Optimism

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!

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!

Works Every Time

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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.

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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!

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.

Awe

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It’s almost here.  The first day of school.  In a few days our kindergarteners will step into the building for their very first day of school ever.  And our seniors will step into the building for their very last first day of school ever.  There is something truly magical about this time of year.  It is a gift!

In fact, everything about this profession is a gift.  I am in awe of it.

We kicked off the new year with a welcome back celebration last week.  Our superintendent (@jsutfin) and Eric Sheninger (@E_Sheninger) spent the day inspiring us to celebrate our successes and to be better than we are now.   We are entrusted with an awesome responsibility.  And we were encouraged to focus on the awe.

I had no trouble doing that last week.

Everywhere I look in our schools, I find reasons to be in awe.

I am in awe of the teachers who build knowledge, instill curiosity, and create thinkers.  They meet each student where they are, find ways to engage them, and motivate them to be better than they ever knew they could be.  They meet needs as simple as tying shoes and as complex as making a child feel accepted.  I am in awe of the teachers who spend their evenings at soccer games for students who invited them, their weekends at Dance Team car washes, and their early mornings on the field at Marching Band practice.  They make home visits, call moms and dads to share successes, and pick just the right moment to tell a child how proud they are.

I am in awe of the administrators who build relationships with students, even when it is not easy, advocate for the resources their teachers need, and manage to lead in the midst of extreme challenges.  They buy toasters and pop-tarts for students who are hungry, show up at graduation years after struggling with a child through middle school, and sit with families in the hospital during some of their darkest days.  I am in awe of their deep dedication and willingness to do whatever it takes.

I am in awe of the willingness of educators to put their hearts out there over and over, every time, for every child.  This is not always easy.  Our students sometimes make poor choices, in some cases ones that have devastating consequences.  But in every case there is someone, a teacher, a principal, who cares about them and supports them through all of it.

I have watched teachers unpack boxes, refill school supplies, hang bulletin boards, fire up iPads, and launch new apps. I have watched administrators greet families at Orientation and facilitate engaging and meaningful professional development. I have watched these staff members work and learn and grow in the last week.  And I was in awe of them.

And I am certain too that they heard the message to inspire awe in their students.

How do we create a sense of wonder in our students?

How do we expose our students to things that will amaze them?

How do we challenge our students to take risks, to step outside of their comfort zones, and to push themselves beyond their fears in order to become the best versions of themselves?

Awe is complex.  It is an abundance of amazement that can almost overwhelm you. Embrace every moment of the first days of school.  Be in awe!  It’s so worth it.

Little Shop of Letdown

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Major milestones in our lives offer an opportunity to reflect.  Such has been my spring. And as I have been reminiscing, I have been reminded of the many ups and downs that make up a life.  For me, for my friends, and for my family, life has not always turned out the way we thought it would.  Woven through the fabric of the many celebrations and achievements in our lives are a fair share of failures.

As we celebrated an impressive freshman year and an outstanding grade in college calculus, I was reminded of the struggles it took to get through my daughter’s first AP course.  School was not as easy for her as it was for her older sister.

As we celebrated awards and honors and some amazing achievements as she graduated college, I was reminded of the devastation when my oldest was cut from the musical “Little Shop of Horrors” her junior year without ever even having the chance to read for the part she wanted.  She cried for days.

As I transition to a new job, I am reminded of the year I was so ready for my first administrative job.  I’d earned the degree.  I’d done all of the preparing, and I was sure the next administrative job was mine.  When circumstances caused me to miss the interview and someone else got the job I believed should have been mine, I was disappointed.  I was more than disappointed.

But as strange as this is going to sound, I am so grateful for the failures.  I may appreciate them even more than the successes.

With my daughter’s struggles in school came a strong work ethic, an ability to persevere, and an understanding of how to “do school”.  With my daughter’s loss of a part in the musical came an even greater ability to be humble, compassionate, and sympathetic. Having to wait for my first chance to lead as an administrator helped me learn patience and taught me that with time things work out.

My children are the amazing human beings they are today not because they have always been successful but because they learned how to respond with positivity, grace, and grit when things went wrong.

Failure is not an option.  Failure is a guarantee.  At some point we all fail.  Reaching for our dreams, imagining a different future, trying something new all mean risking failure.  And when we fail, we learn.

Take risks.  Try something that scares you.  Set what one of my friends calls stretch goals. Imagine that you can go well beyond what you thought was your limit physically, intellectually, or emotionally.  And decide now that when you fail, and you will, that you will maintain a positive attitude, persevere, and  learn from it.

Every experience, every success, every failure make us who are.  Appreciate them all!

A Letter to my Daughter…Enjoy!

Kelsey

Today marks the official beginning of the wedding festivities.  This afternoon you will celebrate with people who have known you, in some cases, for your entire life.  There will be food and gifts and games and likely some stories about when you were a little girl and how quickly you grew up.  Your sister has worked so hard to make everything perfect. It will be great fun! Enjoy it.

Then in less than two weeks you will carry that banner in as you and the other SLP majors take your seats and celebrate commencement.  There will be speeches and tassels and pictures and happy tears.  There will likely again be stories about when you were a little girl and how quickly you grew up.  Earning your degree is a major accomplishment.  Enjoy it!

Kelsey and HunterI don’t know if I did this well enough a year ago when your sister was graduating high school and having her senior dance recital and turning 18.  I don’t know if I reminded her often enough to slow down and enjoy the experience.  These times feel so busy, and I don’t know if I told her to take it all in and appreciate each and every moment.  I want to be sure we all do that right now.

These milestones are significant.  They should be cherished.

But I also want to say this before we get too far down this path.  As hard as we have all tried to be sure that each of these events are perfect, they will not be. They will be far from perfect.  Things will get missed.  The way you envisioned this or that will not be exactly the way it actually happens.  It will rain.  Your hair may come undone.  Your make-up may smear.  You may, in fact, fall flat on your face at some point in all of this.  Such is life.

The unexpected will happen.

But it will be those moments you remember most.  It will be the surprises that stick with you decades later.  So decide right now to enjoy those moments too.  Laugh at yourself.  Roll with things.  Enjoy them for what they are, not for what you thought they’d be.

And finally, cry when you need to.  There are people who should be with us for all of this who are not. There may be more loss in these next few weeks. Such is life.  Let every emotion in and remember that you wouldn’t be sad if you hadn’t loved deeply.

I guess I 787A2024just wanted to say that I am excited for you (and for me) as we start this journey. It will be fun and funny.  It will be emotional and draining at times. And at the end of it, the two of you will be married. Nothing else that happens along the way matters more than that! Enjoy it!

 

We Don’t Know the Whole Story 


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I was driving to a meeting yesterday when I noticed the car.  First it came up from behind me and cut into the lane next to me, pulled around me, then did the same to the car in front of me.  The man was not driving safely.   In fact, when we got to the next intersection, he pulled dangerously close to a turning semi.  I thought, ‘that is an accident waiting to happen’.  When I pulled up behind him a few blocks later, I smiled because he’d done all of that and we were still in the same place.  So there!

I went to my meeting, and several meetings after that, and was wrapping up my day when I got a text from my husband.  We were supposed to be heading out of town, but our dog was acting strange.  She was lethargic and having a hard time breathing.  Our daughter had sent him a text and a video, and he was going to take her in to the vet.  We didn’t want to leave town not knowing what was going on.  I wanted to get home to see her before she went to the vet.  Driving home I realized that I was going faster than I should be, and I was pulling around the slow cars.   There it was.  The reminder I needed earlier in the day when I was passing judgement on another driver.

We don’t know the whole story.

For all I know that person was headed to the hospital because his wife was having a baby.  Or he was headed to his daughter’s graduation.  Or he was headed to the nursing home because his mother was passing away.  There are any number of explanations for why a person is acting the way they are in any given situation.  I’m not defending ever driving unsafely.  I am just saying that there may be things going on that we are not aware of.

Too often I pass judgement on the angry man in line in front of me at the grocery store.  Too often I assume the worst of the woman yelling at her child at the mall.  In most cases, I have no idea what that person is going through.  I have no idea if they are sick or lonely or grieving.  I have no idea if they just lost their job or their house or their child.

We don’t know the whole story.

Of course it is not appropriate to act rude or unsafe.  I am not excusing that behavior.  But I am challenging us to consider our own behavior.  We choose every day in every moment whether to assume the best of others or to assume the worst.

I was not the safest driver coming home from work yesterday.  I was not the most patient person in the drive-through when I was picking up dinner for husband because he had been at the vet for three hours.  My fear likely looked like frustration or anger or impatience.

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My dog Maggie had surgery last night.  She came through it very well.  She is home today and resting peacefully.  It screwed up my weekend plans.  It caused me to miss an important event in my family’s life.  And it scared the heck out of me.  But she’s okay.  I hope the people who interacted with me while it was all happening had more grace for me than I had for that driver earlier in the day.

Give grace.  Be kind.  Assume the best of others.  And understand that you rarely know the whole story.

Imagine Something of Everyone

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I was overcome with pride this week as I watched elementary students working during Genius Hour in one of our schools.  Those boys and girls are passionate about saving endangered species and Mine Craft and teaching dogs tricks.  They lit up when they talked about what they were researching and what they cared most about right now.  And I watched their teachers empower each and every one of them.

Then I got online and found a video that some of our high school students made called Mean Tweets about cyber-bullying. It is remarkable.  They are taking tangible, powerful action to address a very real concern for young people.  They saw a problem, and they took steps to address it.  And I watched as their superintendent and their teachers and their administrators shared the video on social media, empowering them even further.

“Sometimes it’s the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one imagines.” Alan Turing

When I first heard this quote, I was sure it would end up in a blog.  I was sure it would be a retelling of the many people who have accomplished great things despite this or that.  I thought it would be about the people who overcame great challenges to rise in their fields or achieve great success.  But in the end, as I rolled the quote around and around in my head, it is not about that at all.  Because in the end, I do not agree with the quote.

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Deeper examination of the people who have achieved great things in spite of overwhelming obstacles will always reveal someone who believed in them.  There was a parent who told them that they were smart.  There was a friend who read their stories or looked at their drawings and appreciated them.  There was a teacher.  So many times there was a teacher.  Someone looked at them and saw what I like to call the sparkle, that inner glow that shines when they dance or run or sing or solve math problems.  Someone told them that they sparkle, and that someone ignited a flame…even if it was just once in passing long ago and the flame stayed hidden deep down inside.

I cannot, will not, live in a world where there are people that no one imagines anything of. I cannot, will not, allow anyone to go through life with no one believing in them.  I want to imagine something of EVERYONE.  I want us all to imagine something of everyone.

In my profession, this is not a nice to have trait, it is a have to have trait.

Every day children walk into our schools and spend their days with people who should imagine something of them.  Teachers are entrusted with the care and nurturing of minds and hearts and souls.  It is our job to see the sparkle, to know our students so well that we can help identify their passions and encourage them.  It is our job to do this for EVERY student in our classrooms, even the ones who are angry or quiet or difficult to like at times.  In fact, it is our job to find it most in those students.  We have the opportunity, the gift, to be the person who imagined something of the next great artist, the doctor who cures cancer, the President.  It is our job to imagine something of these future parents, neighbors, colleagues.

Reflect on the people who saw something in you.  Thank them.

Then look around for the people whose sparkle you should be seeing.  Reach out to them. Encourage them.  Nurture that sparkle.  Do not allow a single person to go through life with no one imaging something of them.

Imagine something of everyone.

 

50 Years from Now

256px-Bumblebee_Transformer_-_Flickr_-_andrewbasterfieldMy family laughs at me every time the movie Transformers is on TV.  Almost without fail, I jump into the story at the exact same moment…the point of inspiring motivation and life-changing wisdom. Do you see now why they laugh at me?  I may be the only person in history who has ever described Transformers as life-changing, but it is.

There is a scene early on when the first Transformer reveals himself as Bumblebee, an alien robot.  (And with that, the rest of you start laughing at me as well.  A movie about alien robots shares life-changing wisdom?)  But when Bumblebee invites the young heroes into his car, leading to unknown adventure and considerable risk, one of the main character hesitates.  The other one utters the words that I’ve been saying to myself ever since…

“50 years from now when you’re looking back on your life, don’t you want to say you had the guts to get into the car?”

Life is full of choices, chances to try something new.  These opportunities can also be filled with risk.  It is not easy to take a leap and jump into something unknown.  It is not easy to take a chance and know that you could fail, but nothing amazing was ever achieved without risk.

From our earliest years, we have to make choices about what adventures we will tackle and which ones we will let go.  Auditioning for the school play is a risk.  Trying out for the football team is a risk.  Taking an Advanced Placement course is a risk.  But those risks are necessary to create the best possible life.

Say yes!

I am a terrible bowler, but I always have a good time when I play.  I am not a runner, but I’ve finished three half-marathons. Stand directly under the frozen, powerful waterfall at Smith Falls on the Niobrara? Every time!

When people are asked about their greatest regret, they almost always list the things they didn’t do.  At the end of our lives, it is not what we tried and failed to do that haunts us, it is the times we failed to try.

Embracing this attitude is essential not just for the day-to-day things, but it is key to living the best possible version of your life.  Taking risks is necessary in order to find success.  Go back and get the degree.  Apply for the job that seems beyond your reach. Volunteer to be the one who fills in at a meeting or on a committee.

Every day there is a chance to say yes.  “Want to go to lunch?”  “I have an extra ticket to the game, want to come?” “We need someone to lead this project, are you interested?”  A good meal, a new relationship, a powerful experience might be the result.

Something we learn as we get older is that things will not always work out when we say yes.  There is a winner and a loser in all epic battles.  We only have one President.  We only have one state champion.  We only have one gold medalist. But without the risk of failing, we cannot succeed.

“50 years from now when you’re looking back on your life, don’t you want to say you had the guts to get into the car?”

 

Lead Where You Are

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I have a friend who retired after a long career as a middle school social studies teacher.  She was one of those people who taught us all what it means to engage students.  Her classroom looked different every day.  One day the desks were in a huge circle to facilitate a whole class discussion, and the next they were arranged like the legislature to reenact a debate about the Bill of Rights.  She used formative assessment before we knew what that term meant.  And she taught me as much as anyone about good instruction.

I have another friend who has a gift for connecting with students.  Almost weekly a former student would come back to see her to tell her how much she meant to them.  During passing period, the students would hang out in her room to talk.  Before and after school there were always kids in her room for extra help.  While they were dissecting sentences or talking about The Outsiders, they would almost always also be telling her about their soccer games or dance recitals, their babysitting jobs and their trips over winter break.  She built relationships, and she taught me as much as anyone about the importance of connecting with students.

Neither of those friends had “official” leadership titles.  They were not department heads or assistant principals.  They were not curriculum facilitators or district administrators.  But make no mistake, they were two of the most influential leaders in my life.

The President came to Omaha a week and a half ago.  Before addressing a crowd at Baxter Arena, he stopped at the home of a high school English teacher.  She had written him a letter, and she had made an impact on his thoughts and his feelings.  A high school English teacher in Omaha, Nebraska had provided leadership to the leader of the free world.

Leadership is not a title.

Everyday we have the opportunity to impact the lives of our family, our friends, and our co-workers.  We can model positivity and strong work ethic.  We can do our jobs well, and we can treat each other with kindness and compassion.  In education we can build relationships with students from whatever seat on the bus we sit.

Every one of those interactions may serve as an example for others.  And every time we have the opportunity to witness those things, we can learn and grow and become better people.

We are all leaders.  We all share the responsibility for teaching our children, and we all share the responsibility for making our world a better place.

I get to watch the leaders in our district work every day.  They are kind and caring, smart and insightful, strategic and student-focused.    They are administrators and teachers, parents and students, and I am proud to be among them.

Leadership is not a title.  Lead from where you are!

 

 

Are you overthinking this?



My daughter is getting married.  Someday I will write a blog about how I feel about the precious little girl who used to sing and dance and put on shows for us getting married, but today I am reflecting on the evening we spent this week choosing decorations for her reception.

She and her fiancé had a group of people with them.  In addition to me, her sister (and Maid of Honor) and several of their friends came along to offer suggestions on everything from the food to the lighting to the centerpieces.  It was fun, but it was also a little overwhelming.  Sometimes too many opinions make it hard to make a decision.

As we looked as centerpieces, I kept asking myself, “Are you overthinking this?”

Life is complicated.  I would never pretend otherwise, but sometimes we make it more complicated than we should.  Choose a centerpiece.  Decide on the lighting.  Pick the turkey over the pork.  In the end, those choices will not matter as much as the marriage.  Don’t overthink it.

In our lives we make big decisions and small decisions every day.  We choose little things like what we will wear each morning and what we will eat for breakfast, and we make big plans for trips or new hobbies or changing careers.  While it is important to be reflective and planful, it is also possible to overthink things.

In my family, we tend to make the big (and expensive) decisions quickly and obsess about the little ones.  We made the decision to buy our house in five days and a new car in less than a week, but it took almost two years to choose a vacuum.  I might overthink things.

Sometimes we sabotage our happiness by obsessing over every little thing.  Instead of embracing the moment, we fixate on the things that aren’t perfect.  Instead of being grateful, we worry.

I am not advocating reckless abandon, but I am suggesting that we should take a leap every now and then.  Life should be enjoyed.  If we spend too much time overthinking it, we are likely missing out on some of the fun.

 

Who You Are Matters

Everything you have ever wanted, is sitting on the other side of fear.

Leadership is not easy.

There is risk and vulnerability in taking on the challenge of leading…in your classroom, in your department, in your building.  Anyone who has ever led a project or a group of people knows this.

Stepping into a more “official” leadership position requires a willingness to risk judgement, disapproval, and failure.  It is daunting, and it is immeasurably gratifying.

I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Shane Lopez (@hopemonger) speak eloquently this week about creating hope for students.  What resonated with me though was what he shared about creating hope for the staff members in our care.  There is research from Gallup around hope that helps identify what we need from our leaders.

Who we are matters!

People want a leader they can trust.  You will almost always hear the word “integrity” used when describing the leaders people most admire.  It is comforting to know that the person you are following, the person making decisions that impact you daily, has a strong moral compass.  We want leaders who are also good people.

We need to trust that our leaders are honest and ethical.  In education we also want people who are good role models.

There is something reassuring about knowing that if you say you will do something , you will.  The best leaders have amazing follow-through.  We trust that they will make good plans and see those plans through to fruition.

People want a leader who creates stability.  Who you are today is who you will be tomorrow.  Who you are with me is who you will be with others.  The core beliefs of our organization will be the same from day to day, year to year.

Leading frequently requires difficult decisions and conversations.  It is important to create a safe environment where you can tackle those challenges while building and maintaining positive relationships.  A stable leader does this.

People want a leader who is compassionate.  Dr. Lopez went so far as to call this love.  Engaging communities feel like a family.  The staff celebrates together.  The staff mourns together.  The staff shows up for each other.

This was an emotional week for many reasons.  There were some exciting celebrations, some scary family challenges,  and a difficult anniversary.  Such is life.  The real world rarely stops interfering as we try to teach or lead or live.  Compassionate leaders recognize that we are all traveling a sometimes fun, sometimes challenging path.  They listen to our stories.  They ask about our families.  They respect that we have good days and bad days, and they make the bad days easier.

Our schools are our work families.  It should not take a crisis for us to tell each other how we feel.  We do not say “I love you” enough in this world.

Finally, people want a leader who creates hope.  Gallup defines hope as “the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so”.   In education, what more could we want?  We teach to touch the future!

As a leader (and we are all leading in some area of our life), who we are matters.  Seek to be someone that others would want to follow.

Everyone Has a Story- Part 2

go exploreLast week I was reflecting on how much easier it is to be understanding and to show grace when we know people’s stories. This week I’ve been reflecting on how those stories reveal our complexity as human beings.

I am a positive person. I am talkative (anyone who knows me is laughing right now at the understatement). I tend to have ridiculous amounts of energy and enthusiasm. I see the best in things, and I’ve been accused of being “PollyAnna” on more than one occasion.

But sometimes I am sad and withdrawn. Sometimes I am frustrated and upset, and I honestly cannot explain why. I usually snap out of it quickly, but those who know me best know what I am talking about.

I am complex. So are you.

It is tempting to put people in a box. We meet someone, form a first impression, and we assume that is who they are. Rarely are people that easy to figure out. Some people are comfortable in a room full of strangers, but who they are in those interactions may bear little resemblance to who they are with their friends. Others are more reserved and take some time to open up, but they are listening and learning and getting to know people.

Someone told me this week that they appreciate my “authentic self”. It made me feel good. I’m not sure I always know though who my authentic self is.

Our stories shape who we are. The times that we have been hurt have left us jaded. The times we have been sick have left scars. The times we have disappointed others have left guilt. Even if we have moved beyond any negative emotions from the past, we are different because of the experiences.

Our stories also give us strength and resilience. Each one of us has overcome seemingly insurmountable things. We have tackled great challenges and come out on top. We all have.

I really am a positive person. My authentic self believes the world is good and kind and fun. None of that changes because I have a hard day, or a hard hour.

My challenge to you this week is to seek to see the people in your lives more deeply. We are none of us all good or all bad, all happy or all sad. It’s part of what makes us interesting. It’s part of what we should value and appreciate.

It’s a big week.  There are final exams and holiday parties.  There are celebrations and stressors.  Be kind to each other.

Everyone Has a Story

Everyone Has a Story (1)I spent a powerful evening with some friends this week.  We were collaborating on a service project and working really hard.  But we passed the time by sharing stories from our lives.  We talked about the joys and the sorrows, the ups and the downs.  It made the time go quickly, and I feel like I know them so much better than I did before.

I care about them.  I want good things for them.  I hope that was true before I learned more of their stories, but I have to believe that those feelings are deeper now.

In my life there have been moments of great joy and moments of incredible pain.  I have achieved and succeeded and failed miserably.  I have celebrated miracles and mourned losses.  So have you.

We all have a story.

It has been my experience that once you know someone’s story, it becomes almost impossible not to treat them more compassionately.  It is one of the fastest paths to kindness.  A co-worker may annoy you with their peculiar habits or their negative comments, but when you learn even some of their story, you are more understanding.  It is easier to show someone grace in their worst moments when you know some of the story of their life.

Listen to people’s stories.  Ask them about their childhood.  Open the door to a conversation.  Then be present and learn about who they are and what they have been through. It will change how you treat them.

imageAnd be willing to tell your story.

Everyone’s life can be hard sometimes. Illness, injury, and disappointment are all a part of it. They define us as much as the good times.  We need to tell our stories, all of our stories.

I am not suggesting we wallow in despair.  In fact, I am suggesting quite the opposite.  Positivity is the trait I value most.  There is nothing more inspiring than hearing someone who you know to be optimistic and positive talk of a challenge or a disappointment or a truly devastating loss.  They model that we will all experience those things and can still be happy.  How we tell our stories says a great deal about who we are.

Tell your happy stories.  Tell your sad stories.  Tell the stories that make you look good.  Tell the stories that make you look ridiculous.  We all have them.

I do not want to over speak, but our stories have the power to change our world.  Countries, cultures, religions have stories too.  When we seek to know them, we are more understanding.  We treat each other better.

image“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”  Never underestimate the power of learning even part of someone’s story.

Life Needs More Exclamation Points!

imageI’ve joked that you can take the English teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the English teacher out of the person.  In a meeting recently with some colleagues, we were revising the word choice, construction, and punctuation in a document.  There was an exclamation point at the end of a sentence, and we were debating whether or not that was appropriate.

Exclamation points are commonly used to express excitement, surprise, astonishment, or other strong emotions.  Grammarians would caution against overuse of the mark.  But a wise friend in our meeting asked, “Shouldn’t life be filled with more exclamation points, not less?”

Yes!

Our lives should be filled with excitement, surprise, and astonishment! We should seek those opportunities.

Say Yes

Every day, every moment, life presents us with opportunities.  Say yes to them!  An invitation to an event can feel like an obligation, but it could be the experience of a lifetime.  A new professional opportunity can feel overwhelming, but it could help you grow in ways you’ve never imagined.

Trying something new can be scary, but I agree with the advice that we should do something everyday that scares us.  There is a thrilling exhilaration in doing something new.  Your heart beats faster.  Your adrenaline spikes.  Your emotions go into overload.  It’s fun.

Risk-taking is part of a well-lived life.  Now I’m not suggesting you jump out of an airplane without a parachute, but I am suggesting you be willing to say yes to an opportunity even though it scares you.  It may feel safer to maintain the status quo, but the best things in life are almost always a result of challenging it.

Be Present

“Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  (Ferris Bueller)  We have to do more than just say yes to those opportunities; we have to be present enough to  enjoy them when they are happening.  Noticing the best moments when they are happening is a skill we should all cultivate.

Two of our football teams had the opportunity to play in the state championship game in Memorial Stadium last week.  As they were leaving the field at halftime, a player’s dad said to me, “I hope they are taking a few minutes to look around and really soak this all in.”  The experiences of a lifetime are always worth savoring.

Extend Opportunities to Others

Everyone deserves a life filled with exclamation points.  When you have the chance to invite someone else to join you in an adventure, extend the offer.

Experience Wonder

If you read the blog a couple of weeks ago, you know that I have a new niece.  There is something miraculous about a baby.  Holding Logan this weekend has been priceless, and I have tried to enjoy every minute of it.

imageOur world is full of awe-inspiring miracles.  I could watch a mountain stream flowing over rocks for hours.  Vacations are alive with opportunities to enjoy the beauty of nature, but if we take the time to look around, we’d see that beauty everyday.  The autumn leaves have only now fallen from the trees. The first frost has left a shimmer on the grass.  The colors of the sunset as I drive home from work this time of year take my breath away.

Our lives need more exclamation points!  Be intentional about looking for them!

 

 

‘Tis the Season

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Thanksgiving is a special time.  As a child, I remember singing “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go.”  I remember pilgrim costumes and crafting turkeys by tracing my hand.

As I got older, I remember deeper lessons about history and social justice. I remember essays and poetry and singing “Tis a Gift to Be Simple”.

But mostly I remember someone asking me every year to pause for a moment and give thanks.  English teachers, music teachers, social studies teachers.  Art teachers, science teachers and math teachers all found engaging ways to incorporate a lesson about gratitude.  And it stuck!

I really do choose to see the best in the world, and we know from research that cultivating an attitude of gratitude is a powerful way to develop that mindset.

This is not just me talking.  Forbes outlines  7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude.  Our own physical and psychological health can be improved, our relationships can be improved, and our mental strength can be improved.  There are simple, tangible things we can do to improve our lives.

It isn’t always easy though.  Life can be hard.  In the midst of illness and grief, during times of fear and stress, gratitude is likely the farthest thing from your mind.  But practicing daily or weekly gratitude rituals can ease your stress and cultivate a positive attitude.

“You can’t be grateful and unhappy in the same moment.” (Dan Baker,  What Happy People Know)

I have included several links this week because many have written about the benefits of gratitude and outlined concrete steps you can take to be intentional about growing in this area… taking a gratitude walk is a great one.

This week I offer a challenge to all of you.  Take some time to pause and reflect on the good things in your life.  Write them down or make a mental list of them as you take a long walk in nature (with a warm coat).  If you work with students, ask them to do the same.  You have the opportunity to shape a mindset that just might stick with them for the rest of their lives!

For me, I am grateful for my family and my friends, for my life’s work, and for the opportunities that continue to present themselves on an almost daily basis.  I am grateful to be alive, and make no mistake, that is no small thing.

 

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

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The world will be happier because I was in it.  At least that’s my plan.

Contemplating your own mortality is not something I’d suggest anyone spend much time doing.  But the reality is that life is short, and we would be wise to put some thought into the way we are spending it.

I have a friend who is focusing her energy right now on the crisis with Syrian refugees.  She has identified concrete ways that people can get involved and make a difference.  She is spreading that word, and she is working to improve the situation for people in great need.

I have another friend who has worked for the military and in the public sector.  She has lived in some of the most dangerous places on the planet.  Her work has shaped public policy, and she has risked her life for our safety.

I have a friend who is a Superintendent.  One who spent time working with the recovery efforts in Haiti and New Orleans.  My high school classmates are doctors and lawyers and executives.

I sometimes feel like my impact on the world will be small.  Maybe you have felt the same way.  History is full of examples of people who have sacrificed and served to make our world better.  There are people dedicating their whole lives right now to addressing social injustices.  How will the world be different because I was in it?

I’ve spent more time than I should wondering if I have done enough good, wondering if I have taken enough risks to make a real contribution, wondering if I have made any lasting impression.  I know some of you wonder the same thing.

We have.  Our lives have made a difference.  My life has made a difference.

There is the very real contribution that I’ve made in terms of my children.  They are smart and compassionate and positive.  The world is better because they are in it.

As a teacher, I also feel like I have had the chance to influence others.  There are mature, confident, wonderful adults out there with whom I was able to connect when they were students.  I’m still in touch with many of them today.  The world is better because they are in it.

The world may not know my name, but my life has mattered.

It feels small to say this, but I hope the world will be happier because I was in it.   If there is a “legacy” that I’d like to leave, it is happiness.

Happiness is not a buzzword.  It is not a fad.  It is not shallow.   Brightening the day for someone can have an impact on every other person they encounter that day.  I want to be the face, the voice, the message that spreads positivity.

I’ve recently become an Optimist.  Part of the Optimist Creed is to “look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true”.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t see the atrocities in the world.  This doesn’t mean that I’ve buried my head in the sand.  It means that in the midst of those things, I choose to believe that staying positive is a stronger way to live.

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

Just for Fun…a Few of My Favorite Videos about Happiness

The Science of Happiness- Soul Pancake

The Happy Secret to Better Work- Shawn Achor

Kid President Pep Talk