Author: heathercphipps

Wife, Mother, Lifelong Educator

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

img_4132

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

img_4024

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 

img_3933

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 

img_3890

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

img_3862

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

img_3818

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.

Disconnect

img_3758

I was an English teacher.  I enjoy few things more than a spirited debate over language.  So I know we could go round and round about the difference between disorganized and unorganized, disinterested and uninterested.  I had just such a discussion this week with a friend who disconnected.  It was winter break, a time designed for celebration, relaxation, and rejuvenation.  He had decided to carve out some time away from other people and away from technology.  It was a smart decision.  Disconnect!  But do not be unconnected!

While seemingly having the same definition, there is a difference between disconnecting, intentionally or unintentionally separating, and being unconnected.

Choosing to disconnect is an action taken to temporarily step away from the craziness of life.  It allows you to think.  It allows you to get out of the minutia and focus on the big picture.  It is when people dream and imagine and invent.  Likely some of your greatest thoughts happen when you are disconnected.  If you do not take time away, you are likely not doing your best work or being the best version of yourself.  Disconnect!

See a movie on a random afternoon.  Have breakfast with a friend and leave your phone in the car.  Take a walk.  Allow yourself time and space.

But do not be unconnected.  It is our connection to other people, to nature, to the world that makes us human.  It is connection that makes us wiser, and stronger, and better.  Even while we are disconnecting, we can be connected.

My father may take issue with this blog.  He is the first person who taught me the importance of being precise with language.  He taught me the difference between affect and effect, obtuse and abstruse.  He will most definitely reach out if he disagrees with my definitions.  And that connection has made me better.

2016 Was a Great Year

img_3657

2016 was a great year!

There, I said it.  Likely one of the least popular statements I’ve made in a blog, but there it is.  I refuse to give 2016 over to the Dark Side.

Don’t get me wrong,  I understand the desire for a fresh start.  It has not been an easy 12 months.  Loss, grief, change, and what can only be described as a tumultuous year for our country has left many people sad, angry, adrift.  I have found myself there at times as well this year.   It has been a challenging year.

I felt the loss of Carrie Fisher and then Debbie Reynolds in the last week.  I’m a child of the 80s, the Star Wars Generation.  Last week was rough.  It was like a final blow to our culture when we were already down.  And yes, I laughed as hard as anyone when I saw the Facebook post about the GoFund Me account to keep Betty White safe from 2016.  Believe me, I understand the inclination to wish the year away.

But despite personal loss, despite disappointments, despite disillusionment, 2016 was a great year!

I started a new job.  It was the fulfillment of a lifetime of work.  I get to spend my days surrounded by amazing people doing important work for young people.

My daughter got married.  So many family and friends, those there and those there in spirit, made the entire experience a joy!  It was a day filled with overwhelming love.

But even if none of that had happened, 2016 would have been a great year!

Life is short.  Each and every day is a gift.  In 2016 the sun rose.  In 2016 the moon shone.  In 2016 babies were born and friendships were forged and memories were made.

Our children laughed and loved and learned new things.  Our flowers bloomed, and our gardens grew.  Talented people made music and art and dance and theatre.  Academics debated the real issues in our society and reached for greater understanding.  And strangers held doors open and offered helping hands and said “Good Morning” and “Have a nice day.”

It is in the small things that we make a life.  It is in the routine of a morning kiss before leaving for work or a text from your daughter when she’s thinking of you during the day that we find real joy.  2016 was full of these moments.

I am in no way trying to say that we do not have real, significant, difficult things to address in our world.  We do.  I am in no way saying that we should not strive for greater connections to each other, greater tolerance for each other, and greater acceptance of each other.  We should.

But I am saying that this life and this world is a gift!  This day, this week, this year is a gift!  Regardless of what 2017 brings, I will strive to remember that.

Inspiration 

img_3427

It’s Aaron Sorkin for me.  He does it every time.  West Wing is the best.  Hands down.  No comparison.  Every episode, almost every scene of every episode, moves me and makes me want to do more, be more.  Newsroom does not disappoint.  A Few Good Men.  Steve Jobs.  The list goes on and on.  His stories, his words inspire me and make me want to be a better person.

I want to believe that I can be one of the people he writes about.  I want to believe that I can do things that matter and that make the world a better place.

What inspires you?

Books, music, film, television.  These are powerful tools for changing the stories we tell.  Authors and actors, photographers and artists are the storytellers of our time.

I am a movie fanatic.  I see almost everything.  I love to sit in a dark theatre and lose myself in a story.  I love to reflect on what is and imagine what could be.  Movies about the underdog rising up and winning against all odds help us believe that we too can win.  Stories about adventure, creativity, and love can warm our hearts and ignite a spark in us.

Television shows about teachers, politicians, reporters, doctors inspire us to dream and to do.  There is nothing as powerful as the real stories of athletes, scholars, leaders who challenged the status quo and pushed for making things better.

It’s cold outside. It’s a great time to snuggle up with a good book, to light a fire and turn on a movie, to spend an afternoon in a museum.

Read!

Listen to old music and new music!

Tour museums!

Watch movies no one else has heard of!

See plays, watch documentaries, attend the ballet.  Find the things that educate you, challenge you, inspire you.

 

Houston, We Have a Problem

img_3991

Don’t worry, this is not a post about problems.  We have enough discourse right now about problems.  This is a post about solutions.  As I was re-watching the movie Apollo 13 this week, I was reminded of one of the most important rules in life.

We are never in this alone.

It would be so easy to see the heroes of the Apollo 13 mission as Commander Jim Lovell, Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert, and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise.  And of course they are heroes.  They accomplished what few people before or after have ever done.  They braved a new world at great personal risk.  And when things went wrong, as they so often do in life, they stayed level-headed, they relied on their training, and they used their knowledge, skills, and experience to make it home safely.  But they did not do it alone.

Gene Kranz was the Lead Flight Director.  His job was to coordinate the efforts from the ground.  Countless men and women worked around the clock to find the right answers, the best solutions, to problems no one had ever encountered before. Their efforts were no less heroic than those of the men in the capsule.

While there was no doubt some poetic license taken in the retelling of the story, Ken Mattingly, who was replaced on the mission for medical reasons just days before the launch, also worked the problem from the ground.  His efforts were no less heroic than those of the men in the capsule.

And there was Marilyn Lovell, Jim’s wife, and the family, friends, and co-workers of the crew.  So many people who were either working to find solutions or working to support those most directly involved in the crisis.

We are never in this alone.  This is true in space travel, in education, in life.

Our teachers work day after day to find the best solutions for the children in our schools. They are heroic.  They design engaging lessons.  They work hard to be sure there is a solid objective for the lesson and appropriate instructional strategies.  They use data and research-based ideas.  But more, they get to know their students on a personal level.  They connect with children and parents to build a safe space for learning.  And when things go wrong, when a lesson doesn’t work or technology is glitchy (yes, thats the technical term) or when a student is hungry, they find solutions.  They stay level-headed, they rely on their training, and they use their knowledge, skills, and experience to solve the problem.  And they do not do it alone.

There are paraprofessionals alongside them in class.  There are secretaries and food service workers and custodians supporting the building.  There are administrators working systematically to design the best schools and to connect with students and parents daily.

And then there’s us.  Those of us who no longer work in a building with students.  I have to admit, it is a weird feeling.  We all got into this to help students.  We all got into this to make a difference for a child.  As I watched Apollo 13, I found myself affirmed in the idea that the work of those of us on the ground crew, those of us not in the classroom every day, is still serving children.  Our work is still focused on meeting the needs of the students, the parents, the teachers, the schools.

And we are not alone in this either. Our school boards, our legislators, our judicial system are all hard at work to meet the needs of the people.  Everyone got into this to make a difference.

I guess I am just saying that you matter!  Whether you are the one in the capsule, the one on the stage, the one in the spotlight, or the one whose name is unknown doing quiet, important work behind the scenes.  None of us are in this alone.  And we all matter!

Works Every Time

img_3269

I had a bad day this week.  Nothing catastrophic, just busy and tired and not feeling great.    I have a good friend who listens on those days, and as I always do, I felt better after I talked to him.  The next day he sent me a text and asked if it was a better day.  I replied, “Absolutely!  I changed my attitude.”  He said,”It works every time.”

He’s right.

The holidays are a busy time, and with them come a set of high expectations for the perfect Christmas card, the most beautiful decorations, and the exactly right gifts for everyone.  “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”  That’s a high bar.  It can cause stress at the time when we need it the least.   A positive attitude is important right now.

So how do we do that?   I think we do it by being intentional about the stories we tell each other and the stories we tell ourselves.

I love listening to stories from Steve Hartman on the CBS Evening News and Sunday Morning.  From early in his career he has focused on telling the stories of everyday people.  He went so far as to build an entire series on the premise that if you threw a dart at a map, you could find someone with a moving and inspirational story worth telling.

He’s right.

In a world full of news about violence and crisis and divisiveness, his stories remind that us that this world is filled with kindness and resilience and love. Everyday people doing everyday things building a life of meaning and filling the world with good.  We need to spend our energy telling those stories.

At the end of the day, share the most positive events of the day with your family.  Don’t relive the negative events.

Spend time each day identifying the people who were kind to you and who went out of their way to say something nice.  I walked out of the grocery store on my bad day this week and the volunteer ringing bells in the cold said, “You look lovely today honey.”  A total stranger, freezing in the cold to raise money to help others, took the time to say something kind to me.  Why wasn’t that what I called my friend to share?  It should have been.

And be the voice who is saying the kind things to other people.  It takes very little to turn someone’s day around.  A smile.  A warm greeting.  An affirming comment can make all the difference in the middle of a bad day.  Be the positive story that others tell at the end of their day.

img_3335

I can’t promise that December will not be stressful.  I can’t promise that nothing will go wrong or that no one will be cruel to you.  But I do know that in the midst of those things there will be moments of great joy, people of good will, and kindness and love all around.

Tell those stories!

Comfortably Uncomfortable 

img_2707

I felt safe in my classroom.  I knew I was a good teacher.  I had spent years and years improving my skill.  Then one day we got a new principal who challenged my thinking and my understanding of what it meant to be an instructional leader.  He encouraged me to go back to school, to learn new skills, and to try a new job.  I was nervous, but it was an exciting nervous.

That uncomfortable feeling you get when you try something new is exhilarating.

I was asked recently to describe my most important mentors, those people who really made an impact on who I am and what I do.  It was a fun conversation.  I love reflecting on the many people who have taken the time to nurture me, to teach me, to challenge me. The people who have made the most significant impact on my life did not allow me to stay safe.  They pushed me and challenged me to grow.

The best coaches listen and seek to understand you.  They take the time to learn who you are and what you believe.  They know your strengths and your abilities.

The best coaches support and encourage you.  They are there for you when you need them the most.  They give of their time and their attention, and they make sure you know that you matter.

The best coaches help you organize your thoughts and set priorities.  They encourage you to develop action plans to achieve more than you ever knew was possible.

And they challenge you.  The best coaches do not simply accept what you say or what you believe.  They are willing to engage in debate and discussion and push your thinking.

The best coaches, the best mentors, help you feel comfortably uncomfortable.  It is in that space where you are forced to think about things in a new way, to try something you have never done before, where you grow the most.  Loving, caring support is valuable,  but the best mentors, the ones who make the most lasting impact, move you beyond who you are to who you were meant to be.

This week seek to identify those people in your life who have been willing to challenge you.  Thank them!

And watch for the people in your life for whom you could be doing the same!

 

 

 

 

Count Your Blessings

img_3045

“When I’m worried and cannot sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep.”  Irving Berlin-  White Christmas

In a week when we focus on gratitude, are you feeling grateful for what you do?

I work in education.   It is hard, important work.  This week I’ve been reflecting on why I do what I do.  I’ve been remembering the teachers who did for me what I hope I have done and now help others do for students.  Influence is such a powerful thing, and education is a profession with enormous influence.

So many teachers had an influence on me and taught me lessons that helped shape who I am.

In elementary school, Mrs. Landon gave me independence and individual opportunities to learn.  She “differentiated instruction” for me and for Amy and for Charlie and for Randy before anyone knew the term.  The four of us read and wrote and acted and researched many times on our own.  She allowed us the freedom to work ahead and to learn at our own pace. She empowered us with projects and leadership roles.  She taught us something important…

You are special.

In junior high (middle school wasn’t a thing yet), Mr. Reynolds did the same for all of his students.  He was an amazing teacher.  He acted out Civil War battles and made learning fun. And he was about the “whole child” before anyone knew the term.  He could relate to every student.  He allowed us all to tell our stories, and he supported us all in whatever we needed.  Over Spring Break, he took us to Washington D.C.  We watched as he stayed on the bus when we got to the Vietnam Memorial.  His experiences in the war were still too fresh.  He helped us understand that everyone has a story, and he taught us something important…

Everyone is special.

In high school, Mr. DiMauro challenged us.  He set the bar so high academically that many times I thought I’d never reach it.  But he found ways in class to “scaffold the learning” before anyone knew the expression.  He taught us Beowulf in Old English and somehow we were able to understand it.  Day after day he set impossible learning goals, and day after day he helped us meet them.  He taught us something important…

You can do hard things.

In college Mr. Blanke gave me a job as the Box Office Manager, but he did so much more than that.  He empowered me to run things and make decisions.  He gave me paperwork and office work, but he also gave me real work.  He let me design processes and change the way things were done.  He confided in me.  He processed with me.  He relied on me.  And he taught me something important…

You are needed.

Life is not always easy.  I have had real challenges and obstacles in my job, in my health, and in my life.  And every time I was able to meet the challenge and overcome.  I am grateful for the people who helped teach me the lessons that made me who I am today.

Working in education (or in business or in marketing or in food service or in anything) is not always easy. There can be hard days and weeks when you question why you do what you do.

When you have those days or weeks, remember, you chose this job.  You chose it for a reason…a positive, important, life-changing reason.  Reflect on the people who had influence on you, and reflect on the students, staff, and parents you can influence.  Be grateful for the opportunity.

You are special. You are needed.

Now go do what’s hard!

 

Fandom

img_2505

In a week that has seen a spectacular Cubs World Series win and a spectacular Husker defeat, I am reflecting on what it means to be a fan.

I love football. High school football is my favorite.  I am a huge fan.  I go to every game I can.  Win or lose, I love those teams.  Some years our teams struggle.  Some years our teams are in the play-offs.  Some years we have a team win state.  But win or lose, I’ll be back next year.

I also love college football.  I’m a Husker.  I was a Husker last week; I am a Husker today; I will be a Husker next week.  I was proud of them two weeks ago when we were 7-0.  I was proud of them last week when they lost in overtime.  And I am proud of them today.  Will we pick apart every decision made last night, every decision made this season?  No doubt.  And we should.  Growth only happens when we are willing to lay bare the reality of what happened and why.  Only when we confront the truth can we get better.  I am not saying don’t ask why this happened.  I am not saying don’t address the reality.

But I am still a fan.

Each week the Husker’s opposing team has gone out of its way to honor the memory of Sam Foltz, the Nebraska punter who died in a car accident earlier this year.  Ohio State was no exception.  Their tributes were moving, and our media spent the day promoting them.  Our fans liked and shared and retweeted and spoke of the class and style of the Ohio State team.  Hours later we were liking and sharing and retweeting some not so nice things as the score climbed.

Tommy Armstrong came off the field on a stretcher.  Both sides of the field held their breath, dropped to their knees to pray, and cheered as he gave his thumbs-up as he was taken to the ambulance.  There was a pause and reminder to keep things in perspective.  But minutes later we were questioning plays, criticizing players, and wondering if the coach should be fired.

I get it.  My high schools teams lost Friday night.  My Huskers lost last night.  I am a football girl.  I am bummed.

But my Dad’s Cubbies won the World Series this week for the first time since 1908, and Chicago hosted the 7th largest celebration in human history.  Such is fandom.

Watch tape.  Reflect.  Make a plan to get better.  That’s my hope for the Huskers this week.  We’re here for you.  Win or lose.  We are fans.

The nation speaks of Husker fans with reverence.  We are warm and welcoming and classy.  Today is the measure of our fandom.  

Rusty

img_2558I spent a few days in Huntington, West Virginia this month.  It sits on the southern bank of the Ohio River, minutes from both Kentucky and Ohio.  Although we flew in on the edge of a hurricane, it was the perfect time of year to visit this beautiful part of our country.  The city is nestled inside lush hills, and the leaves had all turned gold and burgundy and burnt orange.  Picturesque is the only accurate description.

The highlight of the trip was a complete surprise.  It was one of those magical moments that seem almost too good to be true.  We met a man who left an impression.  His name is Rusty.

We had a little time to walk over to Marshall University.  You can’t visit Huntington and not visit the Marshall University stadium.  The Thundering Herd suffered a tragedy in 1970 memorialized in the movie We Are Marshall.  The school has done a remarkable job of honoring the past and celebrating the future.  The stadium was closed, but Rusty was cleaning the parking lot.  We asked him if he would take our picture.  Almost immediately he started sharing stories about Marshall.  Rusty has worked there for 50 years.  He grew up in a house that sat where the Marshall practice field sits now.  Rusty has some stories.

img_2569He took us up to the private boxes for a tour.  He showed us the press box.  He shared stories of Huntington community members and the history of the school.  It was riveting.

img_2589But Rusty shared more than the story of Marshall.  He shared his thoughts on life.  He shared his wisdom.  He told us that if he were rich (and after spending time with him- trust me that he is rich in all the ways that matter), he would give $25,000 to a young couple.  “Can you imagine how much it would have helped to have someone get you started when you were young?”   He also shared that he would sit down with the couple and their parents to make sure they had a good life plan.  When Rusty imagines being rich, his thoughts do not go to what he could do for himself, but what he could do for others.  And he recognizes that what we all really need is just a little help.  “Imagine if everyone could just help one other person.”

Imagine.

Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one.”

I watched one of my favorite episodes of The West Wing this weekend.  Two West Wing staffers met a man in a bar who was taking his daughter on a college visit.  He was talking about how hard it can be to provide for your family.  “It should be hard.  I like that it’s hard.  Putting your daughter through college, that’s a man’s job, a man’s accomplishment.  But it should be a little easier, just a little easier.  And that difference…is everything.”

As I watched it, I thought about Rusty. And I realized that we already have the capacity to make it a little easier. Imagine if everyone would help make one person’s life better, one situation a little easier.  One person at a time we would make the difference for everyone.

REACH

imageI am a creature of habit.  Routines, predictability, and rituals all make me feel safe.  There is comfort in knowing what will happen next.  Every Sunday I clean the house, do the laundry, pay the bills, and water the plants.  It happens like clockwork.  If the routine is disturbed, I don’t feel like the week will go as well.  Yep.  There is comfort in our habits.

But there is not growth.

img_3190Our bodies know this instinctively.  The same 30 minute walk on the treadmill feels good.  But it does not take long before our bodies adapt to the routine and no longer reap the same physical benefits.  We have to add an incline or vary our speeds.  We have to add weights or swimming.  Mixing it up produces results.  It is harder, but it is better for us.

The same is true in other areas of life.  It is too easy to get comfortable in our routines.  It is too easy to stay safe in the same job, the same hobbies, the same predictable habits.  It is only when we reach beyond that we grow.

What were your dreams as a child?

What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”  (Robert H. Schuller)

This week challenge yourself to try one new thing.

Trying something new is hard.  There is risk in the adventure.  But it is only when we are willing to risk that we can truly grow.

Pumpkin Patches and Bobbing for Apples

img_2537

October has returned, and I am thrilled.

I grew up on one of those streets you see in the movies, blacktop not pavement, lined with tall oaks older than the people who lived in the houses.  Autumn was magical.  As a child, I would rake leaves into complex mazes in the backyard with my friends.  At the end of the maze would always be a pile of leaves large enough to jump into and be totally hidden from view.  Hot chocolate with marshmallows was the reward when we’d finally get the leaves into the bags and hauled up to the street.  Half a dozen of us would trick-or-treat together for hours in the dark venturing further and further from our block each year.  A particularly good memory is when my parents would take me over to my grandma and grandpa’s neighborhood to trick-or-treat.  The house up the hill had this huge bell in the front yard, and all of the kids got to ring it for Halloween…better than any piece of candy would ever have been.

This has always been my favorite time of the year.

I hope I was able to make some of those same kind of memories for my children.  Halloween is big in my family.  What’s not to love?  Dressing up in costumes, seeing your neighbors, getting candy just for asking.  Many, many years as my own children were growing up, we’d host Halloween parties.  We would bob for apples and mummy-wrap the kids in toilet paper.  I’d make ghosts in the graveyard cakes and ooey-gooey things out of jello.  One year (and only one year) I even sewed their costumes from scratch.

Some years, when the weather is just right, October is absolute perfection in the Midwest.  The temperatures cool slowly which in turn allows the leaves to turn slowly, and we get the chance to truly appreciate the beauty of a Nebraska fall.

This has been one of those years.  And I have been particularly nostalgic.

The seasons have always been such a powerful literary device.  The analogy of new life each spring has always rung true for me.  But this year I am taken by the fleeting nature of fall.  Many times the leaves go from lush and green, to rustic colors of gold, to falling to the ground much too quickly.  Some years, when I am busy and distracted, I almost miss it.  This will not be one of those years.  I will work on appreciating the moment.

My children have grown up too quickly.

My career in education is passing too quickly.

Time itself goes too quickly.

This is not melancholy.  I am overjoyed at the season.  I am blessed beyond measure, and I am working hard to take it all in.  I’ve written before about the crazy nature of October for those of us in education.  This year is no exception.  I know it will slow down, but I am in the middle of busy.

I guess I am just reminding myself that fall is short.  My favorite month will pass too quickly.

Slow down.

Watch the sunset.

Take a picture in a pumpkin patch.

Winter is coming.

Change the Behavior

image

I suppose it makes sense that if I’m going to write every week that I will circle back from time to time to some familiar themes in my own journey.  Unfortunately overthinking things is one of those themes.  I reread several of my old blogs this week as I was awake in the middle of the night thinking about things that were small in the light of day.

https://heathercphipps.com/2015/10/25/a-better-nights-sleep-guaranteed/

https://heathercphipps.com/2016/01/16/are-you-overthinking-this

There has been something in my DNA from almost the beginning that makes for sleepless nights sometimes.  I wake up, turn over, and my mind starts to wander.  Sometimes those are the moments of my greatest ideas.  For some people, ah-ha moments come in the shower.  For me, those moments are more likely to come at 3:00 AM.

It’s also true though that 3:00 AM may find me ruminating over something that happened the day before, an unanswered email sitting in my in-box, or a difficult conversation I have to have the next day.  I’ve been doing this for long enough to know that when I get up in the morning, the issue will seem small. But in the middle of the night, it can seem almost insurmountable.

I was complaining about my lack of sleep this week when a friend gave me some simple advice.  He said, “change the behavior.”  Wise words.

Eckhart Tolle says, “When you complain, you make yourself a victim.  Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it.  All else is madness.”  Truth right there.

So I set about to design something tangible I could do to change this habit I have of overthinking things in the middle of the night.  In my experience, not once has this worrying helped me find a viable solution. So I need to change the behavior.  Complaining about it is clearly not working.

Later in the week, instead of laying there fixated on some current issue, I got up and started to think about all of the things I’d worried about over the summer.  None of them, not one, is still something lingering out there as a concern.  With time, almost all issues seem better.

Many of us have truly difficult moments in our lives, those with real consequences, significant loss, or extreme pain.  There is suffering that cannot be easily healed.  But most of the things that consume our worry are not those things.  So I am trying something new.

Every day I try to reflect on three things for which I am grateful.  I’ve done that for many years.  Jon Gordon’s idea of a gratitude walk is life-changing.  You cannot be stressed and thankful at the same time.  But this year, once a week, I am going to write down what I am most worried about.  For me, as a writer, sometimes just putting pen to paper eases the concern.

When I do that, I will look back on the things I wrote about the week before.  If any are still an issue, I make those a priority for my life or my work.  Likely, most will no longer be a concern, and I can let them go.

And the next time I am awake in the middle of the night, I can look at that list and be reminded that whatever is turning over in my mind will likely not be a concern in a matter of days.  And it certainly does not deserve to steal my serenity.