Author: heathercphipps

Wife, Mother, Lifelong Educator

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!

Be That Person

I was at a volleyball tournament this weekend.  All of our schools were competing.  In one particular match, our team lost by two in two close games.  I was frustrated for them, and I was annoyed by the loud cheering of the opposing parents.  I was annoyed.  How dare they cheer when our team was having a rough time.  Are you kidding Heather?  Of course they are cheering.  Our parents are cheering too.  Everyone deserves a cheer section.  Every kid needs a champion.

I took a breath, cheered both teams for a battle well fought, and reflected on the people who’ve cheered for me over the years.  I’ve been lucky.  My kids have been lucky.  Family and friends and teachers and coaches have encouraged us and celebrated with us and pushed us to persevere.  We all need someone in our corner, someone on our side.

Someone I care about ran his first marathon yesterday.  An incredible accomplishment. He planned and trained and prepared and ran.  And it was not easy.  He is an amazing athlete, but it did not go the way he envisioned.  By mile 18 he had hit a rough patch.  He had to slow down; he was in pain; and he thought seriously about withdrawing.  But in that moment, he had someone in his corner.  He wrote later about how this friend knew what to say to encourage him, to support him, and to help him find the inner strength to finish.  He had a champion in that moment who made all the difference.

I’ve heard story after story about athletes who were at their breaking point when a coach or a teammate or a parent stepped in to provide the words needed to help them persevere.  And those moments are more moving than the most amazing victories.

In every school in every town in every state, teachers do that for students every day.  They sit by them as they work out the hardest problems.  They pull them in after school to review and review until it makes sense.  In the past week, I’ve been at a celebration for students who scored over 30 on their ACT and seen the same level of celebration for students at any score who worked for a 3 point jump.  Every kid needs a champion.

This week I’d challenge you to look for the opportunities to be the person who walks alongside a friend and provides the support to help them overcome an obstacle.  I’d challenge you to be the coach or the teacher who helps a child know that someone is in their corner.  And I’d challenge you to be the parent who cheers and celebrates in victory and defeat.  Everyone deserves a cheer section.  Every kid needs a champion.

#Goals

I hit a major milestone this week in a goal I’ve been pursuing all year.  I walk.  This year I’ve been walking a lot. I’m working toward a mileage goal, and it took me until the last day in August to be on track to hit the goal.  I’ve been behind for 8 months.  Eight months!  And I honestly have no idea if I can stay on track for the rest of the year.  But I’m there right now.

I’m part of an online community all working toward this goal.  I’ve been watching person after person hit the year-end goal all summer.  Most of the people in this community are runners.  The other people I know personally working on the goal are runners.  Good runners.  They finish miles so much faster than I do. It can be frustrating at times.

It’s hard to set a goal, work toward that goal, and watch so many other people beat you to the goal.  But such is life.  No matter how fast you are, someone is always faster. 

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Okay Theodore Roosevelt said it, but I’ve agreed with him many times.

Our goals are our goals.

I spend too much time wishing I was a runner.  The runners I know are amazing!  They are dedicated, passionate, motivated.  They have cool running gear, and they talk a lot about shoes and watches.  They are fit.  Man are they fit. It is impressive.

I walk.  I walk a lot.  That’s what I can do.  And I can certainly get cool walking gear and talk about shoes and watches.  And I can be dedicated and passionate and motivated.

Our goals are our goals.

The only person we are meant to compare ourselves to is the person we were the day before.  We do not have to be faster or thinner or wealthier than anyone.  We do not have to have a better job or a bigger house or a fancier car to be worthy.

Our goals are our goals.

I have some good friends who are competitive. Several even have competition in their top five Gallup strengths.  Competition is different from personal comparison.

Competition can be healthy.  It can show us what’s possible.  It can push us and challenge us to be better than we ever thought we could be.  I’m not discouraging competition, but we should not be judging ourselves based on a comparison with others.

I am enough.  You are enough.  Right now.  Just as we are.

So set some goals that will be hard to reach.  Challenge yourself to go farther or faster than you thought you could.  But appreciate yourself for who you are and what you bring to the world.  Just the way you are.

Quiet Your Mind

I ruminate.  That’s an understatement. I’ve written about it before.  I’ve set goals and made plans to do it less.  And yet it persists.  Ideas.  Worries.  Worst case scenarios play out in my head.  It is the least productive, most destructive thing I do.  It serves no purpose, and I know better.

This was a week of ups and downs.  I watched a school community that means the world to me come together to experience a once in a lifetime moment during the eclipse, and I watched as that same community came together to grieve the loss of a staff member and a friend.  Highs and lows.  Sunshine and rain.  Nature teaches us that life needs both to grow.

Life can change in an instant.  Life does change in an instant.  My heart is breaking for my Kiewit family.  They are hurting.  It was a hard week.  After a week like that, it can be a challenge to quiet your mind.  

“Worry does not take away tomorrow’s troubles.  It takes away today’s peace.”  No amount of ruminating stops the hard days.  It only adds unneeded struggle to the good days.

A friend shared with me the Zac Brown Band song Quiet Your Mind (https://youtu.be/syTVW8n5Cy0 ). It’s spot on!  Worth a listen!

“Soak it all in. It’s a game you can’t win. Enjoy the ride!”

This is not easy for me.  It’s not easy for many.  But I am redoubling my efforts to worry less, to quiet my mind, to enjoy the moment.  Will you join me?

But What If It’s Cloudy?

When I was a child, we only had three commercial television stations and PBS.  Every Saturday morning was set aside for cartoons, and we were still “turning the channel” by hand.  (Insert similar story from my parents about walking to school in the winter, through the snow, uphill, both ways.)  A few times a year, there were “major television events.”  We would gather to watch The Wizard of Oz or Gone with the Wind.  I have vivid memories of the 3D glasses, one red lens and one blue lens, purchased from the convenient store to watch 3D movies on TV.  Those were the days.

Communities came together.  We shared collective experiences .  We planned for them; the news hyped them up for weeks; and we knew exactly what everyone would be doing at that moment.  It was an event.

This week I have a similar pair of glasses sitting on my desk.  Something amazing is happening tomorrow.  A once in a lifetime opportunity, a collective experience.  Many have been waiting years, decades even, for the chance to see a total eclipse of the sun over the skies in the United States.  It will be incredible.  In our district a dedicated team of people have been getting us ready for this one day, this one moment, since last winter.  Research has been done.  Safety has been planned.  Lessons are designed.  We have even “drilled” the experience.  It is going to be amazing!  We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to show our students a solar eclipse at 98% (just out of the path of totality), to teach them the science, and to help them experience the awe that accompanies it.

But what if it’s cloudy?

Nature does not always cooperate with our plans.  There is chance for clouds, even rain, on Monday.  All of this work could be for naught.

Untrue.

I would propose that if it is cloudy, if the skies open up in a torrential downpour, we still have the opportunity to teach our students something important.  First, of course, there is a Plan B in place.  We know the ways we can live stream the eclipse to keep the instruction going.  But I think we can also teach an important life skill if the best laid plans go awry.  Attitude is everything.  Embrace what the day gives you.

Things do not always go as planned.  In fact, they rarely do.  So what?  Some of my favorite memories happened in unexpected rain.  Riding the Splashover at Adventureland in a rainstorm was more fun than it would ever have been in the sun.  Hiding under the evergreens on a mountain in Colorado (just yards away from the moose we never saw) was more memorable than a successful hike in the sun would have been.  Attitude is everything.  Embrace what the day gives you.

If it is cloudy on Monday, we will still get to show our students an eclipse.  Maybe we’ll be in our glasses looking out the window then sitting in the library watching the NASA live feedback with hundreds of thousands of other people.  Maybe we’ll see it over Oregon or Illinois.  Still cool.  Attitude is everything.

Embrace the experience…whatever it is.

“It’s from my School!”

It’s back-to-school week, and we had an amazing motivational speaker during our fall workshop. He was funny; he was emotional; he was inspiring.  He challenged us to be innovative. He challenged us to see the joy in the eyes of every child when they come into school, and he challenged us to be sure that we do not squelch that joy. Children are, by nature, learners. It is our job to fuel that fire, not to put that fire out. It was a solid message. It struck a chord. It was good stuff.

But in the midst of his message, a family movie from Hunter’s childhood came to mind. We’ve watched it over and over and over again in our family. It’s a classic. We have always looked to it as evidence of her sass and her spunk. But suddenly, sitting in that auditorium, the video came to mind and everything about it changed. I saw a different lesson.

First, let me apologize for the quality of this video. Clearly I should not be the videographer in the family.  But I’m glad we have it.

Take a listen…

Now, like I said, we used to focus on that moment when she says, “I did not want this book.”  We used to laugh as I tried to convince her that she should say thank you to the person who had given her the gift. But here’s what I saw this week. My child who has been read to every day of her life is less than excited by the prospect of a book.  My child who has an English teacher for a mother “did not want that book.”  Until…she saw the connection to school.  There is a moment, it’s my favorite moment, when her face lights up.  “Mom, it’s, it’s from my school.”  And everything changes!

School has that power.  Teachers have that power.  You have that power.  Engaging lessons, exciting content, and powerful relationships matter.  We can light a fire!

My nephew starts kindergarten in our district tomorrow.  My wish for him is an experience that make his face light up when he realizes, “it’s from my school.”  I am grateful for all of the teachers and teacher leaders, the librarians, the administrators, and the many other school staff who lit that fire for my children.  Thank you!

Our challenge this week is to do it all over again.  Have an amazing first week of school!

Monday

Tomorrow is Monday.

Mondays bring to mind Facebook posts full of anxiety and worry and dread.  Mondays inspire angry cat posters and memes.  Do a Google search.  They’ll make you laugh, but I think they miss the mark.

Mondays are not fully appreciated, not fully embraced for the gift that they are.  Mondays are a fresh start.  Mondays are a new beginning.  And tomorrow is our ultimate Monday.  Tomorrow is the day all teachers report back to work in our district.  It is day one.  It is a fresh start, a new beginning.  It is one of the things I enjoy the most about my work.

Every year I have the same feeling as we start a new school year.  I think it is the same feeling I had as a child.  I love school.  I love the sharpened pencils and the college rule notebooks and the locker shelves.  I love Open House and Curriculum Night and the first football game of the year.  But most of all I love the opportunity.  I love the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends, the chance to learn and grow, and the challenge to do more and be more than we have been before.  We get a fresh start every year.  Every child, every adult, every one of us gets to start anew on Monday.  Every Monday.

Last year was amazing, but I did not handle every situation and every conversation as well as I would have liked.  Probably no one did.  I am grateful that I get to try again.  I am grateful that no matter what challenges or obstacles I have faced in the past, I get to learn from them and start again.  I am grateful that the people in my life are understanding and accepting.  They teach me; they show me grace; and they inspire me every day to be a better person.  And that is what I want for our staff and for our students.

I know that not every child loves school.  I know that for some of them the anxiety is real and the fear is not a joke.  It is our mission, our purpose, to do what we can for those who need us the most.  And I feel blessed to be surrounded by dedicated professionals who have made that their life’s work.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Summer was amazing.  Weekends are amazing.  Time to recharge and reconnect is vital.  But we work in the greatest profession in the world, and tomorrow is day one.  Monday.  And I for one am ready!

The Happiest Place on Earth…on Purpose

Have you ever noticed that when you start thinking (or writing) about something that you begin to see examples of it everywhere.  It’s like buying a new car and suddenly seeing it at every intersection.

It’s been that way for me all summer.  I have been working on myself, and I have been reflecting and thinking (and writing) about my purpose.  Last week my family took a purposeful break from the world and spent six days in the Happiest Place on Earth.  And it was just that!  Disney World does not disappoint.

We were surrounded by people and organizations clear in their purpose.  Our flights out were enjoyable.  I have always been impressed by the intentionality with which Southwest Airlines makes flights fun.  They know their purpose, and they seem genuinely happy to be making us happy during our travel.

And everyone knows that Disney tends to even the smallest detail in order to make it the Happiest Place on Earth.  They know their purpose, and each and every person in the organization is focused on making it a reality.  From the shuttle driver, to the women handing out buttons and badges at the bus stops, to the characters who never stop entertaining, it is magic, purposeful magic.

There is power in knowing your purpose.  It guides your steps and motivates your work.  We need purpose in our profession, and we need purpose in our personal lives.  This has been my journey this summer, to reflect on the many purposes I see for myself.

The purpose of our vacation was to disconnect from the world and to reconnect with each other.  And let’s face it, our purpose was to have fun.  Man did we have fun!

Our Best Selves

You are going to be great at something; you just don’t know what it is yet. We should be saying that every day to the young people in our lives. We should be saying that every day to the adults in our lives. We should be saying that to ourselves every day until we do know what it is. We are all meant to be great.

Have you found your purpose, your reason for being? Are you doing all you can every single day to bring that purpose to life?

Finding purpose is the key to a fulfilling life. I have been blessed to find mine. I have been blessed by powerful mentors and coaches who have helped me find my purpose and more importantly to create a plan to make that purpose, that passion, a reality.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Antoine de Saint-Expery

I have a friend who challenged me to take my writing to the next level. He helped me define specific, tangible, measurable, and realistic action steps in order to achieve my goal. He reaffirmed my purpose, and he guided my thinking around the steps to make my purpose come to life. And I, in turn, helped him do the same. He is almost done with a fantastic 300 page book. I like to think I had a small piece in pushing him to make that a reality.

I have another friend who encouraged me to pursue educational administration and to take the first step and the next step and the next step in becoming the leader I am today. He still walks side-by-side with me to push me, to challenge me, to support me, and to see to it that I get a little better each day. We all need those coaches.

Working in education is a gift. Every day I get to help create safe, caring, supportive environments where children can learn. Every day I get to take actionable steps to make the world a little better for the students in our care. Every day. It is a blessing I do not take for granted.

I have another friend who has helped me redefine my purpose outside of my profession. And now through the blog I hope that I have been able to extend my reach. I have enjoyed the comments, the messages, the conversations with people about the ideas I have put out into the world. It has given me a larger purpose, and I am enjoying the journey.

I want each of you to pause this week and to reflect on your purpose and the steps you are or are not taking to live that purpose. Life is short my friends. We owe it to the world to live the best version of ourselves.

Purpose

I have learned so much about myself in the last two and a half years. This blogging adventure has taken me places I never dreamed I would go. I cannot begin to tell you how many people ask me where I find the time to blog. To be honest, at this point, I cannot imagine my life without it. When I write, time stands still.

It is possible in life to be so absorbed in an activity, so completely filled with energy, that you lose all track of time and simply exist in the moment. No fear, no anxiety, no jealousy. Just purpose. In psychology that state is called flow, and it is a key element in the science of happiness.

In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains that happiness is not a fixed state. We can LEARN happiness as we discover the activities that provide us flow.

Have you found yours?

For me writing is one of them. I have learned through this process that I am a happier person when I am sharing my thoughts. I can lose hours just sitting at the keyboard putting thought to paper. I’ve learned through this blog that for me it is less about the actual task of writing and more about the ideas that I could spark in another person. Life is a powerful teacher, and sharing thing I’ve learned feeds my soul. It has become an important purpose in my life.

What is your purpose? Why were you put on this earth? Do you know yet?

“Every one of us has a WHY, a deep-seated purpose, cause or belief that is the source of our passion and inspiration. You may not yet know what yours is or how to express it in words. But we guarantee, you have one.” Simon Sinek

Life is full of so many things, moments, events, experiences. But life should be about more than that. Our life should be about our purpose. Have you taken the time to discover yours?

This can be a loaded question. As a mother, of course my children are the most important thing in my life. How could my answer be anything else? I am an educator. Of course education is the most important thing in my life. I am a human being. Of course human rights are the most important thing in my life. How could anything compare to all of that?

But it is possible to be a mother and an educator and champion of human rights and still find purpose in something else. Purpose can be found in many places. Are you feeding your purpose through your profession right now, or are you just going to work? Are you finding your purpose in things outside of work, or are you just going through life completing tasks. The truth is that many people have not found their purpose, and even more frightening is the fact that many people are not even looking for it.

Purpose is a tricky thing, but it goes hand-in-hand with happiness. It is worth examining. Your purpose cannot be too big or too small. It is YOUR purpose. You can change the world by doing great acts or by doing small acts with great purpose.

What is your purpose? Don’t we owe it to this life to find out?

Thank You

For the last 2 1/2 years I have been putting my thoughts out into the world in this blog, and it has been life-changing.  I truly see the world in a different way.  I find myself looking for stories, for lessons, for moments that capture my heart.  I find myself saying, “Now that would make a great blog.”  And I am never at a loss for ideas…because of you.

Thank you for being amazing people.  Thank you for modeling grace and kindness and perseverance.  Thank you for teaching me how to be a better person.  Each day, each hour of each day,  I find someone who is serving children, working to make life better for others , fighting for what is right.  People are capable of incredible good.  I am overwhelmed by it.  Thank you!

I am taking a short break from the blog, as I do every summer.  But I will not be taking a break from the search for good in the world.    It is all around us, and we are better when we focus our time on that.

Take Care of You

May is a challenge.  So many things are tied to a school year that most of us, whether we work in schools or not, are somehow impacted by the craziness of May.

The time commitments in May are staggering.  The emotions as children graduate and as things come to an end, as they always do, can be over-whelming.  The work to wrap up school years or legislative sessions or college careers can exhaust you if you are not careful.

So I encourage you to be careful.  Now more than ever, you need to take care of yourself.  I have learned a real truth over time that I am not the best version of me when I do not take care of myself.  When I snap at people, when I am easily offended by people, when I am rude or scared or sad for little reason, I can almost always trace it back to not taking care of myself.

HALT is an acronym for hungry, angry, lonely, tired.  I like to add sick, so I usually refer to HALTS.  These are physical and emotional states that wreak havoc on our well-being.  We do not make our best decisions or behave in our best ways when we are experiencing any of these.  May is a great time to control what you can control.  And we can control much more than we realize.

Eat.  It sounds crazy to say that but there were two days this week when I did not eat lunch, and of course I was less effective in the afternoon.  Any advantage I gained getting work done (and I did get a lot done in that “extra time”) was offset by my mood in the afternoon.  Of course eating healthy is even better.  Avoiding the food coma and brain fog that come with bad choices at a meal or a snack is always a benefit.  But first, just eat.

Sleep.  Again the busier we get, the more tempting it is to knock out two or three extra hours of work at the expense of sleep.  Never a good idea!  There are times in our lives, having a newborn comes to mind, when sleep is a luxury we cannot afford.  But those times are rare.  Sleep is one of the most powerful tools for our well-being that is almost entirely in our control.  Go to bed an hour earlier tonight.  Your physical and mental state will thank you tomorrow.

Exercise.  You do not have to train for a marathon to be active.  Just move.  Will you feel better physically?  Of course!  But you will also feel better emotionally. There will be people right now saying that they are too busy to both sleep and exercise.  Something’s got to give.  But that’s not true.  You are entirely in control of your ability to do both.  Some of the busiest people I know find time to do both, and they are far more efficient and more effective because of it.

Angry and lonely are more powerful than hungry and tired, and they can feel harder to control.  But you can.  The greatest secret in life is that we are all in control of ourselves to a much greater level than we realize.

Take gratitude walks.  Practice mindfulness.  Cultivate friendships.  Volunteer to serve others.  See a movie by yourself.  Turn off your phone.  And for heaven’s sake, seek help when you need help.  There are amazing professionals trained to help us cope when we cannot do it ourselves.   Seek them out.  The strongest people I know ask for help when they need it.

May can overwhelm, but if it does, we miss out on all of the fun.  Life is crazy.  Take care of yourself, so you can enjoy it!

Mr. Irrelevant

Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows that I love football.  Being on the sidelines during a high school football game is one of my favorite ways to spend a Friday night, but I have honestly never paid much attention to anything about football in the spring. So I have learned some new things this week.

I like tweet after tweet throughout the year as our student athletes sign to play with the college of their choice.  The pictures are as diverse as the students, but there is a common look on the face of them all.  Excitement.  Pride. Anticipation.  It is the culmination of years of hard work, years of practice, years of preparation.  Many of them have been dreaming of this moment since they first stepped onto a court or a field or a track.  They made it.

This week we watched that same moment for college football players.  The NFL Draft is quite a show, but beyond the spectacle, at its heart, it is no different from that moment when a high school senior snaps a picture with that college shirt and hat.  There is the same common look on their face.  Excitement.  Pride. Anticipation.  This is the culmination of years of hard work, years of practice, years of preparation.  Many of them have been dreaming of this moment since they first stepped onto a football field.  They made it.

And then I learned about Mr. Irrelevant.

I know, how on earth have I not heard of this before?  But I had not.  A friend told me to do a little research on Mr. Irrelevant.  He actually thought it would make a great blog, and he was right!

For those of you who, like me, are not as versed in this ridiculous “award”, it is the person selected last in the Draft. Kelvin Kirk in 1976 was named the first Mr. Irrelevant when he was selected as the 487th pick in that Draft.  This year Chad Kelly “won” the “award.”

There are summer trips, golf tournaments, real perks to being named Mr. Irrelevant.   There is a trophy…of a player fumbling a ball.

I get it.  It’s fun.  Clever idea.  But irrelevant?  Really?

Children all over the country want that moment.  They watch the Draft (or the Oscars or the Nobel Prize Ceremony) and dream of the day they will be on that stage.  They wake up hours before their friends, push harder than imaginable, and persevere through loss and rejection and injury to reach for that moment.  And almost none of them make it.

Chad Kelly made it.  Every player picked last in the Draft, every year, was picked in the Draft.  Imagine that!  How many others wish it had been them, even in the last round with the last pick.

We are all picked last.  We all have moments when we fail to set our personal record.  We all have days when we fail to do as well as wanted to do.  But we ran the race, or we finished the work.  How many people out there want to do what we do?

We do not have to have the biggest house.  We do not have to have the fastest time.  We do not have to be the number one pick to be relevant.

We are all relevant.

The World Needs More Chalk

 

I got a great text this week.  It was a picture of someone’s colorful driveway art.  The message just said, “The world needs more chalk.”  The text, and the picture, made me happy.

The world needs more things that make us happy.

Sure, there are deep, meaningful things that provide us with a sense of purpose and satisfaction.  There are moments of real significance that bring us great joy.  But we also need more things that just make us happy.

I think I had forgotten that.

There should be happy moments every day.  April the giraffe having her baby.  A light rain on a warm, spring afternoon. Dogs.

I’ve written before about the importance of happiness.  But it is easy to forget in the craziness of a busy year how important it really is.  So rather than a new blog for this week, I reread and am reposting this one about happiness.  It is linked below, and it includes some of my favorite videos from others about happiness.  I am grateful for the reminder this week that the world needs more chalk.  And I am grateful for the people who make me happy.

How will the world be different because you were in it? 

 

Be Who You Are

Putting yourself out into the world makes you vulnerable.  I think about that every time I go someplace I’ve never been or try something I’ve never done.  I think about that every time I meet someone for the first time.  And I think about that every week as I hit “publish” on this blog.

I read the most honest and vulnerable blog post on Friday.  The author is well-known.  She has thousands upon thousands of followers who read everything she writes.  She is clever and funny and down to earth.  And on Friday she opened herself wide to the world, and she spoke her truth with courage and grace and love.  This has been a difficult year for her.  She was open about her beliefs, and she was shunned by many in her community.  She talked about the pain she felt when others judged her.  She talked about feeling hurt by the people who abandoned her during this difficult time.  And she was honest about the fact that she may not be as open and transparent with all of us in the future.  It just might be too hard.

I do not know her.  I only know her through her writing.  But I was overwhelmed by her post, and I wanted to jump into my car and go to her and tell her not to stop being vulnerable.  Be who you are. Don’t worry so much about what others think of you.  We are all far too concerned about what other people think of us.  We are all far too concerned about how we look, or how we sound, or how we are being perceived.  I am too concerned with all of that.

“Will they like me?”  I should stop caring so much about the answer.

I am not advocating treating others disrespectfully.  I am not saying we should not listen to other opinions.  I believe strongly that we all learn and grow and change over time.  When we know better, we do better.

But I am advocating being your authentic self without so much concern for what others might think of you.  Be who you are.  At the end of the day, nothing else really works anyway.

Why

“Why are you here?”  Loaded question.  Obviously context matters.  The answer can be as simple as “to buy milk” or as complex as “to change the world.”

I was inspired this week by a story I heard about a school in a struggling area…notice I did not say a struggling school. In the midst of poverty and challenges, the principal in this building is creating an environment of hope. He is focused daily on doing good work for children.  When asked, “Why are you here?” he has an answer.  His job is not easy, but he has a clear purpose and a strong belief about why he is there.  He is there to make a difference.

Knowing your purpose almost always gives you great insight about what you should be doing and how you should be spending your time.  Our why should guide our what.

This week ask yourself, “Why am I here?”

Ask yourself at work.

Ask yourself at home.

Ask yourself in meetings.

Ask yourself in conversations.

Likely it will reveal your purpose.  Likely it will reveal your needs, your wants, your passions.  And in turn, you can focus more clearly on aligning your actions to fulfilling that purpose.

Defining your why is not always easy. But once you define it, it becomes infinitely easier to decide what to do.

Why are you here?

Our Tribe

Two weeks ago I wrote about a difficult time in my life, and I talked about the people who were there for me, my tribe.

This week someone who has been an important part of my family’s life since my childhood passed away.  His family and his friends came together to celebrate his life and to support each other as they grieved.  It was moving.  He made such a lasting impact on those who knew and loved him.

His funeral was in the church where I grew up, and it was filled beyond capacity with his tribe.  So many of the people were also my tribe as I grew up.  I was overwhelmed by a feeling of nostalgia and gratitude for the many, many people who have been part of my life over almost five decades.  The pastor who confirmed me and who married me was there.  The men and women who taught me in Sunday School, in confirmation, who spent New Year’s Eve with my parents, who helped raise me and then helped my own children when they were tiny were there. Those people were as excited about Kelsey’s first steps as I was.  They were at my wedding, and a year ago they were at her wedding.

Life is made up of a series of people who come in and out of our lives over time.  I have friends who I have known since I was fighting them for the lead role in our third grade musical, since I sat beside them on a bale of hay in my sophomore musical, and since I spent many nights with no sleep as four of us packed into one bed for a sleepover.  I have friends I’ve known since we lived together in college.  They’ve seen me at best and my worst. So many different people helped me become who I am.

As an adult, our tribes grow.  Now I have friends I’ve met through work.  Now I have friends with whom I’ve shopped and camped and traveled and spent more date night nights with than you could imagine.  I have friends I text everyday who send me pictures of sunsets and their children and who make me smile when days are hard.  I have friends who make me laugh in meetings, who take me to lunch, and who read my writing and let me read theirs.  I have friends who pray for me and who ask me to pray for them.  I have friends who understand me sometimes better than I understand myself, who push me to be my best, to learn more than I thought possible, to ignore and avoid when appropriate and to prioritize and sleep when appropriate.  And I have friends who send me sugar candy through work mail for no particular reason.  My tribe is amazing!

Look around this week.  You are surrounded by those people as well.  Notice them.  Appreciate them.  Thank them.

Slow Down

Last week was spring break, and I took full advantage of the opportunity to relax.  I hope you did as well.  But if you are anything like me, it was a long way down!  The pace of “the real world” is intense.  Slowing down is a challenge.  But every so often, we all need to slow down!  It helps our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

The first few days were the hardest.  My natural inclination is to go, go, go.  Letting go of work is hard for me.  I love what I do, and I feel an awesome responsibility to do it well.  Emails and phone calls and texts kept coming during the week.  It took a few days for me to put the phone down.  (It helps though when you are at sea and the wifi is crazy expensive.)

It was probably Wednesday before I truly felt disconnected, before I had actually changed my pace.  I set no alarm.  I used my phone only as a camera.  I took a nap.  It was wonderful.

The pace of our lives can take a toll on our bodies and our minds.  Intentional down time is critical.  I was lucky to carve out an entire week away.  Those are rare.  I encourage you to take a week if you can, but it does not take a week (or a cruise) to slow down.

I’ve written about this before.  We are at times too connected…to work, to email, to Facebook or Twitter.  Unplug.

We need long walks outside.

We need long breakfasts with our friends.

We need Blake Shelton concerts and free Saturday mornings at the art museum and musicals at the Orpheum.

We need time with our family and time with our friends and time alone.  Spend some time alone.  A game of solitaire or a movie or a night watching The West Wing on Netflix is not to be underestimated.  It can bring “balance” back to our lives.

I believe though that true balance is an illusion.  I’ve written about that before as well.  The best definition I’ve ever heard of balance is to have enough energy to enjoy all areas of your life.  Do what you need to in order to find that energy.  For me, work is energizing.  But so is down time.

Slow down!  For a week, for a day, for an hour.  It can make all the difference!

4749 Extra Days

Thirteen years ago today I almost died.  It’s not something I’ve ever written about but now feels like the right time.  Someone shared with me this week that the thing they enjoy the most about this blog is the reminder to tell our stories.

Every person on this planet has a story.  This is mine.

I was a teacher, and it was the last day of spring break.  Kelsey had just turned nine, and Hunter was almost seven.  The girls and I decided we’d spend our last vacation day going to the mall to Build a Bear.  I can’t honestly remember what animals they made.  Hunter would know.  She remembers all of it.

As we were checking out, I had a sudden and painful feeling in my throat.  I felt dizzy and nauseous.  The girl checking us out offered me a mint.  In hindsight her gesture of kindness has provided us plenty of laughs.  “Like a mint was going to save your life.”  How could she have known?

I have a connective tissue disorder called Marfan Syndrome.  It causes parts of my body to weaken over time, the most significant of which is my aorta.  And on that day I was having something called an aortic dissection.  There was a tear between the layers of my aorta, but I did not know it at the time.

We paid, left Build a Bear, and headed to the food court where thankfully a friend of mine was there.  We call her my Guardian Angel.  I knew something was wrong, but I was insistent that this could not possibly be an aortic dissection.  She took over in that moment and drove my children and me to the hospital.

The story gets long and complicated from that point, and I’m sure someday I will write it all.  But not today.  Suffice it to say that several hours later I finally had a CT Scan, was diagnosed, and was taken in to surgery.  The surgery lasted five hours, but the recovery took months.  Those five hours were so much harder for my family and friends than they were for me.  I honestly only know the details of the next few days from the things people have told me.

So many people.  One of the most important things I took from the experience was the power of our tribe.  A friend prayed over me before I went in to surgery. Friends and family spent time in the waiting room and countless hours sitting with me over the next days, weeks, and months.  People cleaned our house and brought us food.  One friend who lives out of town sent me a card and a package of some kind every day, every single day, for weeks.  My students wrote letters, and one even recorded her piano music to soothe me.  People are good beyond measure.

I also learned to be patient.  I dissected a week before my Master’s Degree comps and a week before my first interview for an administrative job. Obviously neither of those thing happened then.  But they did happen.  Eventually.  I have learned that for me things work out eventually, just not always in the way I envisioned or on the timeline I choose.

I also tell people that the most powerful lesson for me was to enjoy every day.  Every single day is a gift. We say that, and it is true.  Thirteen years ago today I almost died, but I didn’t.  I have had 4,749 extra days to learn and love and laugh.  I have had 4,749 extra days to make mistakes, to fall down, and to get back up. Each one of those days is a gift.

My scar has faded.  I feel like it is no longer the first thing people see when they look at me.  It’s a good analogy.  For a time, the experience consumed us.  It was all we thought about.  Over the years though that has faded too.  It is now but one of many stories.

Still, I am grateful for the scar.  It is a visual reminder that each day is a gift.

I was wrong when I said that every person on the planet has a story.  In fact we all have countless stories, countless moments that changed who we are and how we see the world.

Share yours!

Reply All

It happened this week.  Someone sent a short, informative email to the staff in their school.  Instead of using the email group for their staff though, they used an email group that included a much larger number of people.  And so it began.

“Please remove me from this email group.”

“I think I got this email by mistake.”

“If you go to More and click Mute, you can end this string.”

And the memes.  So many memes.

It happens.  Not often at all, but at least once a year it seems to happen.  Some unsuspecting person clicks the wrong email group and we get 24 hours of interesting.  If no one hit “reply all”, it would end with that first email.  But that is the one thing that never happens.  It really is a social experiment of sorts.  People react so differently. Most are silent. Some get angry and impatient.  And a few get funnier than I could ever hope to be.  Clever.  Witty.  Creative.

This week I decided to just soak it in and look for the life lessons…happens when you commit to blogging every week. So what did I take away from the experience?

1- Know Your Technology – Do your best to avoid using the wrong email group.  Do your best to check that you are replying just to the person who sent the email and not to the whole group.  Learn the tricks to mute a conversation when something like this happens.

2- Show Grace- No one intentionally emails a message to the wrong group.  Accidents happen.  (At least they seem to happen to me with some frequency.)  Simply hitting delete is likely the most gracious response.  Likely the person who sent it already feels terrible.

3- Laugh- I think what I most appreciated this week was the humor.  Many (one in particular who will remain nameless) took the opportunity to connect with other people they had never met and share a funny moment.  No one was mean-spirited.  Many were incredibly creative. All made me laugh.  And laughing is something I don’t think many of us do often enough.  I am thankful for the people who find ways to make others smile.

Last year this same thing happened on an epic scale.  An email was sent to the entire District in error.  It was quite the morning.  After the same varied responses that happened this week happened with almost 3,000 staff members, our Superintendent jumped in.  He was gracious, he was funny and creative, and he put an end to it.  Exactly what needed to happen.  When leaders find ways like this to connect, it is powerful.  Life is serious.  Once in awhile, we should lighten up.

Community

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It was a heartbreaking loss after a great game!  The Patriots shot three pointers like they’ve done all season.  The Hawks hit free throw after free throw. It was a sight to see.  Overtime.  How state titles should be earned!  …if only it had ended in our favor.

But today is a new day.  Today Millard South and Lincoln Southwest are once again a part of the same community, a community of athletes, of high school students, of Nebraskans. What unites them is once again stronger than what divides them.  That is always the case!

Community was proudly on display last night.

Brothers and sisters and parents and grandparents holding signs and waving pictures of their players. Family.

Cheerleaders and band members and dance teams and amazing student sections cheering on their players. School.

Guards, forwards, coaches, trainers. Team.

On both sides!

There is power in community.  There is energy and enthusiasm in community.  You could feel it in the arena.  Many voices became one. What no single person could accomplish can often be done with ease when people come together.  “Many hands make light work.”

Communities working together can do amazing things!  Imagine if those families, those teams, those schools worked together.  Imagine what they could do.  Last week I saw communities working together to clean up after tornadoes in Illinois and Missouri.  This year we have already seen communities rally together after fires and floods and blizzards.

Imagine what we could do if our communities came together for a common purpose.  Could we ensure all students have access to a quality education?  Could we guarantee care for the elderly?  End hunger?  End homelessness?  Could we see to it that every single person feels a sense of belonging, of love?

Families, teams, schools know that there is power in community.  If only we could extend that to the community of humankind.

img_4128One community walked away last night happy with the result, the other wishing the outcome had been different. But both walked away with a sense a pride, proud of what they had accomplished together through the season, proud of what can be done when we unite.

What Adele Taught Us All at the Grammys

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Who gets a do-over at the Grammys?  Adele.  That’s who.  Last Sunday she stepped on to the biggest stage in music and asked for a redo.  She launched into her tribute to George Michael, but it was not going well.  So she stopped.   And in that moment, when she stopped in the middle of a song and asked to start over to get it just right, she showed us all a few things.

1. People respect you saying, “Nope, I can do better.”  Performing at the Grammys is iconic. For many, it is the pinnacle of a career.  Stopping in the middle of a song, unheard of.  But at the end the performance, people applauded, critics raved, and history was made.  Respect for Adele’s talent grew- not the  other way around.

2. It doesn’t have to start out perfectly to be perfect in the end.  So many times when we get off on the wrong foot, we throw in the towel and give up.  But a rough start does not have to mean a rough end.  Persistence is key.  Excellence doesn’t just happen.  The best have grit, a willingness to try and try again until it is just right.

3.  It’s not about getting it done, it’s about getting it right.

I know. In life you can’t always start over.  That’s not always how it works.  Plenty of athletes took to Twitter during the Grammy’s wishing they could have had a do-over.

But many times, that’s exactly how it could work.  If we were humble enough to say, “I messed that up.  Can I try again?”  More times than not, people will show us grace and say, “Of course.  Happens to us all!”

Be vulnerable.  When you need a do-over, admit it.  It does not mean you are not good; it means you are willing to try to be great.


Don’t Try to Win an Oscar 

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I’m a movie fan.  No, that’s an understatement.  I’m a movie fanatic.  Always have been.  When I was little, I would dress up in my aunt’s pink Military Ball gown and watch the Oscars. I would stand in front of the mirror and practice my Oscar speech.  It was epic!

I still watch the Oscars every year.  I try to see all of the movies and read all of the reviews.  I was struck this year by a review stating that one of the nominated actors “tried too hard.”  It was like “he was trying to win an Oscar.”

It can be tempting, the desire to focus less on the character and more on the possibility for accolades.  It can be tempting to choose roles and movies for their likelihood to lead to an Oscar.  But that will never result in the best performances.

Good work for the sake of good work is its own reward.

Finding work with purpose and doing it with passion is more fulfilling than any award will ever be.

It is the day-to-day effort, the conversations and interactions and relationships, that craft a career.

Focus on what matters.  Spend time on the right things.  And the kudos will take care of themselves.  And if they don’t, who cares?  Do good work for the sake of doing work.

School Zones 

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I drive past an elementary school every day on my way to work.  It sits on a very busy, four lane road.  For whatever reason, I hit the spot everyday this week when the school zone lights were flashing.  The traffic is supposed to slow down from its usual 45 miles per hour.  And what I noticed was that even in the rush hour craziness, people really were slowing down. There is a moment of realization when you see the five, six, seven years olds, this week bundled in coats and hats and mittens, hurrying down the sidewalk.  A realization that no meeting, no conference call, no presentation is worth the danger you pose if you are not safe.  There is nothing you need to do that is as important as their safety.  And people, for the most part, slowed down.

It’s not easy.  Life is fast-paced.  We go, go, go all the time.  But that go is not always good.  It does not always result in our best choices, our best work.

A friend reminded me this week of the importance of slowing down.  I was moving too fast, doing too much, making mistakes.  She said, “Slow down.”  And she was right.  It is important, especially in our craziest moments, to slow down.  Pause.  Take a deep breath.

I can multi-task with the best of them.  I move quickly.  I am fast on my feet.  But that is not always a good thing.  Time for reflection and time to really evaluate the situation is essential in order to make the best decisions.

What helps you slow down?

For me it’s always been movies and TV shows.  I lose myself in a great episode of The West Wing.  I refocus after two hours in a movie theatre.  Taking some time to play with the kittens, listen to music, or walk on the treadmill helps me slow down.

We are entering some of the busiest months of the school year.  We’re living in two school years, finishing the work of this year and planning for the work of the next.  It is exciting and energizing and exhausting.  It can be easy to move too fast, do too much, make mistakes.

Find what works to still your mind.  Pause and reflect and take some time to slow down.  Realize that work will always be busy.  There will always be too much going on in your life. But none of that is more important than your peace of mind.

Be the Light

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In the midst of a difficult day this week, I was reminded that simple acts of grace can be the difference between darkness and light.  Our family buried a loved one this week, a remarkable mother and grandmother and great grandmother who baked cakes (our wedding cake for example) and told stories (the newborn triplets staying warm on the oven door for example) and wrote letters in a Minnesota/German accent that made us all smile.  She lived a long, full life, but it was a sad day.  In the midst of it all, I had some urgent things come up at work, things that could not wait.  I was emotional. I was out of town.  I wanted to be with my family.  And I needed help.

And the help came.  The help came in the form of colleagues who moved heaven and earth in my absence to get some things done.  The help came in the form of texts from friends who offered comfort and reassurance.  The help came in the form of time (short as it was) with an amazing family full of love and laughter.  People were kind and compassionate and helpful.

Grace, freely given.  Care, offered openly.  Help, willingly extended.  In the midst of a dark day, light.

I struggled a bit with what to write this week.  What do I have to offer to the current discourse?  I offer this.  When I needed it, many people were there for me.  Be there for others.  

Be kind.

Be compassionate.

Be helpful.

Act.

It is both that simple and that complex.

In trying times, it is easy to paint things and people with a broad brush, to make black and white that which is clearly gray.  It is easy to get caught up in the moment, to join the pack, to jump on the bandwagon, and to lose the bigger picture.

Who we are and what we do matters!  How we treat each other matters!  Our actions matter!

In the coming days, weeks, months and years, remember these things.  Speak out for what you believe.  Act in the best interest of all people.  And for goodness sake, treat each other with kindness and grace.

Be the light.

Take Your Shot

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We are in the middle of the high school basketball season.  Last night I watched an outstanding and previously undefeated team fall.  No doubt the coaches and players will analyze the game period by period.  Technique will be studied.  Plays will be debated.  And the halftime correction will be praised.  So many things factor into the outcome of a basketball game, and no doubt each one of them will be evaluated.

But there is one thing that has intrigued me week after week in game after game.  All of the players miss free throws.

Are you kidding me?  There is nothing more fundamental to the game of basketball than a free throw.  If you allow a five year old onto a basketball court, they will almost without fail take the ball to the line and take a shot.  Every day in cafeterias all around the country, middle schoolers rush through their lunch to have just a few extra minutes at the free throw line in the gym before going back to class.  Every elementary team, every high school team, every select team expects players to drill on free throws.  College players and NBA players all know that at any given time they could be standing on the free throw line, the game at stake.  Yet even in the NBA, most players only make 70-80% of their attempts.

So how is it that all of the players miss free throws?  Not just some of them, all of them.

Well, it’s not as easy as it looks.  A little like life.

Free throws and life require practice.  It is not easy for anyone.

Free throws and life require a routine.  There is comfort and  predictability in routine.  Variety is the spice of life, but muscle memory gets most things done.

Free throws and life require an uncluttered mind.  Too much anxiety, too much worry, too much overthinking takes away from our best work.  Meditation, quiet walks, and time to just disconnect allow us to be our best selves.

Free throws and life require balance.  I’m on record as saying there is no such things as a perfect “balance” between work and life. But a balanced person is on solid footing and has time for the things that matter to them.

Free throws and life require keeping your eye on the target.

Free throws and life require follow-through.

Free throws and life require style, and “granny style” is a style.

Free throws and life require getting back to zero.  Absolutely everyone misses shots.  All of us!  Take your shot.  Make it or miss it, move forward.  The next shot is waiting.

And most importantly, free throws are unopposed.  This is perhaps the most interesting thing of them all. It is about you and the ball and the basket.  You are the one who makes it.  You are the one who makes you miss.  Most of the really important things in life are between you and you.  Know yourself.  Know your goals.  Know the work needed to get it done.

Then take your shot.

You will make shots.  You will miss shots.  Such is life!  Even Stephen Curry only makes 90% of his free throws.