are working so hard to find success on the field, and for the fans who admittedly care maybe too much about our football team.

I refuse to manage my expectations!

We choose each day how we view the world.  We can be pragmatic.  We can evaluate the pros and cons, weigh the many options, and then choose the safest course.  We can manage our expectations of others and try to manage their expectations of us.  And if I’m being honest, there are times when each of those is necessary and smart.

But for the most part, I choose to believe that in any given situation the best possible outcome is the one that will come to be.  I choose to believe that rather than managing my expectations, I should actually raise my expectations.  I should expect the most for myself and for those around me.  And I should expect the most from myself and from those around me.

Will I be disappointed sometimes?  Of course.  That’s life.  But the disappointment will be hard whether I anticipated it or not.  Why not choose to believe that things will work out?

I am not suggesting we ignore reality, bury our head in the sand, or forget that in most cases it is our actions that create our best possible future.  When we set high expectations, we also have to agree to do the hard work.  But why not choose to believe that we are about to find the magic?

When Your Best Isn’t Enough

We’ve all been there.  All of us.  At one time or another, we have all attempted something and come up short.  It might have been something as small as a grade on a paper or a test when we were in school.  It might have been something bigger like training for months to set a personal record in a half marathon.  Or it might have been something truly life-changing like taking a high-profile new job in an unfamiliar place halfway across the country.  Big or small, there is something especially painful about investing your time and energy into something, working hard, truly doing your best, and having it not be enough.   We’ve all been there.

I am not talking about that time I signed up to do a 5K and then never really got around to training.  That’s on me.  I’ve jumped head-first into plenty of endeavors only to find myself too busy to really invest the needed time to do it well.  I have a collection of hobbies in the garage that never really made their way into my daily routine.  Of course I am not an expert with my bow and arrow.  I’ve hardly ever used it.

No, I’m not talking about those things.  I am talking about the things that mattered.

I am talking about the things that were worth the time and money and patience and heart to get right.  I am talking about the things that got you up at 3:45 in the morning, the things that sent you back to school, the things you obsessed over and read about and journaled about, the things that convinced you to walk away from a safe job in a familiar place with people you knew only to start an adventure with an uncertain ending.

I’m talking about the pain that comes when one of those things doesn’t work out, when your best isn’t enough.  And we have all been there.

In those moments you have a choice.  You can choose to be defeated.  You can choose to wallow and retreat and shut yourself away.  You can choose to stop taking the big risks.

Or you can stand up, face the reporters (literal or figurative as they may be), and explain that you did your best.  You can continue to wake up at 3:45 and to take the big risks.  You can choose to hold your head up, maintain the highest levels of class and grace and dignity, and honestly mean it when you say that you would not have traded the experience simply because it did not end the way you had hoped.

“That wasn’t the measure of the experience.  It’s just the way it ended.” (Aaron Sorkin, The West Wing)

Grateful This Week…and Every Week

This week is Thanksgiving. I have no doubt that most of you will take time to pause and reflect and give thanks for the many blessings in your life.  It’s good to do that.

This week our students will surely be reading books and writing essays about thankfulness.  They will trace their hands to make turkeys and sing the same songs we sang as children.  They will have that once a year treat that is the Thanksgiving school lunch.  (No, I am not being sarcastic.  Many of us look forward to that school lunch all year.)

There will be turkey and stuffing and football and time with family and friends.  And there will undoubtedly be moments of gratitude.

But what about next week and the week after and the week after?

Every day we have the opportunity to choose gratitude and to model for others that despite anything that might be happening in our lives or in our world, we can choose to be grateful.  It’s an important lesson that I hope we are passing along to the young people in our lives.  It’s an important lesson that I hope we are sharing with our friends and family.  Gratitude is not something we should embrace in only the happy moments of our lives.  Gratitude is something that actually helps create the happy moments in our lives.  A joyful heart begets a joyful heart.

I am feeling especially grateful this week.  I live in an amazing, supportive community that comes together to do good things for children.  I work with an incredible team of people who focus tirelessly on the right things.  And I have friends and family who nurture me and support me in all that I do.

I have those things every week…not just this week.

My wish for you this Thanksgiving is to truly embrace the week and whatever it has in store for you.  I wish you food and fun and a little time away to relax.  And I wish for you a joyful heart that recognizes we have so much for which to be grateful in every week.

They Even Have Jumper Cables


Paralyzing.  That’s how someone this week described the potential feeling of all there is to do as a building principal.  She is not paralyzed, but she knows the danger in ever trying to think about it all at once.

There is instructional leadership.  Math and reading small groups, data-driven decision-making, Professional Learning Communities.

There is parent and community engagement, social emotional learning, mental health supports.

There are Halloween parties and after school clubs and volleyball games and pep rallies.

There is student discipline, and there are student celebrations.

And then I was driving home from work this week, and I noticed one of our principals out in the parking lot helping to jump-start a car.  They even have jumper cables.

The role of building leader is enormous.  It can feel overwhelming if you let it.  The same could be said of most leadership roles.

So how are the great ones doing it?

A mentor shared an axiom with me this week. If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.  Prioritizing is essential in effective leadership.  The best leaders avoid feeling paralyzed by staying focused on a few key things.  Asking some important questions can help.

  • What should I be focusing on today, this week, this semester?
  • How will I keep the first things first?
  • Who can help me?

That last question is sometimes the hardest.  Delegating and asking for help does not come naturally to many people.  The same mentor once told me that if someone else can be doing something, they probably should be doing it.  Building leadership is a big job.  Surrounding yourself with talented and engaged people helps but only if you let them.  One of the most powerful things you can do as a principal or a leader of any kind is to recognize and develop the leadership skills in others.  Collaboration and shared decision-making is not only good for your climate and culture, it lightens your load.  The best leaders are not trying to do it all by themselves.

None of this is to say that other people in our schools and in your organizations are not also doing overwhelming work.  I’ll do a whole blog on what we ask our teachers to do everyday.  They are heroes, truly amazing!

But this week I have been overwhelmed by all of the things our principals are doing.  They are anything but paralyzed, and our students are all the better for their efforts.  I just wanted to say thank you!

It’s Our Job to Make Them Drink

It happened again this week.  Someone who was watching an amazing teacher doing incredible things in a classroom used my least favorite expression.  “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

I understand the intent.  For generations people have thrown this around to explain all manner of things…food not eaten, advice not taken, lessons not learned.  The idea is simple. We can provide even the best of something, but we cannot force anyone to consume it.  We cannot force a toddler to eat her food.  We cannot force a newlywed to heed the advice of his grandfather who has been married fifty years.  And we cannot force a student sitting in a classroom to learn.

I disagree.

No, we cannot make a horse drink water.  But we can certainly make the walk intriguing, and we can certainly make the water enticing.  The best teachers do it everyday.

They make the walk long.  They spend enough time to build background and provide the necessary scaffolding to help every student succeed.  They know that every child is in a different place with every lesson.  They assess what students know and fill in the gaps before they ever get to the activity.

They make the horse thirsty.  They understand that motivation and self efficacy are keys to the success of every lesson.  They supply the why for each activity.  They help students want to learn.  And they use the long walk to build a strong relationship, the most important thing our best teachers do.

And then they make the water irresistible.  They design engaging lessons that are impossible for students to resist.  They find stories and music and movie clips and speakers and field trips and projects that address multiple learning styles and allow each child to learn.

Our job as educators is not simply to design aligned curriculum and research-based instructional models.  Our job as educators is not simply to provide materials and experiences.  Our job as educators is not simply to provide a quality lesson and hope our students learn.  Our job as educators is to ensure, to guarantee as our mission so boldly states, that students learn.

It’s our job to make them drink.

I have been in many classrooms in the last month, and I have seen teacher after teacher doing this hard work.  It is happening everyday in our schools.  It is not easy, but it is our life’s work.  And I cannot imagine a more important job.

The Org Chart

If you have ever worked for someone, and most of us have, you are likely familiar with the concept of an “organizational chart.”  It defines who reports to whom.  I could write an entire blog about how important it is for an organization to define who is taking responsibility for what.  Clearly defined goals and objectives, concrete action steps, and accountability are essential for success.  An idea is just an idea unless someone takes ownership for making it happen.

Assuming a leadership role, climbing higher on the org chart, is exhilarating.  You may have a stronger voice in decisions.  You may have more autonomy.

One thing I have learned over the years though from leaders I admire most is how narrow in scope the organizational chart really is.  It is about accountability and supervision.  It is about departmentalization and line of succession.  It is not in any way, shape or form about kindness or respect or doing what needs to be done in the moment.

The best leaders at every level are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work.  Principals are wiping off cafeteria tables at lunch and sweeping the floor between basketball games.  Servant leadership is a term thrown around frequently today.  True servant leaders are the ones who embrace every opportunity to serve the organization and the people within it.  Do you walk by the paper on the floor in the hallway?  Is picking it up someone else’s job?

The best leaders are kind and caring and respectful to everyone in the organization at every level.  They know the CEO’s name, and they know the name of every person on the custodial night crew.  Character is defined by what you do for and how you treat people who can do nothing to advance your career.  Do you truly demonstrate respect for everyone?

Leading is hard work, and the higher you are on the org chart, the more you have to be willing to accept responsibility.

But the organizational chart has nothing to do with how you treat people or how others treat you.  The best leaders understand that!

Embracing October 

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  October has returned, and in its usual fashion it is equal parts glorious and hard.  No, that is far from accurate.  It is mostly beautiful weather and trips to the pumpkin patch and football and concerts and plays.  It is mostly vanilla-flavored candles and fun decorations on the mantle.  I love October!

But it can also be hard.  My children have been busy with school and clinical and jobs.  My work family has been busy as well.  It’s been amazing and important work, but it’s been a lot.  A few of us got pretty sick, and I have to admit that I have not been as patient or gracious or kind as I would like to be.  This can be a challenging time.

Something I have learned through the years though is that spending too much time focused on the negative serves no value.

October has returned, and I am thrilled.

This has always been my favorite time of the year.

Halloween is big in my family.  What’s not to love?  Costumes and candy and pumpkin-spiced everything.  This year my daughter is going all-out in a “cubicle decorating contest” at work.  It is becoming epic.  I’ve got pumpkins in the entryway and gourds at work.  It’s beginning to look a lot like Halloween.

The weather changed this week.  A more sudden shift from warm to cold than last year.  The leaves are turning, and the fall rain has settled in.  It is finally jacket and sweatshirt weather.  There is comfort in thick socks and a soft sweater.  There is comfort in wrapping up on the couch in a blanket reading a book.  I spent hours doing that this weekend.

In the sweltering heat of July and in the frigid cold of January, I sometimes wonder why we live here.  October reminds me!   Autumn in the Midwest is spectacular.  Nebraska is at her best when the rustic colors fill the trees and the gentle rain coats the streets.  This is my favorite time of the year, and I know I am not alone.

This will be a busy week in our district.  Conferences are in full swing, grades are finalized and being shared with families, and there are professional development and teacher work days next week.  There will be some long days.

I encourage you to pause in the midst of the crazy this week and savor the season.  It goes much too fast.

Focus less on the negative and more on the positive.

When someone says, “How are you?”  Answer, “Fantastic!”

Positivity is contagious.  Spread it around.

October has returned, and I am thrilled.

Move On

Leadership is not for the faint of heart.  Day in and day out there are decisions that need to be made that impact the entire organization.  Many are small.  Some are big.  Many are easy.  Some are not.

It can be tempting to question yourself, to second guess your decision.  But honestly, there is not time for that.  The next decision awaits.

Reflection is important.  Learning from what happens is important.  The best leaders want to learn and grow.  I’d never advocate not paying attention to cause and effect.  I’d never advocate that we not reflect on our decisions and on their consequences.  But I’ve seen too many people lose their serenity obsessing about what they should have done.

You did what you did.  You made the best decision you knew to make in a given situation with the given information.  Move on.

When my daughter was young, she had a tendency to get what we called “stuck in the moment.”  (Imagine our joy when U2 released a song of the same name, and we could sing it to her in the car on trips.) She had trouble letting go of a disappointment or a frustration.  It could be a big issue or a very small issue, but for her it held on and robbed her of the joy in the next moment.  We talked about it a lot, and I think as a family we all learned over time to let go of things.

No, leadership is not for the faint of heart.  People will second guess you.  There’s never a shortage of armchair quarterbacks.  People will judge you.  There’s never a shortage of people who are sure they could do better.

But leaders are the ones who said, “Okay, I’ll make the decision.”  And there are not a lot of people willing to step into that seat.

Listen and learn.  Reflect.  But in the end, make the best decision you can and move on.

Nurture the Relationship

Every interaction you have matters!  Every interaction you have builds or damages the relationship.

Schools have not traditionally thought of themselves as organizations with customers or brands.  But of course we are.  Today more than ever we are the topic of conversation in the neighborhood, on Facebook, on Twitter.  Our students, our staff, our parents, and our community have a broad platform from which to share their experiences in our schools.  We are telling our stories, and they are telling our stories.

Each time we answer the phone or greet someone at the door of our school, we make an impression.  Each time we say hello in the drop-off lane or greet a student by name in the hallway, we make an impression.  We nurture the relationship, or we damage the relationship.

We know that we are able to do more positive things for our students when we have positive relationships with them.  The same is true for our staff and for our families.  Are we focusing enough on building those relationships?

It’s a busy time.  As we roll into October, it gets even busier.  Fall sports are in full swing.  Parent teacher conferences are right around the corner.  The end of the quarter means assessment and grading and report cards.  It can get overwhelming.

I know that for me, the busier I get, the more likely I am to rush my interactions with people.  I get focused on my tasks and forget my relationships.  I am setting a goal for October to stay focused on people, to nurture the relationship in all of my interactions.  I hope you’ll join me.

Grace Under Pressure

We’ve had a bit of a week in Husker Nation.  After what can only be described as a series of disappointing games after a series of disappointing seasons, the Athletic Director has been fired.  Speculation is rampant as to the fate of the football coach.  As I watched the game this week, I could not help thinking how challenging it must be for everyone involved to play under that kind of pressure.

Stress and scrutiny lead to careless mistakes.  Anxiety leads to anxiety  leads to anxiety.  Most people are not at their best under pressure.

But some are.  And that can make all the difference.

Leadership is not easy. Many times in an organization there are hard choices and difficult tasks.  Leaders are willing to tackle those challenges without fear or hesitation.  The best leaders actually get better under pressure.

In difficult times, people look to their leaders for confidence and courage.  They rely on their leaders to be positive and decisive.  Grace under pressure is not a luxury for leaders; it is a necessity.

When times are tough, strong leaders are calm and consistent.  I’ve seen this first hand time and time again. The more challenging the obstacle, the more poised the leader.  I’ve been lucky to work for leaders who model this, and I am blessed to work with a leadership team who exemplify this.

Busy, difficult times call for positive and disciplined leadership.  As you lead this week, in your classrooms, your schools, your organizations, remember that others are looking to you.  You can be the reassuring presence that calms the waters and keeps people focused on the job at hand.

The Alphabet Game

Our favorite game on road trips is the alphabet game.  You can pass hours and hours playing.  The rules are simple: the first person to spot all 26 letters of the alphabet, in order, on signs or buildings or anything really outside of your own car, wins.  The games plays out in almost the same way every time.  You fly along from A to E and then pause for a few minutes on F.  You jump back in at G until you get stuck at J.  Q is the worst.  You cross your fingers and hope for a Dairy Queen or an Antique Shoppe.  You hit a bit of a snag at X, and the game almost always comes down to who spots the Pizza Hut first.

Some letters just aren’t used very often.

That doesn’t make them less important.

This week a friend asked me which letter of the alphabet is used the most.  It’s E.  Which is used the least?  Depending on the source, it varies between Q, Z, X, and J.  Does that make them less important?  Of course not.  One could argue it makes them more important.

We don’t have to use something often for it to have great value…emergency brakes, fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide detectors.  We hope we don’t have to use them often, but they are essential for our well being.

I think the same is true in life.

Many times the people who say the most, who are seen the most, are the ones who get the most attention.

It’s football season.  I’ve been watching my share of high school and college games.  I am fascinated by the kickers.  Not a lot of glamour in that role.  Not a lot of time on the field.  But how many games have we already seen this year that were decided in the final seconds by a field goal?  The kicker is an essential role on any team.  Just because we do not call on player as often does not make then any less valuable.

Are you investing enough time in your special teams?

A game can be won or lost in a single play.  Every person, every position matters.  The last letter of the alphabet is as valuable as the first.

Every person on the team, in the cast, on the staff, in the community, plays a vital role.  At times you may be called on to take the lead.  You may be the person on the stage, the one who is used the most.  Other times you will play a supporting role.  You will be seen less.  At those times, your work is no less important.

Good leaders know this.  Good coaches, good administrators, good teachers know this.  The best leaders work to build relationships and develop skills in everyone on their team.  And the best team members do their best work at all times, not just when they are the star.  This week, whether you feel like the E or you feel like the Z, do your best to do your best!