Positivity

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.

But What If It’s Cloudy?

When I was a child, we only had three commercial television stations and PBS.  Every Saturday morning was set aside for cartoons, and we were still “turning the channel” by hand.  (Insert similar story from my parents about walking to school in the winter, through the snow, uphill, both ways.)  A few times a year, there were “major television events.”  We would gather to watch The Wizard of Oz or Gone with the Wind.  I have vivid memories of the 3D glasses, one red lens and one blue lens, purchased from the convenient store to watch 3D movies on TV.  Those were the days.

Communities came together.  We shared collective experiences .  We planned for them; the news hyped them up for weeks; and we knew exactly what everyone would be doing at that moment.  It was an event.

This week I have a similar pair of glasses sitting on my desk.  Something amazing is happening tomorrow.  A once in a lifetime opportunity, a collective experience.  Many have been waiting years, decades even, for the chance to see a total eclipse of the sun over the skies in the United States.  It will be incredible.  In our district a dedicated team of people have been getting us ready for this one day, this one moment, since last winter.  Research has been done.  Safety has been planned.  Lessons are designed.  We have even “drilled” the experience.  It is going to be amazing!  We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to show our students a solar eclipse at 98% (just out of the path of totality), to teach them the science, and to help them experience the awe that accompanies it.

But what if it’s cloudy?

Nature does not always cooperate with our plans.  There is chance for clouds, even rain, on Monday.  All of this work could be for naught.

Untrue.

I would propose that if it is cloudy, if the skies open up in a torrential downpour, we still have the opportunity to teach our students something important.  First, of course, there is a Plan B in place.  We know the ways we can live stream the eclipse to keep the instruction going.  But I think we can also teach an important life skill if the best laid plans go awry.  Attitude is everything.  Embrace what the day gives you.

Things do not always go as planned.  In fact, they rarely do.  So what?  Some of my favorite memories happened in unexpected rain.  Riding the Splashover at Adventureland in a rainstorm was more fun than it would ever have been in the sun.  Hiding under the evergreens on a mountain in Colorado (just yards away from the moose we never saw) was more memorable than a successful hike in the sun would have been.  Attitude is everything.  Embrace what the day gives you.

If it is cloudy on Monday, we will still get to show our students an eclipse.  Maybe we’ll be in our glasses looking out the window then sitting in the library watching the NASA live feedback with hundreds of thousands of other people.  Maybe we’ll see it over Oregon or Illinois.  Still cool.  Attitude is everything.

Embrace the experience…whatever it is.

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!

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.

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.

A Balanced Life

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April is a busy month.  And May is certainly not any slower.  There are choir concerts and Honors Nights and track and baseball and soccer.  There are the usual birthday parties and anniversaries.  And of course there’s graduation.

Spring is a busy time.  But so is summer…and fall…and winter.  Our lives are busy.  Between work and school and church and athletics, our families are running in many directions.  It is easy to get overwhelmed and feel like we are not living a balanced life.

I have had many discussions over the years with my friends about finding balance in our lives, finding that work/life balance, focusing on body/mind/spirit balance, achieving whatever that perfect balance is that keeps us healthy and happy.  Many of those conversations started with a well-meaning friend who was worried about my balance at a given time.

After much reading, many conversations, and some serious soul searching over the years, I have arrived at my own understanding of balance.  There is no such thing as balance, and I wouldn’t want it if it existed.

If I am going to be honest,  I have imagined a life where I workout every morning, read the paper, and make a real breakfast before heading to work.  Then I connect personally with all of my co-workers, clear all my emails, and check everything off my to do list.  I leave work a few minutes early, check in with my parents and my siblings and take a few minutes to catch up on Facebook and Twitter.  When I get home I take a quick look around the house to pick up any messes, go through the mail, stay on top of the bills, and play fetch with the dog.  Then I cook a delicious meal and set the table for dinner.  I clean up the kitchen, watch a few of my favorite shows on Netflix and login to do any evening emails and finish up my work from the day.  I read for fun every night before bed, pray, meditate, stretch and do yoga before turning early and getting 8 hours of sleep.

My meals are healthy.  My clothes ironed.  Everyone gets their birthday cards on time, and I never forget an important event in a friend’s life.

Obviously I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.  Until there are 47 hours in a day and I become a much more perfect version of myself, it is unlikely even half of that ever becomes reality in a day.

And I am fine with that.  For years I wasn’t fine with that.  For years I thought if I read enough, reflected enough, or made enough to do lists that I would be able to find this perfect balance that would make my life complete.

Well guess what, my life is complete.

When I need to work more, I do.  When I need to go away on a cruise for a week, I do.  Are they balanced?  Not even close.  I think our lives are about finding the things that bring us joy and then doing them.

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So release yourself from the guilt that comes with working late at school or leaving school early to go to a soccer game.  Give yourself grace when you buy your contribution to the potluck or put your children in a store-bought Halloween costume.  Some years you sew Pooh and Piglet costumes in the basement, and some years you buy a ladybug costume at the store.  Your children will remember both years fondly, and they won’t love you any less because you bought their costume.

We each get to define what brings us joy.  Likely what makes my life complete is different from what makes your life complete.  Normal in my family is different from normal in my neighbor’s family.  We establish our own routines and traditions.  I am not advocating selfishness or wanton disregard for the needs of others; I am just suggesting that we stop beating ourselves up for not being balanced.

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!

 

 

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Science of Happiness- Soul Pancake

The Happy Secret to Better Work- Shawn Achor

Kid President Pep Talk

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.

 

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

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I stumbled this week.  I was presenting a report to our Board of Education.  It was an important project over two years in the making, and when the moment came, I flubbed it.  Now it could have been much worse, but I certainly provided the comic relief in a pretty serious meeting.

I had prepared for that moment for months.  I had written my comments weeks earlier.  I ran through what I was going to say over and over.  I didn’t sleep much the night before, but I thought I was ready for anything.

And then, when the moment came, I tripped up.  I got too excited and jumped right over protocols (and the Board of Education) and into my speech.  Everyone laughed.

I had a decision to make at that point, and thankfully the other people in the room showed me the right thing to do.

“That was awesome.”

“You rock.”

When I was done, my text messages were supportive and fun.  The lesson from my colleagues was clear.  “Don’t take yourself too seriously.”

Leaders are so often in serious situations.  Real, difficult, serious situations.  The opportunity to lighten the mood is not always evident. It would often times not be appropriate.  But when  the moment does present itself- run with it!  Life is short and too often hard.  If there is an opportunity to see the funny side, take it.  Take it especially if it means poking fun at yourself.  Moments like that can teach you humility.  People need to know…you need to know…that you are human, that you err, and that you recognize your mistakes and can give yourself grace.

I think it is important to note here that laughing at other people is never okay.  In my case, the room was filled with friends.  Everyone was clearly laughing with me and not at me.  Humor is essential to effective leadership.  Humor at your own expense can ease tensions and build relationships.  But humor at someone else’s expense will almost always damage relationships.

I wish that I had been nothing but poised and professional in my meeting.  I wish that it had gone the way I played it out in my head all those times. But it didn’t, so the options were clear: stress and worry about it, beat myself up about it, or laugh and move on.  Humor isn’t always the appropriate response, but whenever it is possible, don’t take yourself too seriously.

Be Awesome Anyway

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School years have natural ebbs and flows, and the two weeks before Spring Break can sometimes be difficult days.  Anyone who works with children knows the phenomenon of the week before the week before a break.  (Yes, you read that correctly.)  Right before a break, everyone exhales and sees the light at the end of the tunnel.  But that week before, the anticipation and stress peak.  It can be a rough time in schools.  My advice…be awesome anyway!

“If there are two paths, I want to be on the one that leads to awesome.”  Almost 35 million people have watched Kid President’s Pep Talk video on YouTube.  Why?  What message inspires that kind of following, and what can we as educational leaders learn from it?

Leadership is complex, but there is one characteristic that seems to inspire people universally.  Positivity!  People want to be motivated by their leader.  They want to feel like they can be better, achieve more, succeed.  Energy is contagious, and you can choose to spread negativity, or you can choose to spread positivity.

Effective leaders have insight, emotional intelligence, and gravitas.  When they are interacting with others, they show exceptional interpersonal skills.  In times of crisis, they display almost relentless positivity.

Leadership is difficult.  In schools it is about leading instructional change, making difficult and divisive budget decisions, disciplining students.  Many situations have two opposing sides. The pace is frenetic, and the stress is palpable.  Yes, leadership is difficult.

But when the moment is challenging, when people are angry, when the circumstances are frightening, people need a leader who is none of those things.  Leadership is difficult, but the best leaders have a way of maintaining their positivity.  A colleague who works with new administrators in our district describes his style as that of a duck.  Below the water, he is paddling fast and furious, but above the water, where people can see, he is positive, calm, and smooth.

Our Superintendent describes it as “getting back to zero”.  Regardless of the stress of the moment, effective leaders get themselves back to a positive place quickly.

Never would I assert that successful leadership could be broken down simply into any one thing.  We are all different as leaders, and our differences should be celebrated.  But if we could all start by being positive, I believe we could create a culture that allows for growth.

Regardless of the current circumstances, take Kid President’s advice. Be awesome!