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.

 

Who You Are Matters

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

Leadership is not easy.

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

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

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

Who we are matters!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone Has a Story- Part 2

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

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

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

I am complex. So are you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone Has a Story

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

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

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

We all have a story.

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

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

imageAnd be willing to tell your story.

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

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

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

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

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

Life Needs More Exclamation Points!

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

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

Yes!

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

Say Yes

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

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

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

Be Present

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

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

Extend Opportunities to Others

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

Experience Wonder

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

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

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

 

 

‘Tis the Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I Choose to See the Best in the World

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I had a great week!  Some amazing and fun things are falling into place at work.  I got to hear one of my favorite educational thinkers in person, and she was as good as I’d always hoped she would be.  Two of our district’s football teams won in the semi-finals and are headed to state.  And best of all, my niece Logan was born.  It was a terrific week!

Then I got home from football Friday night and turned on the news.  I’d seen glimpses of what was happening in Paris, but I had not slowed down to absorb the full weight of the attacks.  My heart broke, like it does every time I see the devastation wrought when evil and anger and ignorance manifest themselves in our world.

I am overwhelmed with sadness and fear and anger at the hate.  I am grief-stricken for the family and friends of those who lost their lives.  And I am worried for the wounded, in body and in spirit, whose journey to healing will be difficult and long.

The world can be a hard place.

Life ebbs and flows in even an average week.  And we’ve all had days that were anything but average when things went wrong and life got hard…sometimes very hard.  I have had bad things happen in my life.  My friends have had worse.

But for every story of pain and loss, there is a story of strength and resilience.

“The heart of life is good.”  (John Mayer)

I am resisting the urge to be fearful of the world our precious Logan has just entered.  I do not want her life to be about fear.  I want her life to be about joy!

According to the US Census Bureau, about 251 babies are born every minute.  Every minute!  That’s 251 opportunities every 60 seconds to change the world.

As I’ve said in the past, I am not burying my head in the sand and ignoring the very real threats to our physical, psychological, and societal well-being.  The world can be a terrible place, but if I choose to see the worst in it, I am doomed to a life of fear. I am of little use to the people who need me most.  I will not let that be Logan’s reality.

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I choose to see the best in the world.  I choose to embrace the stories of compassion and support that were being reported alongside the devastation in Paris.  I choose think about the heroes who ran toward the violence in an attempt to save lives. I choose to celebrate the people in my own life who have overcome horrific events with grace and positivity.  I choose to think about the 251 babies born every minute who can be loved and nurtured and taught to care for our world.

I am a change agent.  You are a change agent.  Our world can be changed.  And in the meantime, there is more right than wrong with people.  There is more good than bad in the world.  There is more love than hate.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” (Marianne Williamson)  That’s what I’ll teach Logan!

You are causing ripples, intended or not

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It was a rough week for our school.  Teachers were negative and impatient.  Students were edgy and misbehaving.  Parents were irritated.  We didn’t teach like we usually do, and we probably didn’t inspire anyone.  And it was my fault.

It was a rough week for me.  I was sick, and I was overwhelmed by personal issues and professional frustrations.  My stress level was high, and there is no doubt that my emotions had an impact on our whole school.  Todd Whitaker says it like this, “when the principal sneezes, the school catches a cold.”

I can remember that week clearly.  Even now, years later, I feel guilty about it.  As leaders we have to accept that our emotions will impact everyone else working in our organization.  We set the tone.  The superintendent sets the tone for the district.  The principal sets the tone for the school.  The teacher sets the tone for the classroom.  It is an awesome responsibility, and one for which I’m not sure I was always adequately prepared.

Susan Scott talks about the need to be aware of our emotional wake.  Like a boat in calm water, you are causing ripples whether intended or not. Every interaction, every conversation, every look leaves an impression on the other person.  It is unavoidable.  There will be times when we have to make unpopular decisions and have difficult conversations.  It will leave a wake.  It is unavoidable.  But we need to be mindful that even informal, casual interactions leave an impression.

It’s not really fair that the culture and climate of our schools are tied so closely to our emotions, but they are.  The more aware of this fact a leader can be, the more successful they will be in addressing it.  Our superintendent calls it “getting back to zero”.  When something happens that impacts your positivity, recognize it, and get back to zero as quickly as possible.  Don’t rehash the negative.  Don’t relive the event. It happened.  Move on.  Your emotions, your attitude, your wake is impacting others.  It is a reality you accepted when you chose to become a leader…in your classroom, in your school, in your district.

Positivity is not always easy.  There are times when real, significant issues occur in our lives.  There are times when we need to seek help and find comfort and wisdom from others.  Seek it.  Find it.  Get better and move on.

When things in the organization aren’t going well, start by looking in the mirror.  Could you be having an unintended impact?  Have you been sneezing?

The October Letter

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Fall is my favorite season.  Decorating the house for Halloween, curling up with a book in comfy clothes, and burning Yankee Candles bring me joy.  I love October.  But in schools across our district, October is a busy month.

I was walking the hallways of our school late one afternoon, returning to my office from a meeting.  As I passed a classroom, I heard a teacher crying.  Our conversation was long, and she shared all of the stress she was feeling: papers to grade, lesson plans to write, conferences to prepare.  She felt overwhelmed, and she was sure that everybody was feeling like this was the most stressful year they’d ever had.

Someday I will write a whole blog on the dangers of indefinite pronouns (like “everybody”) and superlatives (like “most stressful”), but for now, I’ll concede that after some probing, we agreed that people were feeling swamped.

As our admin team processed how we might support the teacher (and the rest of the staff), we decided to make our weekly grade level meeting about fun.  We crafted a fantastically motivating letter reassuring the staff that things would get better, and we shared positive quotes about the impact they were having on students.  It was good stuff.

We did a “save as”, called it The October Letter, and then discovered that we, in fact, had created an October Letter the year before.  Seriously!  There was a letter on our server with the same title and eerily similar content.  Apparently we had forgotten that our school was feeling the same way exactly a year earlier.

When we reflected on the school year, it made total sense.  We had been working for almost 12 weeks with only one day of vacation.  We had kicked off a new year, gone through an entire grading period, moved past the honeymoon phase and into the reality of our students’ many, many needs.  People were worn out.  And just when they were at their most tired, we asked them to be “on” for two nights of conferences and a day of professional development. It’s no wonder there were some tears.

School years have cycles.  Every school is unique.  In our school, October was the low.  Once we became aware of it, we could plan for it rather than reacting to it.  Effective leaders have emotional intelligence.  They recognize that the social and emotional health of students and staff is as important as effective instruction.

Plan Ahead

Get good at looking ahead and assessing when things may be too much for staff.  Plan systematically to roll things out over time.

Recognize the Signs

Pay attention to the climate in your building.  Ask and listen, so you can address issues as they arise.

Go Quiet

There is a time to push and a time to sit back.  Effective leaders recognize each of those times.

October is a gift.  Enjoy it!  The sunsets are glorious, and the weather is still nice enough to go for walks to enjoy them.

And if your school year cycle means you’re feeling some stress, take notice.  Get yourself back into balance by inserting fun where you can.  Look around, who needs a zip-lock bag of candy corn?  We can each chose to lead from our seat on the bus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Science of Happiness- Soul Pancake

The Happy Secret to Better Work- Shawn Achor

Kid President Pep Talk

The Beautiful Caterpillar 

What is our fascination with butterflies?  Oh I understand, they are beautiful.  In my family we love monarchs.  My children hunted for milkweeds with their grandma to find the caterpillars that would someday become the monarchs.

But what’s wrong with the caterpillar?

It’s as if the potential for something more beautiful, more appreciated is instinctive.  “What if” sometimes seems more important than “what is”.

I’m guilty of it myself.  I wrote about the butterfly and asked Whose Wings are You Seeing.

But the caterpillar is valuable and beautiful in and of itself.  It does not need to transform to have value.

Helping our students see their potential is important.  We build lessons and design activities to help them imagine success in high school, a college experience, or a future career. All great things to do. But it is equally important to ensure they know they are wonderful right now.

As educators it is our privilege and our awesome responsibility to ensure that every child in our care knows they matter.  Right now, in their current condition, in their current state, they are wonderfully and perfectly made.  Will they grow?  Of course.  When they know better, will they do better?  I hope.

But I am trying to focus on appreciating people, and appreciating myself, for who we are right now.