Category: Leadership

Leading The Way

I was working with the “little ones.” That’s what Lorelei and I call our four and our three-year-olds.

For some reason we have our kids categorized into two sets. The “big ones” and the “little ones.” Oddly, the “big ones” aren’t actually that big and the “little ones” aren’t actually that little anymore.

Regardless, we were selecting cloths for an afternoon out with a couple of their grandparents. After settling on snappy casual and gathering what we needed we turned to leave the room. Before we did, our three-year-old son made his intentions clear by holding up a hand and shouting, “I am leading the way!”

In our house, “I am leading the way,” is a decree that speaks to line positions along any particular path. Going to the dinner table, heading into the basement playroom, caravanning upstairs to take baths and brush teeth, every destination has someone “leading the way” in the Berg house.

This time, our four-year-old daughter and I were relegated to the back of the three-person line to stutter-step it through the hallway and down the stairs (you can guess who was at the stern).

Little brother clarified at least five more times as we walked. Every couple of steps he twirled his head around, extended his arm and declared, “I am leading the way!”

Each time did it, big sister looked back at me, smiled, winked, and then turned to him, patted him on the back, and reassuringly agreed, “That’s right, Buddy, you are leading the way.”

It was cute. Big sisters rock! This one in particular.

Moreover, it was a great example of Self Determination in play.

To be fair, nowadays my nose is so frequently buried in literature about or related to Self Determination Theory that connections between it and my learning and leadership journey are never far out of hand. When I think of parenting and/or education the tenets of Self Determination Theory typically set the backdrop.

Specifically, I consistently wonder how I’m doing at promoting an autonomy-supportive culture within which those I serve are confident in their strengths, excited to growth through challenges with optimism, and feeling connected to me and one another as positive partners in progress, be they adults or kids.

When our youngest repeatedly declared himself the leader of the way, autonomy, competence, and relatedness rang in my mind.

He seemed to feel equal to the task, he demonstrated comfort in naming himself to the post, and the partnerships he had build over the three years of life with me and with his sister allowed for some flexibility regarding who would take the lead on this leg of the journey.

Incidentally, I rarely get to lead the way at home, but I digress.

Dr. King said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Dr. King was a young man when he began his leadership journey. Unfortunately, he was young man when he ended it as well.

As parents and educators, we can extrapolate a bit as we reflect on his famous quote, and I’d guess that Dr. King would be ok with it.

We can honor Dr. King along with one another and all those we serve by not judging people by the color of their skin, and if we’d like, we can further honor Dr. King along with one another and all those we serve by also not judging people by the number of years they’ve been alive, whether that number is three, thirteen, thirty-seven, or eighty-four.

In particular, let’s honor Dr. King and one another by seeking out and supporting opportunities for the youngest among us to lead the way.

Every time I do it seems to result in bountiful treasures of connected, meaningful, empowering and joyful learning and growth for all involved.

If we are truly going to judge people by the content of their character, let’s eliminate as many other factors as possible. At the very least, let’s try, and let’s continue to try indefinitely, facing each connected challenge with courage and resolve as modeled by Dr. King himself and celebrating each connected triumph with the brand of passion Dr. King projected in the very words he spoke.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Something Not Of My Business

Just after dinner our four-year-old daughter walked into the living room where I was sitting, talking with my sister-in-law.

On Friday nights we eat at my mother’s house with as many aunts, uncles, and cousins who are around. It’s a wonderful weekly tradition and a loud one. There’s a lot going on.

Our kids are the youngest of the lot so they do a bit of showing out, as it were.

They get silly and wild, they demand attention for their stories and dances, and they run around with heightened energy and heightened emotions.

It’s nighttime too. Potential for eight, six, four, and three-year-old breakdowns is relatively high.

We manage, and I have to admit that they’re pretty cute even in heightened states, so we all enjoy the show to some extend. We feel fortunate, even through intermittent frustration.

A highlight for me is when one of the kids needs a break, a problem-solving partner, or a consolatory hug, and they come running to me for it. It’s good to be the go-to break spot, problem solving hugger.

Yesterday, something changed.

Did I mention she’s four?

This time, she ambled into the room as usual, shoulders slumped, arms dangling, lip curled and pouty, eyes upturned and half exposed just under her signature “one of my brothers wronged me” partly closed lids, and brow furrowed. I was ready for a full, fall into me with all thirty pounds hug and some extended comforting.

I opened my arms and offered my best sympathetic look as I queried, “What’s wrong baby?”

As she walked directly past me into the arms of her aunt, shifting her pout to a scowl for just a moment, she lifted her eyes and turned her head just enough to growl, “Something not of your business!” Harrumph.

Ouch, something not of my business.

Ladies and gentlemen, guess what, there are things in the minds, the hearts, and the lives of our children that are not of our business, even in the minds, the hearts, and the lives of our four-year-old daughters.

Also, I suspect the shift over time won’t be that more of it is some of my business.

The kid is teaching me that in order to be trusted in the ways I hope to be as she navigates the trials and tribulations of growing up (which evidently happens really quickly), I’ve got to respect and even appreciate that she’s an individual, categorically separate from me, with her own hopes, dreams, and feelings that I might actually not understand, who will sometimes need me to listen and sometimes need me to back off.

I’m genuinely working to be able to do both with grace.

That said…ouch.

I sure do love her.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Show Up & Shine

Our kids were playing.

My wife Lorelei and I were watching and working.

She looked up from her work and asked if I’d heard of “Moon Beams for Sweet Dreams.”

I hadn’t.

She told me that our local hospital had organized an event by which people got together on ground level outside of the pediatric wing every night in December to show support for the kids being treated in the rooms above.

She got teary as she told me. It moved her.

We have four kids. I would guess she internalized what it might feel like for the families of those kids; the moms in particular. I would guess that her heart went out for them.

An opportunity. It was freezing cold last night.

Regardless, Lorelei suggested we go.

She decided that the Berg crew would be best served standing in that freezing cold, ushering in a new year with lights shining into the windows of kids we didn’t know, kids who needed strangers to be standing in the freezing cold, shining lights into their window.

To be clear, I understand that these kids needed much more than our shining lights.

However, to be clear again, the shining light of a stranger who cares is a powerful thing.

Lorelei saw this program as an opportunity to take that time in modeling this type of giving to our kids.

She understood that through this program we could drive an ongoing expectation of compassionate living, contributing, and the sharing kindness with strangers.

She knew that our kids, as young as they are, would benefit from the interactions they would have with a community of people gathered to shine their lights on others in need.

She knew they would take it in and understand the healing power that exists within them, that they would build the muscle that makes strong people stronger in their resolve to share kindness and compassion, and she knew that they would take another step along the learning pathway that demonstrates a sometimes shrouded truth about tangible energy that flows between people who open their hearts and their minds to that energy, and who fall into it as it flows freely between and among them.

All we had to do was show up and shine.

A challenge. Not too long after we got going the cold penetrated our gear and seeped into our bones. Our four-year-old daughter doesn’t have much meat on those bones.

She was shivering something good. Her teeth were chattering. She expressed concern about her frozen thumbs. Her face told the story of genuine discomfort if not pain.

I was worried that it was too much for her, even a few minutes in.

She got the idea. She was enmeshed with the crowd of light shiners.

She saw the kids shining their flashlights in response from the hospital window above.

She made the connection and would have this image to reflect on over time.

I scooped her up and told Lorelei I was taking her to the car to warm up.

Before I could even pivot to go she shook herself loose from by arms and shouted, “No!”

She was staying. I smiled and stepped back. She turned her shining light again on the kids in the hospital windows.

A message. It wasn’t much for me to stand out in the cold for a few minutes shining my light on some kids who needed to know they weren’t alone. I’m an adult. The cold was cold but I’ve stood out in worse.

For the kids, however…for our four-year-old daughter and her three brothers, for their chattering teeth and frozen thumbs, it was a least a push; a good push…a wonderful push.

It reminded me that sometime we do have to push ourselves even just to show up and shine.

I reminded me that sometimes our lights are dim, and that sometimes we’re facing things that seek to slow us down.

It reminds me that we can’t let that happen, and that when we do (which we do at times), we’ve got to recharge, warm back up, and try again.

My kids, standing in the freezing cold on new year’s eve, through chapped lips and bitterly cold cheeks, shining their lights on others in an effort to help them heal, reminded me that we’re so very much in this together.

It reminded me that if we want this world to be a better, more loving, more sincerely kind, and a more restorative place with each passing moment we must stand together, willingly leaned into and even swept away by the positive energy flow binding us all in compassionate oneness.

It reminded me that so many of us do.

Our world is good.

I’m so very grateful that Lorelei found and provided this opportunity for our family and our kids last night.

It was a wonderful way to usher in this new year.

A task. So here we go, into the next moments, days, months, and years.

As parents, educators, leaders, learners, and partners in life on this planet, it is our task to take each simple message delivered to us through the words and actions of our kids and challenge ourselves to use them on their behalf.

I recently heard someone say that we do not inherit the earth from our parents, but rather, we borrow it from our children. That makes sense to me.

Our task is to hand it off in better shape than when we borrowed it.

Let’s show up and shine, every day, in every moment, and even when it’s tough.

Let’s show up and shine.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Excuse Me: Always Learning To Listen

I was walking through the hallway the other day when I came across a kindergarten student. Our hallways are very wide.

As we approached one another I smiled. He smiled back.

He walked directly toward me. I moved slightly to the right to let him pass. He responded by moving a bit to his left. He was walking directly toward me so I stopped. He stopped.

There we stood, stopped in the hallway, ready for an interaction.

Knowing that interactions are opportunities to build positive partnerships and drive progressive energy around collaborative learning and growth, I smiled again and paused for a moment.

He said, “Excuse with,” with a smile.

I asked, “Yes?”

He repeated, “Excuse me,” this time with a bit more oomwph.

I clarified, “What can I do for you?”

We continued to smile at one another, standing there facing each other, a bit off center in one of our relatively large hallways.

Interactions with kids are great inspiration for reflective thinking, especially kindergarten kids. They’re generally unrestrained in their thinking and they hardly ever hesitate to deliver the news exactly as they see it, or throw out whatever imaginative curiosities comes to mind in any given moment.

I was filled with joyful anticipation.

Instead of continuing with a statement or a question, this kid simply repeated himself.

“Excuse me!” he insisted again, to which I sidestepped a bit toward the wall.

He walked around me and on down the hallway to wherever he was going.

Turns out, he was simply looking to get passed me. I smiled again as he walked away without hesitation.

It’s not easy to know what kids are thinking about or needing in any given moment. As parents and educators we have to listen very carefully.

Sometimes, we have to wait for needs and intentions to unfold over time. It’s pretty important that we take whatever time is needed to make sure we’re responding in kind.

I have a lot of work to do in this area.

I’m typically in a pretty big hurry with lots of really important things to do.

It’s ironic that whenever I reflect on interactions with the kids I serve, whether I’ve exercised patience or not, I come to the conclusion that it’s those interactions that are truly the really important things.

One of the challenges around paying and giving attention is that sometimes we literally have to keep moving. Sometimes we have deadlines, sometimes we have meetings, and sometimes we have needs that simply preempt our ability to maximize positive interactions.

The “excuse me” interaction turned out to be an easy one, it took me a moment, but in the end I simply needed to step out of the way.

Sometimes we do need to step out of the way.

Sometimes, however, kids are looking for us and not knowing how to express that they are.

Sometimes they even act out so that we have to spend a bit of time with them.

Sometimes they’re looking for us to interact.

Sometimes they need to know that we know how independent they are and sometimes they need to know that we know how important they are.

When we listen with open hearts and open minds, ready to step out of the way or stay put, we serve kids well.

With plenty of work to do in this area I plan to focus on developing my listening to kids skills on behalf of the ones I serve.

I plan go about it by slowing down and attaching a bit of on-the-spot reflection to my listening practices.

I might have to breath a bit deeper in some moments when quick seems to be the way.  I think I can get there.  I think I need to.  I think it’s important.

What strategies do you use for genuine, compassionate, and responsive listening?

How are you focusing on growth in this area?

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Great Fullness

It’s nice to rest. What a wonderful treat that we had a few days to remove ourselves over and rejuvenate over the Thanksgiving holiday and in the midst of another incredibly busy school year.

Our breaks seem to come just at the right times, don’t they?

Just as we gave our last ounces of energy, just as we pushed ourselves to the limit, just as we put our heads together one more time for parent-teacher conferences, just as we needed it we were given some time to reflect.

Appropriately, that time was also centered squarely on a foundation of gratitude. I’m certainly grateful for it!

While our field is as challenging as any, the built-in opportunities for reflection are not only healing, they’re also reminders that reflective practice is critical to learning and growth.

I’m grateful that this structure, embedded in the public education paradigm, reminds us regularly that even when we’re not officially on break we should take time to slow down and process when we can; a few deep breadths, an intentional walk, some journal writing, or a candid conversation with a trusted partner.

Partnerships are among the important targets of my gratitude. There’s arguably nothing more impactful on student well-being and achievement (not to mention our own personal and professional learning and growth) than the positive partnerships we form with one another.

Partnerships are so incredibly powerful in the formative development of every child we serve together, and each partnership is just similar enough and just different enough to rest on some standard foundations and also to require some special care. We must nurture each one with focused intention and individually.

There is an art involved in fostering and maintaining positive partnerships that drive progress on behalf of kids. Like all art forms, the art of the positive partnership is one mastered over time with great care and detailed attention. As parents and educators we must invest that time, take that care, and give that attention in and around every turn, even and especially when the turns are sharp and swift (which they often are).

When we begin with students in mind and keep balance with an edge of optimism, knowing and regularly reminding one another that all of the challenges we face are short-term, limited in scope, and solvable, we are well on our way to maximizing our ability to artfully foster and maintain partnerships with one another and with kids; partnerships that propel us toward the limitless and fantastic possibilities we know are within our reach.

Now that we’re back from one break and headed into another, what will you do to stay strong in your reflective practice? What will you do to extend the benefits of collaboration within positive partnerships? How will you maintain and build upon the optimism that our kids so deeply need to drive the hope and the inspiration they so fully deserve?

As parents and educators we have such great fullness to be grateful for. What are you doing to take it all in and amplify its benefit on behalf of the kids you serve?

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Don’t Be Silly (unless you want to have fun, relieve stress, and maintain a positive outlook)

Have you ever tried to sneeze with your eyes open? Can’t be done.

How about tickling yourself? Ain’t gonna happen!

Similarly, you can’t be silly and frustrated at the same time. I dare you to try. I double dog dare you.

Next time you feel yourself getting upset, get silly instead – genuinely silly.

You don’t have to jump around flailing your arms, just think about silly things and allow them to surface. Let loose and allow the silly thoughts manifest in real-time, right there, in whatever space you’re in at that very moment.

Let the silly thoughts make you smile. Let them make you laugh.

If people are around that’s okay too. If the silly thoughts do make you laugh witnesses might look at you sideways and tell you you’re being silly, and if that happens smile more. If that happens you know you’ve done it! You’ve been noticeably silly through frustration. Being silly around people makes the silliness measurable, and sometimes it help the people you’re around feel good.

Granted, sometimes it doesn’t. For whatever reason, some people don’t want to be silly and some people don’t want to have silliness around them, so do be thoughtful about gauging the impact and appropriateness of your silliness whenever you take this leap. However, some people do, so I suggest you error on the side of impulsiveness. Throw silly caution to the wind. It’s risky, but to maximize the healing benefits of silly thinking and action one must take reasonable risks. You can always dial it down and others can always walk away.

Make a silly face or a silly noise. It can be subtle. Do it repeatedly (sometimes it takes a minute to congeal). Look in the mirror if there’s one around. Stew in it. If you’re doing it with a pure heart and an open mind frustration will begin to melt away. You’ll start to think positive thoughts. Jolts of amusing things will pop into your mind. Let them let you smile and laugh wider and longer. You’ll start to take yourself less seriously. Seriously.

I got a compliment that I really appreciated and enjoyed from a parent just the other day. She told me that her first-grade daughter came home reporting that I’m a silly and kind principal. Incidentally, kind is another antidote to frustration (and various other forms of distress).

I’m lucky. When frustration creeps into my space I can always find someone to be silly with or kind to. At work I can step into a hallway or a classroom where generally awaits opportunities for either and even both. My home is a veritable silly factory populated by the goofballs my wife and I are raising.

Because I serve kids and those who also serve kids, silliness is largely acceptable in the spaces I occupy (and kindness is generally appreciated), and on the same foundation, being silly (and sharing kindness) mostly produces really positive outcomes like shared laughter and genuine, joyful engagement.

If you let it, being silly can be really fun. When done with conviction and without restraint it can relieve stress and foster positive outlook and progressive outcomes. It can show those we serve that joy is a sustainable alternative to frustration, even in deeply frustrating times and through profoundly frustrating challenges.

Silliness is a close cousin to optimism in that it sets the stage for light-hearted solution-based growth through un-blurred and along pathways un-obstructed by self-doubt or skepticism.

If we can be silly when the going gets tough, seriously silly, then anything is possible. If we can consistently model persistent joy and faith in limitless possibly to the kids we serve as educators and parents just think of what a wonderful world they might envision and cultivate for themselves, and how cool that we could have the opportunity to grow old in that same world.

We each only have a certain amount to time to play with. None of us really know how much. If it’s silly to suggest that the more we smile and laugh during that time the better off we all are than I’m a silly guy. That said, I’m working to get better at it each day. Join me if you’d like. Be silly, be kind, and smile…you might like it.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Lellow Hair

My soon-to-be three-year-old and I were being silly together. It happens a good bit. I’m not sure if he gets it from me or I get it from him; or maybe we’re just simply a couple of silly guys kicking around together. Who knows?

Any which way, there we were…silliness abound.

This kid’s smile is contagious. It’s massive, and full, and genuine. His sizable eyes get all but swallowed by his cheeks at its full power. I can’t help but smile back. No one could.

His laughter is among the most gratifying sounds around, if not in fact the most. Its uniquely joyful timbre saturates a space, resonates in seemingly endless perpetuity, and catalyzes uncontrollable laughter in response.

When this kid is functioning at all silly cylinders it’s like attack of the body snatching giggle monster from outer space; an undeniable force; powerful, prodigious, and healing.

My powers of perception at full steam, I blurted out, “You’re pretty silly,” and then in fit of vanity (and a moment of pride) I followed up with, “Just like you’re daddy.”

My self-absorbed and ridiculous claim stopped him in his tracks. His laughter screeched to a sudden and jarring close, his wide open, gigantic, full-faced smile crumpled into a tiny little pursed line, his brow furrowed, and then his stout little pointer finger aimed itself directly at my face in preparation for the dressing-down he was about to deliver, “I’m not just like you, “ he insisted, “my hair is lellow!”

“Lellow, indeed,” I agreed with deep sigh. Then I tickled him back into a silly, smiling, laughing fit…and on we went.

We can’t want particulars for our children bad enough for those particulars to become their realities, and we certainly can’t mistake our children for ourselves. No matter how apple and tree-ish they seem, their journeys are each undeniably, uniquely distinct from ours. Their needs, their wants, their world-views, are each just that much different that it makes a difference.

Sometimes I wonder why my kids seek indulgence in ways that I don’t understand and gratification in corners that I might have never even found. Maybe it’s because they are not me, and for that matter, thankfully so.

I so profoundly hope that my kids are happy in their endeavors.

As parents and educators we might serve our kids best when our minds and hearts are fully open any possibilities they consider along the way.

My default is to envision relatively traditional pathways for my kids; do well in school, go to collage, get a job, meet a spouse, have a family, paint a fence, mow a lawn, jump in leaves, shovel snow, walk some dogs, etc. These are things that make me happy.

Turns out, my kids are considerable more complex and than I am, one of them even has distinctly lellow hair. If the lellow-haired one is distinct enough from his dad that he doesn’t even seek the simple path I really should support and celebrate that.

Jim Henson wanted to make puppets. Dr. Suess wanted to draw pictures and tell stories. Neil Armstrong wanted to touch the moon. Their dad’s might have been worried for a minute. It all worked out in the end.

We might simply need to listen, learn, guide, support, celebrate, and let kids be anything and everything that works best for them on the way to and through whatever challenging and/or joyful midpoints and ends they head toward.

Colin Hay said (sang), “on a clear day I can see a very long way.” Let’s gift our kids with as much clarity as we can by keeping our hearts and minds open to any possibilities they can imagine, seemingly sensible or glaringly wild.

Let’s let their visions guide. After all, while we do feel the rush in ways they can’t understand (yet), it will be their repeated rise and fall along their way, and not ours.

Even if the lellow-haired one decides to peruse a career as a body snatching giggle monster from outer space, I really should smile. It could be a tremendous contribution to humanity, and after all, he does seem to have a knack.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Intentional Everyday Lovely Looking, Every Day (For The Kids)

Walking in the hallway yesterday I found myself in lock step with a kindergartener. Actually, my pace was moderately accelerated. There was a lot going on in the moment. I was in a hurry.

The kid was probably taking three or four steps to my one, and steadfastly determined to keep pace. To her credit, she made it work.

Think about a cartoon kid, Charlie Brown maybe, drawn with legs and feet in a blur to emphasize intense speed. Passers by might have found it comical. This kid could not have been more serious about it.

All the while she was delivering the news…

“My sister has a hamster.”

“Last night we had spaghetti for dinner, with curly noodles & red peppers in the sauce. I don’t eat the red peppers.”

“Turquoise is my favorite color…it’s blue and it’s green.”

“I can chew five pieces of gum at the same time.”

“I’m not allowed to chew five pieces of gum at the same time.”

“A shooting star is a-c-t-u-a-l-l-y a space rock.”

“I saw a cloud that looked like a dragon.”

…and conducting an interview.

“Do you like chocolate, vanilla, or twist?”

“How old are you?”

“Do you know what the second tallest building in the world is?”

“Have you ever seen a Koala bear?”

“What’s YOUR favorite color?”

Interestingly, I have an affinity for turquoise too. Coincidence? I don’t know.

Regardless, eventually we had to part ways. She had to turn into her classroom and I had to go do whatever very important things I was racing to do. It may have even been very, very important…I don’t recall.

I told the kid how fun it was walking and talking with her, and that I enjoyed hearing about the wonderful information she offered. I remarked on how thoughtful and interesting her questions were.

When I mentioned, in closing, that it would have been nice to have a bit more time to chat, she pragmatically replied, “Don’t worry Mr. Berg, I’m here every day.”

I smiled as she bounced into her classroom. I couldn’t help it.

It is truly a joyful reality for us parents and educators that our kids are here every day, and with that in mind, maybe we should be too.

I understand that we can’t always be present. In order to keep the train rolling we have to take meetings, make phone calls, read books and articles, brainstorm with colleagues, spend time alone in quiet reflection, and so on.

However, I also know that there are many ways to maintain a presence of heart and mind when we do have the good fortune of being together with the kids we serve. We must consider these ways, even and especially when we’re in a hurry.

When there are big, important things to do we must breath and remember our purpose.

When any kid is talking to us we must remember that our core interest is that kid’s, and every kids’ well-being, and that being well for kids includes being attentively listened to by adults with genuine interest in mind.

Parents and educators have superpowers. We can shoot ray beams out of our eyes that show kids we care. Conversely, if we’re distracted we can shoot ray beams out of our eyes that show them we don’t.

Roald Dahl brilliantly reminded us, “if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face and you will always look lovely.”

Demonstrating your underlying and genuine care to a child can be as simple and easy as sharing a smile. When you’re racing down the hallway on your way to some very important things, an honest smile can establish that the real “very important thing” is right in front of you, and that same smile can prompt a reciprocal smile, thereby filling an entire space with loveliness.

Parents and educators are busy people. It’s real and it’s true. In that light, I contend that it might be worthwhile to consider routine, everyday lovely-looking, every day, by way of smiling at every turn.

My experience, while arguably limited and spindly on a grand scale, tells me that just that simple act could keep us increasingly and consistently present of mind and heart, and thereby enhance the experience of the kids we serve.

Let’s be intentional about our superpowers. Let’s smile more, and if you already do…lovely!

In it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Re-frame & Celebrate Your Competency

I’ve come across a thing called Self-Determination Theory (SDT) in my research. Basically, SDT suggests that people are best served when the have three basic needs fulfilled: autonomy, relatedness, and competency. It got me thinking about being a parent and an educator.

SDT is set on the foundation that any one of the basic needs unfulfilled has the power to turn out our lesser characters; bring up anxiety, anger, frustration; cause us to think and act in ways we would otherwise not, or rather not.

I blew past autonomy and relatedness for this reflection, and went straight for competency.

SDT proposes that if you don’t feel competent you don’t feel good.

When I read that, I thought about how frequently parents and educators have opportunities to feel not competent, they’re arguably unlimited!

There’s so much going on in every single moment. There are always forms to fill out, sandwiches to make & cut in triangles, baths to run, teeth to brush, homework to do (I mean help with), plans to make, papers to review, assessments to administer, data to process, progress to monitor, and so on.

Parents and educators have tons to do, and because we serve kids, we want to do every bit of it really well…we expect ourselves to. We expect ourselves to get it all right all of the time, and when we don’t get it all right we tend to be really hard on ourselves. The thing is, no one could get all that stuff all right, all of the time.

In the light of the really critical nature of our jobs and the fact that we have to move so incredibly quickly, it’s relatively easy for parents and educators to feel less then competent sometimes. Incompetent even, and if SDT holds, and feeling incompetent gets us cranky, maybe we should re-frame what competence looks like in the typhoon of child development.

Maybe it’s relative?

Maybe we’re doing an ok job after all?  Maybe even a good one?

Walking down the hall the other day a first-grader approached me and asked, “Mr. Berg, do you have a daughter?”

“I do, indeed,” I replied.

Her face scrunched up a bit, a tear squeezed our of her eye and slid slowly down her cheek, and in a bit of a shaky voice she followed up with, “Can you help me with my ponytail?”

I could, I did, and it went really well! Competent!

Then, yesterday, two of my four kids wanted to go on a bike ride to 7-Eleven to get a couple of Slurpees and some chips. This is actually one of my core competencies! It turned out awesome!

We stocked up at 7-Eleven and ate our bounty at the local skate park. We rode those bikes like professional BMX racers. We let the wind blow our hair back, we laughed, and we had a blast! Fun with my children, quality time, spoiling dinner with unnecessary treats, and smiles all around…check, check, check, and check! Competent!

My incredibly wise wife caught me overwhelmed recently, feeling like I was missing the mark in every direction, and so she reminded me that there’s lots of good happening all around me, all the time.

There’s so much positive progress to be found in the lives of the kids I serve at school and at home, and even with the bumps along the way, that’s holistically good. When I remember that, I smile.

When we take the time to remind ourselves of things that we’re doing well we give ourselves a boost of energy, one that might have otherwise been zapped, even if only temporarily, by the importance of what we do and the incredible pressure we tend to put on ourselves.

Parents and educators, next time you’re feeling stressed-out or frustrated, you might consider untangling a ponytail, or even a dinner-spoiling bike ride to 7-eleven, and if you do, you might also consider taking time to recognize and celebrate just how incredibly competent you are!

In it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Or We Could Just be Storks

We were talking about how babies are born, a parent’s favorite conversation. The consensus among my kids, who are still too young for the actual conversation, was that the doctor delivers the babies by taking them out of the Mamma’s belly. They agreed that becoming doctors could be fun, so that they could deliver babies all day long.

Then our clever four-year-old daughter matter-of-factly declared, “Or we could just be storks.”

One of the most wonderful things about our jobs as parents and educators is that we get to spend so much time experiencing the thoughts and ideas of the kids we serve. Kids’ thoughts and ideas are so unique, interesting, an inspirational!

Kids exist within an “anything is possible” paradigm and the connected “anything is possible” energy pours out of them in the things they say and do.

While working to perpetuate pathways of genuine learning and growth it’s important for us to remember that there are no silly questions, and there are no wrong OR right answers. I understand that storks don’t actually deliver babies, however, is it a bad thing that my four-year-old daughter thinks they do?

In this situation she used that thinking as part of a larger process, a problem solving session with her brothers, an extrapolation of considerations, and an envisioning of the future; all stuff that’s good for her to practice doing.

She was deeply engaged in a collaborative dialogue. She was interested. She was being thoughtful. She outlined a viable alternative course of action, a “kid-viable” alternative course of action, but a viable one none-the-less.

Sharing in imaginative dialogue and play with our kids is critical to their positive progress with regard to communication and problem solving. We should always remember to stay enthusiastically engaged while we encourage them to explore their every thought and idea.

We should provide innumerable opportunities for them to interact with one another and with us in inspired and imaginative ways. We should model and celebrate creative thinking around carving out pathways toward goals, and we should always employ and appreciate the language of possibilities. All things that are easy to do when we simply follow their lead.

Enthusiastically giving kids space and time to think and to dream gives them permission develop an inspired sense of self, and permission to take the world on through very real and reasonable lenses that we might have otherwise not even been able to imagine.

Besides, whose to say she can’t become a stork? If that’s her vision…certainly not me.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.