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 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.

The Person Right in Front of You


I am an Optimist.  Saturday night was a big night for Omaha-area Optimists.  We had our largest community fundraiser, the Summer Bash for Childhood Cancer.  It is an amazing event, and our club sponsored a table.  But I wasn’t there. I had the opportunity to go to a concert with some friends, and it was a terrific night.  I had some mixed emotions though.  I knew the Summer Bash was going to be amazing.  The table was full of fun people with whom I really enjoy spending time.  I know I would have enjoyed seeing the fruits of our labor and celebrating the work of the last year with my fellow Optimists.  I also knew though that I would have a great time at the concert.  I needed to get my head right before the evening started.

Life is full of moments like this.  We make one choice over another.  We camp instead of flying somewhere in our downtime.  We miss a chance to have lunch with people because we’ve already committed to a meeting.  We choose to spend our summer vacation with family instead of taking that cruise with friends.  It’s just not possible to be in two places at once.

So how do we honor the moment?  How do we appreciate each event, each meeting, each person in a way that makes the most of our time and theirs?

Think for a second about the people in your life you enjoy the most, the people who make you feel the happiest. I am going to guess that there is something powerful that each of those people have in common.  I am going to guess that each of those people make you feel special.  I bet when you sit down to have a meal with those people, they ask about your life and they really listen to what you say.  I bet when you are meeting with those people, you feel like the topic at hand is the most important thing they’ve dealt with all day.  I bet you feel like you matter to them.

Those people know something that not everyone has figured out.  They live their lives in a way that not everyone does.  They take each and every opportunity to focus on the person right in front of them.  They are not concerned with the meeting that’s coming up, the lunch that they are missing, or the event that they chose to miss.  They are fully engaged in the moment, and they are fully engaged with the person right in front of them.

A friend shared some advice he’s been given about how to interact with people in meetings.  It really resonated with me.  For you, that is but one of many meetings you’ll have that day.  But for that person, it is the only meeting they’ll have with you that day.  When they leave it, how will you have made them feel?

In education, this is unbelievably important.  The building secretary signs many people into the school each day, but each of those people is only welcomed into the school once.  A teacher interacts with many students each day, but each of those students may only interact with the teacher once that day.  The principal deals with many parents and staff members throughout the day, but each of those people may only deal with the principal once.

How do you want people to remember that interaction?

I am writing this as much for myself as anyone else this week.  I am blessed with an amazing job full of meetings and opportunities to work with students, parents, and staff.  I am blessed with family and friends who genuinely want to spend time with me.  Am I staying fully engaged in the moment?  Am I staying fully engaged with the person right in front of me?  Not as often as I should be, but you can bet I’m trying to get better about this!

Keeping the First Things First


I work in education.  It is without question the most rewarding, engaging, and important work I can imagine.  We are entrusted with the care and teaching of people’s children. We show them facts and figures.  We empower them to think and learn things on their own.  And we shape what they believe and who they will become.  It is an awesome responsibility, and it is an enormous joy.

In classrooms, our focus should be on helping students develop the knowledge, skills, and character traits necessary to be the best versions of themselves.

In schools, our focus should be on empowering teachers and supporting students and families in order to meet the needs of everyone as they enter the classroom.

In districts, our focus should be on providing the resources and support necessary to ensure that each student has a successful school experience.

Steven Covey says it like this: Put first things first.

My roles in education have changed over the years.  I was a middle school teacher for thirteen years.  In that time, it was not always easy to put the first things first.  I set challenging objectives, designed engaging lessons and developed authentic and meaningful assessments.  I got to know my students on a personal level and tried to establish relationships.  But without fail, every year, there were things that got in the way of what I knew should be the first things.  Some of my students didn’t have enough to eat.  Some of my students had anxiety or depression or just that painful funk that often accompanies middle school.  Some of my students would misbehave and make it hard for everyone to focus on the lesson.  There were metaphorical fires to put out at times.  And in those times it was hard to put the first things first.

As a building administrator, those issues seemed to grow.  A disagreement between students in the neighborhood at night would spill over into first hour English class and end up in my office.  Those students who didn’t have enough to eat would stop in my office to grab a pop-tart on the way to class.  Sometimes a student who just needed to cry would take up several hours of the day.  I knew that my first job was to be the instructional leader in our school.  I knew that I should be in classrooms watching lessons and providing feedback, but it was not always as easy as I wished it would be.

As a district administrator, I know that putting first things first means being present in our schools and at activities.  I know it means being in classrooms watching lessons and ensuring that our curriculum is sound, our instruction is effective, and our assessment is driving instruction.  But there are still those metaphorical fires that get in the way. Staffing issues, discipline issues, and other emergencies (that many times are actual emergencies) get in the way of me keeping the first things first.

So what to do about it?

I’m not sure I have the answer, but I know that we need to give ourselves and each other grace when what we perceive to be the most important thing that someone should be doing doesn’t get done.  We need to recognize that there may be any number of things happening in our classrooms, in our schools, and in our district that are a more immediate need than what we shared as a necessary task.  We need to accept that our most pressing issue may be minor in the work that others are doing at a given time.  Sometimes putting the first things first means taking care of a hungry student, a frustrated parent, or a building principal who is asking for help

And then we need to refocus our attention, reflect on how we are spending our time, and design systems that support our work and allow for both the emergencies and the deeper leadership that guarantees all students succeed.

Nobody said this was going to easy.  But it is definitely worth it.

We Choose


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.



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.

How a Note Can Change the World

I have worked for two different people who started meetings by asking us to write notes of gratitude to colleagues.  Not rocket science, I know.  But culture-shifting and life-changing.

Something happens when you put your focus on recognizing other people.  Something powerful.  First, you impact that person in ways you could not imagine.  Human beings need to be valued.  We need to know we matter and that other people know we matter.   It seems so simple, but taking the time to write a note and letting people know what you appreciate about them can make all the difference in their day.  Over time, this kind of validation can change a life.

Writing notes (or other rituals designed to recognize and appreciate people) can impact your day as well.  It lifts your mood.  It takes the focus off whatever might be happening in your life, and it shines a light on something positive.

And the impact on your organization cannot be overstated.  A work culture that focuses on the strengths of its people is positive.  The people feel valued.  I have seen first-hand how a shift towards building relationships and recognizing the contributions of other people can change a school, a district, or an organization.

People matter.  People need to know they matter.  Tell them.

As we start a new school year, it is worth a reminder that our students also have this primal need to be recognized, to be seen, to matter.  A friend shared a video with me this week that was a vivid reminder of this need to matter.  Welcome your new students.  Learn their names quickly.  Know them.  And then tell them and tell others all of things you appreciate about them.

Our world can feel overwhelming at times.  The news is full of events that make us question humanity.  How could something as simple as a note ever have an impact?  It can.  It does.  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)

Show Up

I woke up yesterday with a terrible headache…so bad it would be more accurate to say that the headache woke me up several times.  But it was a big day for my daughter.  She had been working with a committee all year to organize the volunteers for a large autism society fundraiser, and the event was yesterday.  It was important to her that we were there.  I took some medication, ate breakfast, rested for a bit, then got up and got ready.

When we left the event, I had a beautiful email waiting from a friend and colleague.  She has recently suffered a loss, and she was thanking some people for being there to offer support.

The morning was a powerful reminder of something I learned long ago and was just discussing with a friend.  At times the most important thing we do is show up.

Gallup research explains that engagement improves when someone at work “seems to care about me as a person”.  Our lives are important.  Our celebrations, our losses, and our big moments matter.  When the people with whom we work ask about our children and grandchildren, wish us good luck on the graduation party we are hosting, or offer a hug after a hard loss, we connect.  It increases that sense of belonging.

Attending the visitation or funeral of a loved one is a concrete example of showing up.

Attending someone’s retirement reception is another.

Pay attention to what people share.  The big events are not usually a secret.  Ask people what they are doing over the weekend. And really listen.  When someone extends an invitation, go.

I have a good friend at work who has made these events a priority.  She speaks beautifully of the impact others made on her when she lost her father.  Not only does she show up, she reaches out and invites me along.  I have learned so much from what she has modeled.

Now, I would never suggest that you attend events when you are sick, and I am not promoting the guilt that comes with having to miss one of these events because your schedule does not permit it.  Real life requires balance.  There are things we miss because one person can only be one place at a time.  There are things we miss because sometimes no matter how hard you try, you cannot fit one more thing into your day.  And of course there are things we miss because the healthier option (either physically or mentally) is to rest.

I am simply suggesting that there times when what people need most is for us to just show up!