Grace Under Fire


I thought about calling this grace under pressure, but it is really about grace under fire.

I saw it this week. I witnessed someone doing their very best come under fire from someone.

The details aren’t important. It could have been anyone upset about anything. It was the response that made an impact on me.

I was witness to someone who, when confronted with anger, responded with kindness and understanding. She was able to empathize and de-escalate a situation that could’ve gotten ugly. It was a remarkable show of grace.

There were lessons I will carry with me.

Pause. I am someone who likes to get things off my plate as quickly as possible. When I was teaching, if a parent reached out to me, I would call them back during passing period.

Pause. Our initial reaction when confronted with anger is likely not our best reaction. Time is our friend…not so much time that the person thinks you are ignoring the issue, but enough time to allow you to calm down.

Empathize when possible. Many times people just need to be heard, and if they can be understood, even better.

Own any issues you should.

Do not own any issues that are not yours to own.

Apologize when appropriate.

Respond with kindness. This one is the hardest. Showing kindness when confronted with anger is hard.

Grace under fire.

In our day to day interactions with people, there be a million low level confrontations. Grace and kindness go a long way towards making the world a happier place.

Vitamin D

I got a touch of sun yesterday. It was nice. I’m not talking about the brush of sun you get walking from work to your car. I mean an honest to goodness pinkness of the skin. A little sunburn. There are not many days left to sit outside and soak in the Vitamin D.

Seasons change. Days grow shorter. Tank tops are replaced by sweaters. Time in the sun is replaced by time in front of a fire.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live somewhere that is always warm, always sunny. I’ve imagined waking up on Thanksgiving to a 78 degree day. I know there are people in shorts on Christmas (and not just the middle school boys who wear shorts even in the snow).

But I like seasons. I like when the air cools and the leaves change and the sweatshirts come out of hiding. I like needing sandals AND boots. Sometimes in the same day. It is no secret that October is my favorite month and that Halloween is my holiday. Always has been.

But November, with its wild swings from heat to snow, has a special place as well. How could we not love a month most known for all things pumpkin?

I made a decision last year to enjoy the cold. I bought new sweaters and a coat and a really cute hat. I bought some boots. I’m ready to get then back out. I’m ready to embrace the time inside doing puzzles and watching movies.

And I will keep in mind what my friend Amy says about Vitamin D. It doesn’t matter how cold it gets. We can put on a coat and spend a little time in the sun.

It shines in the winter as well.

I hope everyone got out last night to see the trick-or-treaters. The costumes were amazing. I hope everyone enjoyed the bonus hour of sleep. Say what you will about the archaic nature of changing the clocks. I like that extra hour once a year.

Embrace November. Embrace the chill in the air and the smells of the season. Embrace the chance to wear those fuzzy socks to bed and the chance to wrap up in blanket while you read a good book.

And embrace the sun. It isn’t gone. We just have to work a little harder to get that Vitamin D.

Hugs Are Important


When I visited Connor’s school this year, things felt different. I mean there were the obvious changes, the hand sanitizer, the masks, the signs about not using the drinking fountains. But more subtle was the distance between people. When I stopped to ask students what they were working on, I stayed back farther than I normally do. When I talked to the teachers, we were always mindful of 6 feet between us. People are being cautious.

As they should be.

But when I stepped into Connor’s classroom, I had the best reminder of the pandemic. Distance is hard. And hug are important. He has the most amazing teacher. I have admired her for many years. She has a warmth and a caring that is palpable when you step into her room. Nothing about that has changed.

After a brief visit, when I shared that Connor was my nephew and my godson, she told Connor that he could give me a hug.

We both paused.

I was standing far away from him…at least 6 feet. We were both in masks. It was unlike any visit to his classrooms I’ve made over the years. Connor Day my sister calls it. At the suggestion that he could, in fact, give me a hug, we both stopped and looked at each other. We were both analyzing the risk.

As I’ve talked to people in recent weeks about what is causing them stress, one of the most common responses has been the fatigue involved in making every little decision.

Is it safe for my child to go to the neighbor’s house?

Is it safe to eat out on a patio when the closest table is far away?

How will we celebrate Thanksgiving? Christmas?

No decision is easy anymore. We want to be safe. We want to keep the people we love safe.

In that moment, Connor and I had to weigh the options. In the end, with neither of us having any symptoms, having been around anyone with any symptoms, both wearing masks, both healthy overall, we decided to give each other a hug. It was quick. But it was every single thing I needed.

When people ask me what I miss the most right now, I tell them movie theatres and hugging my parents.

I have said before that I would never, ever advocate doing anything unsafe. We have to mask up and avoid crowds and wash our hands. And I can’t hug my parents. And it sucks.

But I can use video calls to stay connected. I can wear a mask and keep my distance and catch up with my parents on their front porch.

And in that moment I could hug Connor.

“Hug” the people you love. It might not be an actual hug. It might be a phone call or a Facetime or homemade cookies dropped off on their doorstep. Find ways to show the people you love that we are still connected in all of the ways that matter.

The decisions are hard, but we can do hard things.

Toxic Positivity- a reflection

Much has been written and shared lately about toxic positivity. Psychology Today defines it as keeping positive and keeping positive only…focusing on positive things and rejecting anything that may trigger negative emotions.

I get the pushback on that. I really do.

We need to fully feel our feelings. We need to cry when we are sad. We need to hurt when we have been injured. We need to be angry when we have been wronged.

It is not healthy to ignore any of those emotions. No one should tell us to smile through our pain or to ignore our hurt.

That would be toxic.

But sitting in those feelings for too long without finding a way through it is toxic as well. Pushing aside the laughter and the joy because it feels disingenuous when we are also suffering is not helping us recover. Avoiding our friends, reading too much social media, and focusing solely on the negative is not the road to healing.

We are all wrestling with months and months of isolation and fear and pressure and anger. There is nothing wrong with feeling negativity.

And there is nothing wrong with focusing on positivity.

I am grateful to the people in my life who have reached out in the last few weeks to talk about this. I knew that re-entering this space would provoke conversation. No one has been hostile or combative. They have simply asked how I reconcile my focus on positivity with all of the posts about toxic positivity.

It is not always easy.

But there is research around the healing effects of focusing on happiness and gratitude. I have experienced it firsthand. And I have experienced anxiety and depression that no amount of positive thought could undo.

We owe it to ourselves and to the people we love to seek help when we need it. It takes enormous strength to reach out for help. “Happiness is a choice” is not always true for everyone at every moment. There is nothing wrong with that.

And there is nothing wrong with spending our energy focused on being positive. We don’t need to apologize for wanting to be happy and for wanting the people in our lives to be happy.

I wish all of this was easier. It is anything but easy. But my plan is to continue to get help when I need it and to continue to focus on being positive and happy.

 

 

Looking in the Mirror

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

No, it’s not Christmas. It’s October. Pumpkin spice, rustic leaves, sweatshirt and shorts weather.

I’ve written every year about October. There is this feeling of warmth and of settling in to cozy things. Hot drinks replace lemonade, and the leaves catch fire.

But there has also been a stress in schools every year at this time. Wrapping up a quarter, conferences, and an end to the honeymoon that comes at the start of every year adds stress. I’ve written about it so many times.

But this year is different.

This year we are mired down by a virus and an election and unrest. This year has been hard…

and I went quiet.

I have not posted a blog since June. Honestly I have been nervous to post. I’ve been worried that my voice in the world would just add to the sometimes angry discourse happening on social media. But writing is how I process the world. This blog is where I am my most vulnerable and my most transparent. Without it, I’ve lost a little piece of myself.

No more.

Has this year been a challenge? Without question. But it has also been filled with weddings and babies and music and laughter.  I have watched Netflix and camped and even saw a play outside with my parents.  I will no longer quiet my voice.

Every single day is a gift…even in 2020.  If we spend our time focused on what we can’t do or what we have to do or what has changed or what we’re missing because of COVID, then we will miss all of the good happening around us.  None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.  We need to live today to its fullest!

For me, that has always meant a pumpkin pie blizzard in my favorite month of the year…and this blog.

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” Anne of Green Gables

 

Rest

I’m tired.

I was on a Zoom this week (oh, how I am ready to stop saying that) when a friend and mentor said he was tired.  There was a visible shift on the faces of the people in the meeting.  It was permission.  To exhale.

March 12th seems like a lifetime ago.  The Thursday before Spring Break was intense.  That week the pandemic became real in our country.  The NCAA tournament ended abruptly prompting a string of major cancellations.  We started the week trying hard, based on the ever-changing information available, to maintain a sense of calm.  We tried to keep things as normal as possible as the world seemed to spin out of control.

By Thursday we canceled school on Friday.

And we never returned to our buildings.

But we did return to teaching after break.  We took a day to steady ourselves, to catch up on any needed training, and to prepare for what we now know would be 8 weeks of remote learning.  And boy did we nail it!

Now, it is time to rest.

Parents, you need a break.  Thank you for keeping your children safe and cared for and loved.  Thank you for sorting through all of those emails and making schedules and figuring out the math and the physics.  Please stop comparing your experience to anyone else’s.  Stop judging yourself when you see those Facebook posts of the moms teaching their children a new language or the dads baking cookies.  We never see the full story on social media.  We each had our own unique situation through this, and we all did the very best we could.  You rocked it!  Now rest.

Students, you need a break.  Thank you for not checking out.  Thank you for logging in and checking Classroom and posting to SeeSaw and showing up for stay-in-your car parades.  Thank you for caring about your learning and for stepping up in ways no other students have ever had to do.  Yesterday was graduation day!  Seniors, there aren’t enough words to say how sorry we are that you lost spring concerts and sports seasons and proms and, at least for now, an in-person graduation.  You have all shown strength and courage and grace like no one could have imagined.  You showed the world what this generation can do, and we are proud beyond measure of who you are!  You rocked it!  Now rest.

Finally, I am overwhelmed as I write this to our teachers and our administrators and our food service and our custodians and our support staff, all of whom stepped up in ways I could never have imagined.

More than 300,000 meals have been served.  Five days a week our food service staff has been providing curbside pick-up breakfast and lunch to support our students in this challenging time.

More creative and engaging Meet and Zoom sessions have been conducted than anyone could count.

Concerts were performed remotely.  Auditions and try-outs still happened.  There was a spring play.  Meetings with parents went on.  May Baskets were still delivered, and there was even a field day.

And my daughter, an SLP in one of our schools, taught preschool with her team through her computer.  Can you imagine?

To say you rocked it doesn’t do it justice.  You knocked it out of the park.  Ten weeks ago I blogged that “you’ve got this.”  I had no idea!  Never, ever, ever underestimate an educator!  Thank you!  Thank you for caring so much.  Thank you for never giving up on what we do.

Now rest.  You need a break.

 

 

 

Tony Is Wearing a Tie


…and his name badge

One of the funniest moments on a recent Zoom was when a friend stopped the meeting right in the middle of it and said, “Can we just pause for a minute and ask why Tony is wearing a tie.”  I work with someone who gets up everyday and puts on a dress shirt, a tie, and his badge.  Even though he is working remotely.

It helps him maintain some sense of normalcy in a time that feels anything but normal.

But is there really such a thing as normal?

I want to start by saying that it is okay to not be okay right now.  People are sick.  People are dying.  People are losing their jobs.  People are staying home and feeling isolated or going to work and feeling scared.  

Of course we are not okay.

But it’s also worth noting that it is always okay to not be okay.  We don’t need a global pandemic for permission to feel sad or scared or angry or depressed or anxious.

Or happy.

Usually we are okay.  Sometimes we aren’t.  That’s normal.

This is not a “new normal” as some have called it.  This is just what is happening to us right now.   I think we have a unique opportunity to teach this to our children.  Every day is different.  Some are easy.  Some are hard.  Years ebb and flow, and obstacles arise that throw us completely off course. 

We face challenges, and we overcome them.

If resiliency is one of the things our children learn through this, they will be better for it.  This is likely not the first, and definitely not the last challenge they will face.  Hopefully they will not be on a global scale again, but no one’s life is free of obstacles.

It’s healthy for our children to see us struggle.  It’s normal.  It’s also healthy for them to see us persevere.  It’s normal.  It’s also okay for them to see us reach out for help.  That is most definitely normal.

So wear a tie.  Or don’t.  Curl up on the couch and watch Netflix or go for a walk or eat a giant tub of ice cream.  Or don’t.  Find what feels normal today.  

There was a before and there will be an after. That’s always the case. Today is today.  Take it for what it is.

Unprecedented


No March Madness. No NBA. No CWS. And on and on and on.

This has been an unusual week. How’s that for an understatement? We watched in confusion and anger and fear as event after event was modified and then canceled. It was almost impossible to keep up with the changes. Planning became more about revising, and business as usual became impossible.

Schools across the world are experiencing rapid and unprecedented change. Social distancing, a phrase most of us didn’t even know a month ago, is leading to school closures here and abroad.

So what does it mean for us, for our schools, for our students? It is indeed unprecedented.

It means that at some point this year we may be teaching online. Learning may move from face to face in a classroom to activities that can be done from home. And while we have added access to devices and professional development around digital learning and SeeSaw and Google Classroom and more engaging tools than I could name, we still rely on contact and conversation and caring to build relationships with our students.

That cannot change.

While we build lessons and make videos, while we design eLearning to teach our standards, while we employ creative assessment measures, we will also focus on our students’ emotional well-being …and our own.

Give yourself, and those around you, enormous grace in the coming weeks. Everyone is walking a new path. Take risks. Try new things. Try again when it doesn’t work the first time. This is our chance to model a growth mindset for students. They’ll understand when our Google Meet flops or our video isn’t perfect. Practice over perfection. They’ll stick with us as we try, just like we stick with them.

I don’t know what the next few weeks will bring, but I know that teachers and school administrators are resilient, compassionate, and dedicated. I know that our teams are working hard to find ways to support, nurture, calm, and yes, educate our children. Never underestimate an educator!

Be a Brad

Kid President is back. After a well-deserved break from the spotlight, Robbie and Brad are back to tell stories of awesomeness. And my heart is happy.

There is a reason we all fell in love with Kid President. We needed him. We needed his joy and his energy and his unwavering belief in the goodness of people. We needed to be reminded that we are all awesome! (And that corn dogs are good.)

Everyone needs to go back and watch the original Pep Talk.

And everyone needs to watch this preview of things to come.

Robbie says that people ask him all the time how they could become a Kid President. His response? “Get yourself a Brad!”

Brad is Robbie’s brother-in-law. Kid President was Brad’s idea. He came up with the idea for many reasons, but mostly, he says, so he could spend more time with Robbie.

I think when I was younger I wanted to be Kid President. I wanted to be the one in the spotlight. Now, I want to be Brad. I want to be the one who shines a light on other people. I want to be the one who finds awesomeness in others and helps them tell their story.

We make the world a better place by focusing on others. We shine brightest when we are helping others shine their light.

Kid President is everything I want for the young people (and the not-so-young people) in my life. He is the embodiment of hope. And Brad, he is the heart and the magic behind it all. Not in the spotlight himself, but shining brighter for the light he is helping others shine.

”Make the world a little more awesome!”

Be a Brad!

How Are You?

I have a conflicted relationship with the phrase, “How are you?”

As a social norm, the phrase is like saying “Bless you” after someone sneezes. It’s a habit, expected almost, but it doesn’t actually mean what we say.

“How are you?” is a real question with a real answer, one that we rarely take the time to hear.

It’s important to ask people how they are doing. People want to be heard, to be known. We can brighten someone’s day by asking and by giving some of our time to really listen to the answer.

Don’t take a greeting for granted.

This week when you ask someone how they are, wait for an answer. If it’s not the right time to really talk about it, consider “Good Morning” instead.

You Are Loved


A friend asked me this week why it all has to be so hard, and I honestly didn’t have an answer for her. But it is. Life is hard. Not all the time, not even most of the time. But some of the time life is very, very hard.

I think we have to be honest about that. I think we have to acknowledge that sometimes we are sad or angry or overwhelmed. Sometimes we are scared. Sometimes we feel alone even when those we love surround us. Life can seem almost unbearable at times.

We can feel that way and still be positive people.  We can acknowledge that and still know that life is good and things work out.

Today I just want you to know that you are loved. You are valued and treasured beyond understanding. You are seen. You are known.

Today may be hard, but it will get better.

Today you may feel despair, but you will feel hope.

It might not be tomorrow, but hopefully soon. Just know that it will get better.

There is help. There are people in your life who will listen, and there are professionals who can support you whenever you need it. Asking is not showing weakness. Asking is showing enormous strength.

There are lots of questions in the world that I cannot answer. There are so many things I do not understand. But I know this. You are loved. You are seen.

TSA Pre✔️

I love to travel.  Well, I love to explore new places, but the actual getting there part is not much fun.

I decided it was time to apply for TSA Pre✔️.  It’s a straightforward process. You apply online, then you get an appointment time to go in for fingerprints and a background check.

Of course right now the Omaha office is technically closed.  It “closed” August 1, but TSA is giving them until the end of September to find a new location.  So there aren’t any appointments being scheduled after September 30th, and the appointments up to that point are almost impossible to get.  So I was a walk-in.  Here’s how that works.  You arrive at the office, sign-in, and they try to work you in between the appointments that are scheduled every 10 minutes.  If a scheduled appoint time arrives, they go ahead of you.  It can be quite the wait.

I learned all of this the first time I stopped in.  The mood in the waiting room was ugly.  The tension was palpable. The woman working at the desk, frazzled and frustrated from a day full of cranky people, walked me through it.  She also told me that the first 30 minutes and the last 30 minutes of the day have no scheduled appointments.  Those are your best options.

The next week I tried again.  I arrived 15 minutes before they opened.  I was first in line.  Looking good.

Then the next person arrived and got in line behind me.  Then a father and daughter.  She was wearing a Bennington sweatshirt.  Then another woman.  By the time the office opened, only one person works the first 30 minutes, there were 6 of us in line.

At first we were quiet.  Then at one point the woman asked the girl in the sweatshirt if she went to Bennington.  It started a conversation.  Soon we were all talking.  When the woman arrived to open the office, we were relaxed and friendly.  We greeted her, and we acknowledged that her job has to be a challenge.  There was a visible change in her demeanor.  She softened.

We signed in, and it took about 10 minutes for the lone employee to get us all signed in and then go back and get her computer ready to start the day.  I was first.  In and out in 10 minutes.  The man behind me got in and out.  By then the appointments had started.  I have no idea how long the other 4 people waited.

But I do know that the mood in the waiting room was different.  I know that each person who came in felt something different than the people walking in the week before.

Attitude is contagious.

The 6 of us in line made a choice.  We chose to be kind to each other.  We chose to be kind to the woman who has what I can only imagine is a challenging job.  We chose not to let the line, the inconvenience, the wait, define our attitude.  We chose to be pleasant.  We chose to be happy.  And that attitude spread.

There will be times in our lives when we are not able to happy.  There are for me. In those times, I hope we seek help.

But there are times every single day when we do have a choice.  Choose to be happy.  It’s contagious.

Be THAT Person


I’m old. I don’t say that to bemoan my 49 years or my aging joints or my grey hairs. I value all of those things. I truly believe that every day is a gift, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to get old.

I also don’t really think 49 is old. I am active and energetic and engaged in amazing work and play so are all of friends. I’m (mostly) joking when I say I’m old!

But I am experienced in my job and in my district. I’ve been around for awhile. I need to be intentional about reminding myself of that because I still feel like the brand new teacher in the oldest secondary school in our district. I still feel like the one who needs friends and mentors to help look out for her…because I do.

But I also want to be intentional about being that friend and that mentor for others. I’ve had so many myself.

Our new teachers reported to work this week. There are a lot of them. Some are brand new to teaching. Some have many years of experience. Some are excited. Some are nervous. Most are probably both. We all feel that way as we start a new adventure.

I want to encourage you to look around as we start the new year. The newest people in our schools are the future. What are we doing to help them get off to a great start?

Our kinders will someday be our 5th graders. How are we building in them the knowledge and the confidence to be our future leaders?

Our JV players will someday be our varsity teams. What relationships are we building with them now so we can have influence and impact as they progress?

Our new teachers will be our veteran teachers, and our new administrators will be our district leaders. How are we mentoring them?

This is an important week. We have the opportunity to welcome new staff and to reconnect with old friends.

Spend some time as we start the new year with those people who befriened you and who mentored you when you were new.  There is still so much to learn from them.

Seek out people who are new and befriend them and mentor them.  They are the future.  They need us, and we need them. Learn from them.  New eyes.  New ideas. New people make us better.

This work we do is hard, but it is made so much easier when someone takes us under their wings.  Appreciate those wings, and spread your own.

Positivity

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

One word

Resolution

Goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I can ask for help when I need it.

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

I have a plan.  What’s yours?

Lulls

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

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

We did not regret it.

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

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

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

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

 

Not My Circus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons from the Caribbean

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask for What You Want

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

I really do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s on us.  That’s on me.

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

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

We’re All in This Together

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

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

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

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

Be kind.

Think before you act.

Treat other people well.

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

Grace is always better than anger.

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

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

I Got to Work on Christmas Day

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

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

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

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

Attitude is everything.

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

Verbs matter.

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

Tomorrow we get to go back to work!

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)

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.

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.

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!

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!

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.

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.

School Zones 

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

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

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

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

What helps you slow down?

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

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

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

Be the Light

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

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

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

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

Be kind.

Be compassionate.

Be helpful.

Act.

It is both that simple and that complex.

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

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

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

Be the light.

Disconnect

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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.

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!

Count Your Blessings

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“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!

 

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.

Change the Behavior

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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.

It’s Okay to be Sad

img_9677My darling daughters,

Yesterday was a hard day.  We lost our sweet Maggie, and just as we knew it would be, it was tough.  She was a great dog. She was a best friend to both of you over the years, and she will most definitely, permanently define your understanding of the love between a child and a pet.  You were lucky to have such an energetic, fun, forgiving dog.

kelsey145Kelsey, I’ll never forget her ability to move ever-so-slowly throughout the night in such a way that by morning I would find you tucked in a little ball in the corner of your bed because she had completely taken it over.  And you loved it. You never seemed to mind that she made your bed her bed.  Your stuffed animals became her stuffed animals.  Your pillows became her pillows.  She was your Maggie, Shadow, Kimperton, and you loved her and she loved you so completely.

image1-1Hunter, you loved her and spoiled her in ways I’ve never seen anyone do with their dog.  You taught her how to shop. She loved to ride in your car and get Starbucks and Dairy Queen with you.  To find her sleeping at the foot of your bed was evidence that even after years of routine, she had made a new best friend.

And she loved to camp.  So many nights spent trying not to step on her as she slept in the dark by the campfire.  So many games of fetch spent racing her best friend into the lake to see who could get the stick first.  It almost always resulted in the two of them swimming back together each holding one end of the stick in her mouth.

It was a sad day.  And it’s okay to be sad.

I don’t know if I’ve really ever told you that it’s okay to be sad.  You know that I believe more than anything that our attitude controls our lives.  Positivity is our greatest strength.  But it is possible to be positive and sad at the same time.  Sometimes life is hard.  Glennon Doyle Melton calls life “brutiful“, brutal and beautiful at the same time.  She writes and speaks eloquently about embracing the hard parts, sitting in the sadness and the pain, and using the experience to define who you are and what can never be taken from you.

hpim0306Maggie was taken from you.  It is sad, and it is hard.  But the memories of her, the unconditional love you learned from her,  cannot be taken from you.  Who you are because of your time with her cannot be taken from you.

Minutes after she passed, you both posted things on Facebook.  I wasn’t sure I wanted you to put your raw pain out there as quickly as you did.  But I am proud of you both for doing that.  I am proud of the way you jumped in with both feet to spend a last day with her- playing with her, loving her, crying over her, sitting in the sadness and the pain. I am proud of the way you put your sadness out there for the world to see.  I am inspired by the way you both said loudly “I am sad” and “Life is good” at the same time.

Your lives will not always be easy.  Real, painful, difficult things will happen.  It is absolutely okay be sad.  And it is possible to be sad and to know at the same time that life is really, really, good.

First Days

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This week as I made my way around the district on the first day of school, I was reminded that our experiences on first days are pretty similar.  Whether it was the first day of kindergarten, the first day of middle school, or the first day of high school, the pictures on Facebook looked the same….students smiling nervously, parents beaming with pride, and school staff excited for the beginning of another year.  The human experience is the human experience.  Starting an adventure in a new place is exciting. For our students, for our parents, and for our colleagues, finding a sense of belonging and establishing relationships in that new place is scary and hard and really important. Regardless of what’s new, we all tend to ask ourselves the same questions.

“What should I wear?”

This question feels oh so middle school, but it’s not.  I had tons of kindergarteners gushing as they showed me their new outfits on the first day.  And I know the high schoolers and their friends talked about what they were wearing for pictures at Orientation.  Will this help me fit in?  Will this help me stand-out?  Am I over-dressed?  Under-dressed?  Believe it or not, even as adults, we ask ourselves (and our friends) these same questions.  We all struggle with the simultaneous desire to fit in and to stand out.

“Will people like me?”image

It is easy to dismiss this as a superficial question, but we have all worried about this at some point in our lives.  Belonging is a powerful human need.  Friendship and relationships are cornerstones of our well-being.  This is true for five year olds,  eleven year olds, fourteen year olds, and adults.  People need a tribe, a community.

This is one of the most powerful ways we can work to make the world a better place.  There are tangible things each of us can do to help others feel accepted.  Children instinctively know this.  They are more likely to talk to someone they do not know, to invite others over to play with them on the playground, or to call someone a friend almost immediately.   We lose some of that as we age.  My hope for the first days of a new school year is that we all, students, staff, community, reach out to others and make people feel welcome.

And a beautiful side effect of focusing on helping others feel accepted is that it takes our minds off our own need to belong.

“Will I like them?”

I believe we are happier when we are surrounded by people we like, people who lift us up and make us better.  In school this can look like spending your time with others who share your academic, athletic, or extra-curricular interests.  We know that students who are involved in activities have higher GPAs and are more successful academically in school.  I don’t have to “like” you to learn from you and to get better because of you, but it’s sure more fun if I do.  Building a network of people you like is important.  At work this looks like finding colleagues who are also friends.

Our world gets better when we are accepting of each other.

This is my challenge to you for the new year.  Find ways to help others feel like they belong.  Focus on being inclusive.  Focus on reaching out to someone who is new at school or at work and asking them to join you.  Focus on the well-being of others.  You’ll be amazed at how much that helps your own well-being.

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.

An Abundant Life

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There is nothing like a major life celebration to reveal the true abundance in your life.  My daughter got married Friday.  Her dress was stunning.  The reception hall was beautiful.  The food was delicious, and the dance was a blast.  But if none of that had been true, it would still have been a success.

My daughter and son-in-law were surrounded by family and friends who laughed with them, cried with them, toasted them from the heart, and frankly suffered through outrageous heat to get some beautiful pictures that they’ll treasure forever.

There were memorials and moments of silence.  There were hysterical stories about their childhoods, and person after person shared that they knew that they would marry each other…almost from the moment they met.

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Their lives are abundant.

They are very young, still in college, and working many hours a week to make ends meet.  They do their laundry at our house and drive cars that overheat and break down.  They do not have a lot of money or expensive possessions, and they have some lean years ahead of them like most young married couples.

But their lives are abundant…and so is mine.

One of my best friends married them.  Another one sat next to me while the best man, and my daughter and my husband reduced me to tears with their toasts.   Many of my friends drove miles, flew miles, and made arrangements to be there on a Friday afternoon to watch her say her vows, to hold me over and over as I cried tears of joy, and to dance with me as we celebrated.

We build a life relationship by relationship.  And this week I was surrounded by the people in my life with whom I have forged those relationships.  Those people, and their love, are the abundance in our lives.  Not money.  Not things.  People.  Never has that been more clear to me.

I was supported and encouraged every day of this past week by friends who reminded me to relax and to enjoy the experience.  One of my favorite texts came Wednesday afternoon.  “I have no idea what you are doing at this exact moment, but I am 100% sure that the correct advice is ‘Calm down!'”

Then I didn’t sleep well Thursday night, and on Friday morning I texted a friend that it “might be a rough day”.  The response was perfect.  “Power through and choose to make it a great day.  Or cancel the whole thing.  Those are your choices.”  Pretty great to have people in your life who know you well enough to set you straight when you need a reminder…and who read you well enough to text you whenever you need someone to remind you to “Relax!”

The relationships in our lives are everything.  Because of those relationships, my life is abundant.  Focus your energy on people, not things.

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The most wonderful thing about this experience for me has been to witness that same abundance in the life of my daughter and her husband.  They are surrounded and supported by people who love them unconditionally.  Their lives are truly abundant, and for that I am most truly grateful.

The delicious cake was just a bonus!

Say Goodbye

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I contend that if you want to know which teachers have the best relationships with students, watch classrooms on the first day of school and the last day of school.  There is an energy, an excitement on those days that is palpable.  This week the best teachers are sending notes home to parents, taking pictures with their students, and putting closure on the school year.  They are asking students to write letters to themselves that they will mail years later, and they are showing videos they’ve been building all year.

Closure matters.

May is also banquet season.  There are scholarship dinners, award and recognition nights, and retirement celebrations.  There is chicken and iced tea and cake and dessert.  There are certificates and medals and crystal apples and clocks.  It’s a busy time of year and one that is not always fully appreciated.  At a time that can already be stressful in schools, adding after school events and evening activities can feel like a burden instead of a gift.  But this is one of the most important times of our year.

Closure matters.

As a middle school teacher, I would read my students the same book on the last day of school every year.  And years later if they’d invite me to their graduation, I would give them a copy of the book.  It was a tradition.  We would tell the stories from the school year and laugh and cry and write in everybody’s yearbook.  It was emotionally draining, and I looked forward to it every year.

Closure matters.

After a long season of baseball or track, after a year of competing in show choir or debate, teams celebrate with an awards banquet or a recognition night.  Records are acknowledged, and trophies are presented.  Parents take pictures and coaches make speeches.  It is usually a very long night, and it is also a night that will be remembered for the rest of their lives.

I was having a conversation with some friends this week about retirement.  We were imaging what we will want when we retire. A party?  A lunch?  Slipping quietly out the back door without any fanfare?  We all have our opinions, but I imagine when the time actually comes, we may feel differently.

Retiring from a job, ending a sports season, or leaving elementary school is emotional, especially if you have had a positive experience.  Endings can be hard.  Rituals like letters home, awards banquets, and retirement parties can help.  They give people a chance to celebrate the experience and in some ways to grieve the loss.

Allowing for opportunities to reflect and reminisce is important.  People need the chance to relive the highlights and to retell their stories.  As a school leader, be intentional about planning these events for students and staff.

May is always an emotional month in education.  We are saying goodbye to our students who have become part of us, and we are saying goodbye to colleagues who have become like family.  I hope that you take every opportunity to celebrate this time of year and to say goodbye.  Closure matters.

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!

For the sake of the relationship…


IGNORE and AVOID

In my district, we have a belief that “people are our greatest resource.” I agree completely.  People are what it’s all about.  Our success, our satisfaction, and our happiness are defined by the relationships we build with other people,  Whether a lifelong friend, a family member, or someone we’ve just met, relationships matter.

This is hardly the first time I’ve written about the power of relationships.  For me, they are everything.  And I spend quite a bit of time reflecting on how best to develop and maintain positive relationships in my life.

So the focus of this blog may seem strange.  The idea I share today may seem contrary to what I have always said is best practice in working with other people.  But I’ve come to believe this is some of the most important advice I’ve ever gotten.

Ignore and avoid.

I like to talk.  Communication is in my top five Gallup strengths.  I believe there is enormous benefit in open, transparent, ongoing conversations.  I believe the quickest way to resolve an issue is to address it directly.

As a leader, I tend to confront issues head-on.  I believe a Fierce conversation has great power.  So why would I suggest that anyone ever ignore or avoid anything?  I have actually taught classes on the importance of having the conversations you know you need to have.

Well, because people are flawed.  They have bad days.  They say things they don’t mean, and they use harsh tones when they are hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or sad.  Even the most positive, thoughtful person can lash out when they are frustrated.  I’ve done it myself plenty of times.  And when you reach out to try to help, they will sometimes just get more angry.

In those moments, we have a choice.  We can choose to be offended by it, or we can choose to ignore it.  We can choose to confront it, or we can choose to avoid it.  For much of my life, I have gotten offended and chosen to confront.  Rarely, in those moments of agitation on my part, did I made the situation any better.

In many of those cases, it would have served our relationship more to simply let the situation pass.

In one of those moments recently, when I was frustrated and angry for how I felt I was being treated, a friend suggested I should ignore and avoid.  His recommendation was that I should move past what was said and recognize that it was not typical for the person who said it.  He helped me see that fixating on my emotions surrounding the issue and over-thinking how to address it was not doing me any good.

Now, I would never, ever advocate that you allow people to treat you rudely or accept ongoing inappropriate behavior.  I am not suggesting that we ignore bullying or avoid the conversations we know we need to have.  Letting a small issue grow because you are afraid of the conversation is never healthy.

I am simply saying that when a friend or family member who is normally a positive person has a bad day, it is okay to just ignore it.

And when you are the one who acts inappropriately, because we all do at times, apologize.  Someone may be ignoring and avoiding you to not further damage your relationship.

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.

 

Pause

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I’m back! And it feels good. I really missed writing these past few weeks, but it was time for a break. Breaks are good for us. They give us time to recharge, reconnect, and re-energize. Our bodies, our minds, and our souls need time every once in a while to just…pause.

Pause was not the word I used when I decided to stop writing a few weeks ago. Someone else used it, a friend. He told me that he was glad I was pausing…that I had given myself permission to pause. He said that by extension I had given some other people permission to pause as well.

His words struck me as profound- this need to pause. This need to give ourselves the grace to stop what we are doing, or thinking, and to just breathe.

I tend to do things at high speed. My conversations, my actions, even my thoughts move quickly. I’d blame our fast-paced world, but the truth is it’s how I’m wired. I like to be in constant motion. It’s thrilling…and it’s exhausting.

Years ago when I got my first teaching job, my principal told me that he hired me because I didn’t pause before answering his questions. I just jumped in with an answer. He thought that meant I’d be decisive and have authority in the classroom, fewer issues with classroom management. My department head, who had also been in the interview, told me she worried that it meant I didn’t take the time to pause and reflect. She may have been right.

It has taken me decades (and let’s face it, I’m still learning) to appreciate the importance of a good pause.

In conversations, there is power in the silence. Susan Scott calls it letting silence do the heavy lifting. When you pause, you allow other voices into the space. You allow for other perspectives, other ideas, other beliefs. When you sit in the silence, you often find the real issues.

When you pause to think or to let others think, you arrive at deeper meaning. The first thing out of my mouth is rarely the best thing I’ve got.

My top Gallup strength is Achiever. I like to get things done. The more tasks accomplished, the more successful I feel. But we can learn something from the work of elite athletes. Yes, they work hard. Yes, they are active. Yes, they lift and run and are careful about what they eat. But they also rest. They know that you grow muscle on your rest days. They know that it is essential to pause for maximum results.

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It’s not easy for me to take a break. I like the constant activity of a busy life. But I knew a few weeks ago it was time to pause. I took a few weeks off from the blog. I stayed at home to rest when I got sick. And I took an amazing vacation over spring break. Pausing is good for the body, mind, and spirit!

I hope you don’t need anyone to give you permission to pause. I hope you take some time daily, weekly, and monthly to rest. And I hope you are surrounded by people who encourage your pauses. I feel lucky to have those people in my life!

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?”

 

We Choose

ATTITUDE (1)

I have a confession to make.  I did not walk my own talk this week.  I was guilty of the one thing that drives me the most crazy about my job.

I spent a full day in professional development growing my skills as a leader and a learner.  I ended up taking over ten pages of notes, and I came home with many good ideas for my work.  It was a great day!  I will absolutely be better for having been part of it.  But, full disclosure, I had been dreading it all week.  In fact, I shared with a friend as we were driving there that I was sure it was going to be boring.  I seriously thought about skipping it.

What was I thinking?  I know better.  I get out of things what I put into them.  I choose my attitude.  Imagine how much more I would’ve gotten out of it had I been fully and positively engaged right from the start.

It can be tempting to play the victim in staff meetings, in staff development, in the staff lounge.  We sometimes complain about what is being done to us without taking any responsibility for our own attitude and our own level of engagement.  We are in charge of our own learning.

I know there have been times when I was in a session that wasn’t as interesting or as relevant as I needed it to be.  When I had the right attitude, I was still able to learn something.  I know there have been times when I planned and facilitated staff development that wasn’t as interesting or relevant as others needed it to be.  Thankfully, when that happens, there are dedicated, positive professionals who learn things anyway and who come to me to help make it better the next time.

I am on Facebook.  I see the memes about teachers and staff development.  I try hard to just laugh at them and move on, appreciating the humor.  But deep down inside, they make me sad.  They make me want to reach through the computer and have a meaningful conversation about personal accountability for growth and attitude.  They make me want to ask people what attitude they hope students have everyday when they step into the classroom.  And they remind me that my job is to make all learning opportunities (for students and for staff) meaningful.

I am definitely not making excuses for staff development that is neither relevant nor engaging.  I work everyday to help us all get better at that.  We need to differentiate learning, so it makes the most sense for the learner.  I am suggesting though that we should all take responsibility for our own attitude.

Take advantage of every opportunity to get better at what you do or to grow as a human being.  Listen to the message, participate in the conversation, seek meaning.  If the activity or the topic isn’t relevant and engaging, get involved.  The leaders I know are excited when teachers want to participate in planning professional development.  Offer your input, share your opinions, but also be willing to step up and make it better.

 

 

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.