Category: Leadership

Moon Hearts, Best Friends To Be, And My Unremarkable Brain

Sometimes my wife and I tell our kids that we love them as much as the moon and the stars.  Sometimes we say we love them with all our hearts.  A few days ago our youngest told me he loves me with all his moon heart.  Even better.  It kind of took my breath away.  I kept the tears at bay, and they were working hard to surface.  

Joy, a fascinating emotion.

We’re blessed with a lot of love in our family.  Love takes many forms.  Sometimes it’s challenging and sometimes it’s flowing, graceful, and easy.  It’s certainly a treat to bare witness as our kids grow into themselves, individually and as a crew, on the foundation of the love we share.  

The other day we were dropping the sister off at a play date.  She has lot’s of those.  She doesn’t have any sisters at home, so instead she has a whole bunch of friend-sisters who she loves and loves to spend time with.  

On the car ride she was pushing every brother button she could push, and even finding some new ones.  The boys were justifiably beyond frustration.  One of them told her he was glad she had so many play dates.  He’s a great big brother and he loves her with all his moon heart, but he’d had enough.  I understood.

We finally arrived.

As she bounced out of her seat and through the threshold of our mini-van door she informed them that, “one day everything will change, we’ll grow up, I won’t torment you like this, and we’ll all be best friends!”  Then she stuck her tongue out, wiggled her bottom in their direction, and skipped over to join her already hoola-hooping, bubble-blowing friend sister with a huge, joyful smile on her face.

I believe part of the comfort she demonstrates in being able to go off and play so often has something to do with her comfort in knowing that home, love, and in particular…the bothers are always there for her when she returns.

I believe the truth is that she knows they’re already best friends, and that she finds sizable joy in the friendships she shares with her wonderful brothers.

This is what I believe, and within the pages of this reflective journal I’ve poured out many beliefs on the foundation of my thinking.  But friends, be careful, I recently found out that my brain is unremarkable.  So, the hundreds of pages of reflective thinking that precede this page are arguably unremarkable, too.  Please read with caution.

I was at a follow up appointment with my neurologist regarding the moment of Transcendental Global Amnesia I enjoyed in December when I got the official word.  I read the report myself.  My brain was described as “unremarkable.”  I had my suspicions but this was official and conclusive.  

I told the doctor that while unsurprised I was deeply offended.  He courtesy laughed.  A nice guy.

He assured me that I want an unremarkable brain.  He told me it’s the kind that nothing’s wrong with.  He told me it’s the kind that lasts.  

Then he told something that didn’t compel the smarmy joke mechanism in my unremarkable brain to trigger.  

He told me that sometimes scary, unsettling things happen for reasons we don’t understand before we investigate and reflect on them only to realize we’re actually alright.

Ain’t it the truth.   

I sometimes yearn to be sensational.  I often look at my children and see them as exceptional.  I occasionally find myself hoping for extraordinary things to happen as I round the corners of this strange journey.

What if moon hearts, best friends to be, and my unremarkable brain are enough?  What if what seems unremarkable is actually remarkable?  What if what seems ordinary is actually extraordinary?  What am I searching for anyway?  What I actually have it? 

“Actually alright.” Enough.

Unremarkable. Joyful. Lasting.

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

Thanks For “Nothing”

Something happened. 

“Nothing” happened.  

It was very interesting.  

After lots of testing the doctors hypothesized “Transient Global Amnesia.”  It happened on Sunday evening.  

On Monday morning I felt strangely rejuvenated.

“Strangely” because one might think that an evening in the hospital, being poked and prodded, CAT scanned and MRI’d, blood pressured and temperature checked, might have resulted in exhaustion instead.  Somehow it didn’t.  Somehow it was rejuvenating.

The doctors made clear that “Transient Global Amnesia” wasn’t their diagnosis but instead their hypothesis.  

They told me it’s the thing they hypothesize about people who “check out” for a bit and don’t show any signs of the really scary stuff that can sometimes be associated with “checking out” for a bit.  

They said I’m fine.  I was happy to hear it.  Lorelei (my wife) was really happy to hear it.

All told I asked some goofy questions, made some confusing statements, and didn’t remember a couple of hours of my evening…and then I felt rejuvenated.

I’m not a doctor, and even when I become one I won’t be that kind of doctor, but here again is my hypothesis: “nothing.”

Since no one’s sure what exactly happened to me I’m decidedly going with “nothing.”

It was unintentional this time, but given that I experienced what seemed to be some genuine and powerful healing outcomes as a result, I’m left wondering how I can reproduce it with intentionality. “Nothing,” that is.

Is it possibly for me to take time for “nothing” every now and again or do I have to have some hypothetical “Transient Global Amnesia” for that?

In reflection, I’m choosing to believe that the few hours I “lost” were actually spent in a deep state of forced mindfulness, ironically making that time a net gain. 

I’ve decided to believe that my mind wisely powered down. 

I’m feeling confident it was a good decision.  Imagine that, my mind might just be a better decision maker than I am.  Go figure.

I can learn, though.

What I’m learning from this experience is that “nothing” might actually be “something,” and “something” pretty special at that.

What if I could force myself into a state of  “nothing” every once in a while?

What if I could remove the questions, the worries, and the wonders, and simply clear the space out?

What if I could clean my mind up every so often?  

What if I could periodically take some time to not think?

What if I could spend some moments not planning, not organizing, and not designing?

What if I could intentionally engage in some mental Feng Shui as needed?  

You know how it feels really good to clean out and organize a physical space before moving on to the tasks of the time?  Why not apply that same principal to a mental space?

What if I could reproduce the rejuvenation I felt after “checking out” for a few hours earlier this week?

Could be healthy. Could be meaningful.

I understand that this is not an original thought.  It’s just that it’s making so much sense to me in the moment. 

I once read about a young monk and an old monk sitting next to one another meditating.  The young monk eventually began to get restless.  He looked at the old monk as if to ask, “Well?”

Without turning his head or opening his eyes the old monk said, “Nothing happens next. This is it.”

As I move forward bent on working to enhance my mindfulness practice I’m filled with gratitude for the meaningful experience I had this week.  Strange and even scary in some ways, but meaningful to be sure.

So, thanks for “nothing” Transient Global Amnesia.  I’ll try real hard to not waste it.

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

Staff Meeting! Staff Meeting!

We were at my nephew’s 16th birthday party.  He’s a great kid and our kids love him to pieces.  Essentially, he becomes a jungle gym when we get them together.  This time, however, he was surrounded by his friends.  The party was teaming with enthusiastic 16-year-olds chattering away about whatever it is 16-year-olds chatter away about and patting my nephew on the back.  

My kids had trouble making their way into that mix, so they were eventually left to their own imaginations and resourcefulness.  They decided that chasing one another around, finding hiding places and testing the limits of mischievousness would be a perfect direction to in for the afternoon.

That’s when it happened.  The 3-year-old called a staff meeting.  He literally shouted, “Staff Meeting! Staff Meeting!”  The others eventually gathered under the pergola-like structure on the side of the house and waited for further instructions.  I witnessed the phenomenon from a distance and smiled.  I didn’t get involved at first.

Eventually, as the staff meetings increased in frequency the others lost interest.  Sure enough, the 3-three-year old found his calls futile. “Staff meeting! Staff Meeting!”  He continued.  His bothers and sister stopped attending or even responding. They moved on and back to the “limits of mischievousness” exploration.

I couldn’t leave the big guy thinking his staff meetings weren’t important.  He was working so hard to organize them and he seemed to enjoy the so much.  Besides, being someone who facilitates staff meetings myself I thought I might be able to learn a thing or two.  Couldn’t hurt.  She I answered the call.  He smiled and directed me to the spot under the pergola-like structure.  

Upon arrive he sat me down and with great vim inquired, “Ok, what type of ninja are you going to be?”

Before I could answer he listed the options, “You can be the ninja who runs around, the ninja who flies, or the ninja who annoys people.”  I decided to be the ninja who annoys people.  Why fight it.

He told me that he would continue to be, “The adorable ninja,” and off we went to skillfully annoy people and be adorable with stealth and cunning.  It was a blast!

As parents and educators we simply must take the time to engage in the strange, wonderful, creative, and unique imaginative play scenarios the kids we serve come up with.  

They need to know how important we find things that are important to them.  They need to know that we appreciate, cherish, and want to enthusiastically engage in the world as they see it.  

They want to see that pretending is a wonderful pathway to discovery and innovation. 

While we teach them the ins and outs of navigating real-world challenges, we’ve got to let ourselves holistically fall into the world of kid play that serves as such a wonderful foundation for their learning, growth, individualized development.  

Besides, it’s fun:).

In it together for the kids!

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

A Few Breaths

The five-year-old comes screaming into our bedroom three to five nights a week. She’s been doing it for what seems like a few years now.  It’s become hard to measure the length of the phases that our kids go through. 

With four so close in age we’re generally experiencing multiple phases simultaneously: scared to go to the bathroom alone, needs to be snuggled for a half hour before falling asleep, will only eat pancakes without chocolate chips, will only eat pancakes with chocolate chips, will only eat chocolate chips. You get it.

This one is interesting, because it wakes us up abruptly (and by “interesting” I mean shockingly able to impart irreparable harm to our sleep cycle and psychologic well-being).  

The screaming is both physical and verbal. 

First we feel and hear the clomp of her feet hitting the floor from down the hallway, followed by her bedroom door flying open with a creak, a bang, and another creak after the bang, just before the pitter pat of her tiny “acro-jazz,” tap/hip hop feet scurrying across the wood corridor, preceding the blunt force slamming of her palms into our bedroom door, it flying open, another creek, another bang, frantic shouting and crying through uncontrollable hyperventilation, projectile tears and drool spraying forward and outward in all directions, all accompanied by inaudible expressions of what can only be described as terror, and finally, the compelling why through hard sniffling, “A LADY BUG IS IN MY BED!”

Then, she leaps into my arms (I sleep on the door side), crashes hard and instantly, settles directly into the snoring pattern employed by my great uncle Marv sleeping in his armchair at holiday parties and family gatherings (this man could crush walnuts with his bare hands – of course my 35 lb daughter sounds just like him when she snores), additional drool, and the occasional emission of various bodily gasses. Lastly, as I catch my breath and adjust to suit, she demands plainly and without opening an eye, “Go get my water.” 

She demonstrated no regard for our wellbeing in these moments.  Five-year-olds.

Interestingly, after the initial trauma I find this phase sweet and endearing.  I wouldn’t miss it. Actually, I suspect I will miss it when it’s gone.

That said, my job is to help her become independent.  I’m supposed to be guiding her toward courage and an ability to regulate those emotions, even in the middle of the night, and even when lady bugs attack.

It’s hard to see our impact because growth takes so much darn time, and ours is mixed in with the impact of  the many others we entrust her care to (grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers and coaches, etc.).  I did see it one day recently, though, and it was really cool.  She taught me (as she does so often).

This time she came sauntering instead of screaming. No clomps or bangs or slams, only a few slow creaks. No shouts. No projectile tears or flying drool. 

On this night she simply crept in, slid into bed, gave me kiss on the forehead and said, “I didn’t run or scream, Daddy,” followed by, “I just took a few breaths.”

That’s my girl. She’s awesome. Truly.

Even if we can’t do it every time, even if we struggle mightily, I think we should just take a few breaths thought fears and intense struggles as much as possible, especially when the kids we serve are watching. It feels good and we’re all better off for it. At the very least, it can’t hurt.

In it together for the kids.

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

Wait, What The What?

A quote from the 3-year-old – “Wait, what the what?”

This kid says lots of interesting things.  I get it, he’s spent much of this life observing three older siblings, a mom and a dad, and the world around him, quietly, patiently, and with a curious, reflective look on his face.  

Each of our kids have just under a two year gap between them and the next, so they seem to relate on many levels.  They play together well.  They argue, fuss, and fight well.  They share solid and deep love and a bunch of joyful moments with one another. Well.

This one, though, is just young enough that he does a bit more watching than the others.  The others are usually entangled.  He’s in the mix much of the time, but sometimes he’s not.  My wife and I speculate that “out of the mix” watching has given him a unique perspective on things.  We speculate further that it could be at least a part of the foundation of his fascinating, uniquely articulate ways. 

Quiet, thoughtful observation might just lead to joyful learning and growth.  Who knew?

Anyway, as I mentioned, the big fella’s new phrase is, “Wait, what the what?”

He says it when he’s looking to dig deeper.  It’s an exploration catalyst.  

“That cloud looks like a cantaloupe.”

“Wait, what the what?”

“The daddy seahorse has the babies.”

“Wait, what the what?”

“Looks like some ripe, red tomatoes are ready to be picked in the garden!”

“Wait, what the what?”

You get it.  He utters this signature phrase and comes running to question, explore, examine, celebrate, and marvel in the wonders of the world as they unfold before and around him.  It’s build in.  It seems to be built in to all of them.

The 9-year-old is an explorer as well.  He’s an explorer of the world in a bit of a different way.  His explorations fold almost seamlessly into his imagination.

Sometimes he seems lost in thought.  I’ll ask how he’s doing.  He’ll tell me he’s fine, and that he’s imagining that dinosaurs exist.  It’s fun for me to see him lost in the world of his imagination.  I’m a dreamer, too.

I was at his curriculum night this week.  Each kid posted a display of places they had been during the summer.  They labeled sticky notes with a location and drew landscapes on a grid under the sticky notes.  Each sticky note could be lifted up to reveal the landscape.  There were about ten spaces in the grid.  Most of his were current, existing places.  He listed Mackinac Island, Kalahrai, The Adventure Park, The Sleeping Bear Dunes, etc.  

Then, I came across the sticky note that read, “Pangea.”  I lifted it.  Dinosaurs. He drew and colored a likeness of his exploration of a place in which dinosaurs exist.  He did so as a representation of a place he’d visited this summer.  Dreamer.

Imaginative envisioning of the world might just lead to joyful learning and growth.  Who knew?

Quiet, thoughtful observation.  Imaginative envisioning of the world.  Kids are well equipped to learn.  As parents and educators it’s critical that we give them space, time, support, and encouragement.  They are each unique.  It’s critically important that we celebrate that uniqueness.  It’s critically important that we get to know them well, and that we facilitate a process by which they can safely explore and be proud the pathways they envision for themselves, which are sometimes not exactly the ones we envision for them.  It’s critically important.

When I met the 9-year-old’s teacher this week she greeted me with her arms tucked in and her hands wiggling around.  She told me she was practicing her T-Rex arms so that she could communicate with my kid.  She only just met him.  I almost cried.  He is going to spend this school year learning and growing with a teacher who’s genuinely interested in knowing him and supporting his unique pathway.  He’s spending his days with a person who’s excited that he’s a dreamer.  She seems like one, too.  My heart is filled with gratitude.

After one week we are reminded in no uncertain terms that educating children is a fast-paced, challenging, and often stressful charge.  However, even in our exhaustion we are also reminded in no uncertain terms that it’s infinitely joyful and unimaginably rewarding as well.

Let’s find the balance.  Let’s go with the flow.  Let’s always remember the joy.  Let’s rely on one another to accept every challenge as a chance on behalf of our students we serve.

In it together for the kids!

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

The End Of Beginnings

We visited lake Huron this past weekend.  It was a really cool place on Michigan’s east coast called Sturgeon Point.  There’s a one room school house, a lighthouse, and an awesome, rocky beach.  We’ve been all over the mitten this summer.  Sturgeon Point is quite different from the more tourist-populated, built-up destinations we spent most of our time at on the west side of the state.  That said it was among my favorites.  

The rocks were smooth and colorful.  Many fossils for the kids to discover and collect.  The wind was blowing perfectly. Not to hard but steady enough for each blade of dune grass to stand a bit slanted and wiggling in unison with each of the others.  The waves capped off in white foam as they crawled toward the shoreline.  

The kids’ kites lifted up out of their hands to dance above us with such little effort. On that day, and in those moments, they were all world class kite pilots; youngest to oldest.  The cheap wood and plastic apparatuses were dipping, weaving, diving and soaring at their will. Our three dollar kites would have thrilled even the Wright Brothers with their grace and utility.

I was in the waves.  It’s one of my favorite places to be.  A Michigan kid all the way.  The water was warm so a few of the others took the plunge with me, body surfing and horsing around a bit.  

When they finished I still wanted to play, so I jogged through the whitecaps to the shore where the nine-year-old was fastidiously selecting rocks for his bucket.  I asked if he wanted to take a break and splash around for a bit.  He replied, “Do I have to?”

“No,” I said, “not if you don’t want to.”

He smiled and said, “Maybe another time,” before dutifully returning to his task.

Ouch.  Maybe another time.  Ok.  I had no option but to grab the seven-year-old from a few yards away toss him back in the water.  Unlike his big brother, he had to.

I wondered about the line.  When does a kid change from someone who appreciates being forcibly (and lovingly) tossed into the lake to someone who doesn’t.  Different for each I suppose.  

Regardless, in that moment it struck me that this kid could be experiencing the end of a beginning.  He’s certainly not done being a kid.  He’s not at the end of the end of it.  I hope he’s not at the end of the middle of it, or even the middle of the middle.  Just maybe at the end of the beginning.

For a moment I had succumb to a whirlwind of reflective thinking about this seemingly horrible prospect.  If this ridiculous thing is happening to the nine-year-old what might be happening to his siblings?  

Earlier in the day I told the three-year-old that we were going to go on a glass bottom boat, only to be confronted with, “Is it a secure glass bottom boat?”  Three-year-olds don’t ask that.  Is he at the end of the beginning of tiny tot-ness?  

The seven-year-old is stretching out.  There’s no more meat on his bones at all.  Where did it go?  All of his pajama bottoms are floods.  I could swear they fit him last weekend.  Is he at the end of the beginning of little kidish-ness.

The five-year-old doesn’t give me a hug and kiss anymore when I drop her off to play with friends.  Instead, she extends her tiny hand and insist, “Just go, Daddy!”  Doesn’t even look back.  I know because I do.  A lot. What beginning could she she be at the end of?

I don’t know what kind of fortitude I’m supposed to have, but thinking about all these ends of beginnings was really starting to get tough on me.  The previously enjoyable waves of Sturgeon Point, once calmly lapping at our beautiful rocky lighthouse shore had transformed into pulsating waves of mocking, taunting laughter that almost had me holding on for dear life.  “Time waits for no man!” They laughed.  “Your grip is slipping!” They provoked. 

Until it hit me.  Things came a into focus and I quickly settle back into the great joy of my lot.

I’m a husband, a parent, and an educator.  It’s not for me to want for stillness, but rather revel in the movement that drives all I’m supposed to be doing.  I’m supposed to appreciate growth.  I’m supposed to look on independence with gratitude and find the courage to step ever-back as they move ever-forward and even away.  I’m supposed to find the strength to continue showering those I love with that love while I loosen my grip on their hands.  

Sigh.  Joy.  Sigh.

There are ends to my beginnings too.  Good ones.  Headed into my fifth year as the principal of a warm and welcoming school community in a progressive, cohesive district I feel that a beginning may be at its end for me.  To be clear, I have light years to go in my capacity for service and in my leadership practice.  It’s just that I know a bit more than I did before.  I have a bit more skill on the foundation of a few more mistakes I’ve been gifted to make in the bit more time I’ve had to practice my job, craft, my art.

As we think about moving into another energized and exciting school year I say we consider intentionally relishing the end of beginnings as it comes to us, to each other, and to the kids we serve.

We’re built for growth.  We’re made for movement.  Even when it’s tough, which it is sometimes, we should find strength to celebrate the end of beginnings in the same fashion we would celebrate our most triumphant moments.  Then, we should breath deeply, reflect clearly, smile and move along.  

Cherished memories in our minds and our hearts and the conviction that our collective learning will guide us ever-closer to wherever it is we’re going…we should smile and move along.

In it together for the kids.

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

A Chance For Her to Learn

We were at the Detroit Historical Museum.  It’s nestled between the DIA, the Michigan Science Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and the Detroit Public Library.  Given its proximity to these gems we often skip it in favor of some combination of the others when we’re in Midtown (who am I kidding, the Science Center is our haunt 99% of the time at this stage of the game:).  Every time we do end up at the Historical Museum I remember why skipping it is a mistake.  

It was me and the four (two bigs and two littles).  If you haven’t been I highly recommend it.  If you have, I highly recommend a return trip.  So engaging, so relevant to young Michiganders, so much fun for all!  From the massive train set in the “Streets of Detroit” exhibit on the lower level to the life size assembly line display and the Kid Rock History of Music in Detroit showcase on level one, the kids loved it all!  

If your kids are ready for the content and you’re ready for processing with them, there’s also an moving and meaningful Underground Railroad exhibit on the top floor.  Be ready for a deep, reflective, and emotional experience.  My little ones are too little, but soon enough.

One of the stops upstairs is a simulation of the invention of Vernors, a Detroit-based ginger ale brand created in 1866 by the pharmacist James Vernor.  The kids get to put ingredients together and submit their bubbly invention to a digital Mr. Vernor for tase testing.  He either likes it or he doesn’t, and then he gives a critique…too bitter, not bubbly enough, etc.  Our 9-year-old acted as advisor to his 5-year-old sister for her turn. The concoction she made ended up being too bitter.  She was furious!

With red cheeks and clinched fists she turned to me and said, “He made me lose on purpose!”

Surprisingly, he admitted it.

“Dad,” he exclaimed in earnest, “it was a chance for her to learn!”

We spend so much time wanting them to get things “right.”  We hope for it, we wish for it, sometimes we even make it happen by manipulating situations that are beyond their ability to navigate.

Once again I have a kid to thank for reminding me of the backward nature of some of the adult-ish stuff we do!

Parents and educators, let’s let them fail.  Let’s embrace it.  Let’s let them fight through frustration and into learning and growth.  Let’s let it be a paradigm we live in during all the moments we’re gifted as the stewards of their development, from their youngest days on into their adult lives.  

If we’re going to manufacture moment, let’s consider manufacturing moments for mistake making.  They’ve got to get to know how it feels on both ends and all the way through the making of mistakes, the processing of frustrations, the pulling oneself up by bootstraps, and the learning toward “back to the old drawing board” grit, determination, faith, hope, and persistence.

Big brothers.  Great parenting resources!  Thanks, Bud!

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. 

I Got Ya Buddy

We all get scared, even (and probably especially) those among us who claim not to.

If you don’t know what it feels like to have a loving arm around your shoulder when you’re walking through a dark place you’re missing out.  It feels good.  

Compassionate, non-judgmental support is a cornerstone of organizational well-being, regardless of the organization.  Be it a city, a school, a widget factory, or a family…kind, loving, and connected is the way to build cultures in which we’re not only prepared to help one another but also to communicate openly about our need for help.  It’s a need we all have from time to time and one that’s sometimes naively suppressed in favor of the illusion of supreme competence (something none of us actually possess). 

Also, support begets support.  In one moment you’re the loving arm and in another you’re the shoulder. Life is best when we’re enthusiastic about being both. It helps us better understand each paradigm, and in doing so it helps us better understand one another.  We’re a bunch of complex organisms.  It’s as simple as that (so to speak).

Covey reminds us that “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  It doesn’t take much searching to understand that the main thing is people.  The main thing is you and me and those we serve.  It’s each other.  The main thing is us.

Summer is a great time for educators and parents to build our “sharing about fears” and “being open to support” muscles.  It’s a great time because we’re generally in relatively safe spaces.  

During the summer educators and parents tend to spend lots of time with family and friends.  Much of the time these are people who are happy to embrace us for who we are, ready to listen to us with open hearts and open minds, and enthusiastic about being “our people.” 

Generally, family and friends are the ones to catch us when we fall and to walk through the dark places hand in hand with us.  Some aren’t, and we likely know who those some are (if we have some like that in our lives).  However, even those some can surprise us when push comes to shove.

Regardless, a worse case scenario of putting yourself “out there” in this way is disappointment and rejection, which as we all know are both wonderful catalyst for enhanced wisdom and strength.  A positive outcome through hard times remains a positive outcome.

Hope and optimism in mind, educators and parents might consider using this summer as an opportunity to be vulnerable by sharing our fears when they arise and accepting support when it’s available.  Through this practice we can strengthen our “genuine partnership” muscles for when we return to school and enlist them for the critical challenge of seeking to love, understand and engage each child and one another in the light of our magnificent and sometimes demanding individual uniquenesses.  

Just imagine how strong we’ll be if we practice with conviction.  Just imagine what an impact we’ll make if we dust ourselves off each time we stumble in our effort to grow into the most revealed, self-aware, and sympathetic selves we can be.  

We’ll practically be super heroes!

You get what you give.  I say give as much as you can until you can give it all, and then do that.

My son stepped onto an elevator the other day with unsteady legs, watery eyes and a quivering lip.  He told us without hesitation that he was scared.  My daughter wrapped her arm around him and said, “don’t worry…I got ya buddy.”  Without hesitation too.

The main thing.  

We got this!

In it together for the kids.

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

A Lucy Fist Bump: “Wonder Twin Powers Activate!”

When I was a kid I watched a cartoon called “Wonder Twins.”  The “Wonder Twins” were extraterrestrial superhero siblings; brother and sister.  Their super power was an ability to transform themselves in ways that allowed them to achieve amazing and otherwise extremely improbable things.  They could also communicate telepathically with one another and they had a pet space monkey named Glick.

In order to transform they had to fist bump one another.  They would extend their arms, bump knuckles, and call out, “Wonder Twin powers activate!”

Then there was an animated explosion of color between them and they would each enthusiastically describe their intended transformation. 

The brother (who could take the form of anything made of water) might shout, “Form of a giant ice monster!”

The sister (who could take the form of any animal) might exclaim, “Form of a five hundred pound gorilla!” 

After which they would proceed to subdue villains and save the day.  Nothing short of amazing!

Well, last week Lucy Calkins fist bumped me.  Can you guess what I was thinking at the time?  You got it…”Wonder Twin powers activate!” 

Then I thought (enthusiastically), “Form of an educator who can inspire real-time, meaningful, long-term, and transformational progress around literacy learning on behalf of the kids I serve!”

Lucy must have been thinking the same thing, because only moments later she was doing exactly that for a group of wide-eyed, energized educators from all around the world who were hanging on her every word!  I was one of them.  Nothing short of amazing!

Now, I’ve had no success at my attempts to communicate with Lucy telepathically and I saw no signs of a space monkey during the TCRWP institute last week, but we have the fist bump…and that’s something!

Maybe I transformed too.  It feels like I did.  I’m certainly inspired!  

Also, I feel like it’s doable.  I’m not a giant ice monster or a five hundred pound gorilla, but I am something at least slightly different than I was before.  Lucy told me to go back home as “the consummate learner.”  Maybe that’s just what she turned me into.

To be clear, I can’t remember a time when learning wasn’t a priority, but I am energized in a new way having spent the week at Columbia.  I’m infused with tools and tips from the TCRWP team and I’m aching to take the learning and use it to share in even more learning with the team I serve back home.  

I’m super excited to dig deeper into the power of Writers Workshop with my district and school community partners!  

I’m eager to read and to hear what words flow from our students’ minds as they learn to share their truths with even more purity, style, and skill!  I’m grateful.  I’m ready.  

Did I mention super excited?

“Wonder Twin Powers Activate!”

It makes sense.  After all, what does “the consummate learner” do if not wonder?  

I can’t say for sure that Lucy considers herself my “Wonder Twin,” but having listen to and learned from her last week I believe she’d appreciate the literary reference, the playfulness, and the fun of it.

The truth is that we should all be “Wonder Twins.”  If nothing else, Lucy reminded us that this journey is about a process and not a product.  She reminded us that it’s about “wonder” in its varied forms; the “wonder” that comes in question form and the wonder that comes in awe form.  

Lucy told us that writing should bring people together and build genuine relationships.  She told us that it should “breath life into the comings and goings of the moments of our lives.”  

She told us we must listen really closely to our kids and be courageous in response, and that we have to create classroom and school communities in which our kids can do the same. 

She told us that “writers’ notebooks should bristle with vulnerable truths,” and that “people should gasp when they hear each others’ stories.”

She showed us that kids are capable of amazing expressions of truth, power, pain, and joy, and that we are capable of guiding and coaching them into the capacity to deliver those amazing expressions to the their peers, to the communities in which they live, and to the world.  

She inspired us into believing, and in doing so she expanded our potential infinitely.

“Wonder Twin Powers Activate!”

These are my sketchnotes from the institute: TCRWP June 2018 SeB Sketch Notes-pin97b

They’re not my original thoughts and ideas, but rather a frenetic attempt at capturing as much of what Lucy Calkins and her amazing team shared with us during the week.  I plan to use them in conjunction with multiple other tools to share in ongoing collaborative thinking and learning with the team I serve in the upcoming school year. I also plan to share details of that learning journey here and through various other media including Twitter.

Please feel free to use them as well if you’d like (and if you can read them). If you do, please feel free to reach out with feedback and for collaboration along the way.  Actually, whether or not you do, please feel free to reach out with input and for collaboration along the way!

“Wonder Twin Powers Activate!”

Now, as Lucy would say, “Off you go!”

In it together for the kids!

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

The Good Push

Once, when I was upset, a calm, thoughtful person suggested that I imagine a pond.

I didn’t want to imagine a pond. I wanted to push.

I wanted to huff and puff. I wanted to whine and complain. I wanted to kick and shout.

I was upset. I was having trouble seeing past the upset.

I don’t remember if I did it then, but I have done it since, and here’s how it goes:

Imagine a pond.

Imagine that you’re sitting near the pond, possibly on a log or a bench. Maybe with your legs folded on a bed of soft grass.

Imagine that you’re looking across the pond from above.

Imagine the specks of light from a soft morning sun that are dancing playfully on its surface.

Imagine shifting a bit. Imagine leaning over and looking down from above.

Imagine that the surface of the pond is flawlessly still and that the crystal clear gaps between the dancing, playful specks of soft morning sunlight reveal a world of light and life when your eyes adjust away from the reflection of tree branches and cotton clouds above.

Imagine a few carp gliding along in synchronicity.

Imagine some slender, swaying, leafy plants.

Imagine a wise old turtle making his way across the sandy bottom.

Imagine rocks, smooth and jagged, dark and light, big and small.

Imagine a leaf, slowly descending, waterlogged and sinking past the calm action beneath. Let you mind’s eye follow its gentle path.

Now, imagine a raindrop. Imagine a single raindrop breaking the glassy surface of your pond. One at first followed by more.

Imagine the equal and opposite, perfectly symmetrical bowl of a fracture in your calm surface that each drop perpetuates. Imagine the rimmed spray that defines each fractured center and shape. Imagine the impact of each drop and how it alters the surface of the pond, the world beneath, and state of your mind.

Imagine that the soft drops become a spattering.

Imagine that the sky goes dark.

Imagine that the spattering becomes a shower and that the shower becomes a storm.

Imagine that you can no longer see beneath.

Imaging that the surface of your pond is no longer translucent but wild, dark, disturbed, harsh and opaque.

Imagine that the world beneath is no longer available to you.

Imagine that you’ve forgotten all about the synchronicity of the carp, the wisdom of the turtle, the complexity and beauty of the rocks, and the soft, organically purposeful pathway of the descending leaf.

Imagine that you are now only encased in the wild pounding of the dark cold rain, and watching it also pound on the now rough surface of your once calm pond.

Now, do you remember wishing for telekinetic powers as a child? Did you ever sit at a table, staring at a pencil or a playing card, waiting for in to move in response to the incredible powers of your mind? Do you remember believing that it would?

Good news. You have such powers.

When our minds are cloudy, when we’re inside the storm that come with stress, anxiety, anger, and fear, when we can’t see past the hard, cold, pounding rain and dark clouds, we tend to want to push.

We tend to need to.

We tend to push with, and even against our own will.

We tend to push at others.

We tend to communicate less effectively than we otherwise would.

We tend to push our priorities and our best selves aside.

We tend to see increasingly less clearly with each push.

We tend to need to actively release the negative. Ironically, we tend to exacerbate it with our efforts, and we tend to diminish relations with others and with ourselves in the process.

We need to push and we should.

A calm, thoughtful person, by way of suggesting that I imagine a pond, guided me to thinking about the good push and away from the bad, harmful, counterproductive pushing of a clouded mind.

Here you sit, in your imagined storm, over your disrupted pond, under your dark, invented, limiting sky. It’s time for the good push. It’s time to enlist the telekinetic powers you’ve always known you have. It’s time to build the muscle that harnesses your strength and taps your courage and enlists your calm and expands your vision and steadies you mind.

Now head back to the stormy pond-scape you were imagining and try this:

Imagine that the pure power of your will slowly wipes the dark away from the sky.

Imagine that the cotton clouds move in as the dark sky moves out, and that the soft morning sun peeks through once again and scattered, glistening rays along with it.

Imagine the storm slows to a shower, and that the shower slows to sprinkle, and that the sprinkle slows to a misty dew floating above the now calm-again surface of your pond, before it lifts in smooth synchronicity into the sky and dissolves before your eyes.

Take in the feel and the smell of an imagined world renewed, refreshed, and calm.

Imagine bending your head and reconnecting with the surface and the specks of light from a soft morning sun that were once and are now once again dancing playfully upon it.

Imagine shifting again. Imagine leaning over once more and looking down from above.

Imagine, like you did before, that the surface of the pond is flawlessly still and that the crystal clear gaps between the dancing, playful specks of soft morning sunlight reveal the same world of light and life when your eyes again adjust away from the reflection of tree branches and cotton clouds above as it previously had.

Imagine the carp gliding along in synchronicity.

Imagine the slender, swaying, leafy plants.

Imagine the wise old turtle making his was across the sandy bottom.

Imagine the rocks, smooth and jagged, dark and light, big and small.

Imagine the leaf, still slowly descending, waterlogged and sinking past the calm action beneath. Once again, let you mind’s eye follow its gentle path.

We tend to hold true a misnomer that in order to be productive we must think of the myriad things on our proverbial plates, to organize and attend to them, to focus hard on the clutter rather than the calm.

A calm mind is not an inactive mind. A calm mind is simply one that can see and be seen clearly.

A mind is like a pond in that there is world of light and life inside of it that is difficult to engage with during the storm.

It’s not enough to wait for the calm. It’s not enough know that the storm will eventually pass. We still need to push; it’s a part of who we are. If we simply wait, we tend to push in wounding ways. Hurt people hurt people, right?

We must embrace the storms as they hit. However, we must enlist the good push, even by manufacturing the need and applying it repeatedly.

We each have the power. We must practice. We must forgive ourselves when we fail, which we will, and we must press on with the notion that a foundation of optimism, a commitment to positive tones in thought, voice, and action, and a dedication to calm minds can enhance this world for us, for those we serve, and for those we serve with.

Parents and educators, we must model strength, courage, and calm in this way for our children.

We simply must.

In short, I urge you to take a moment when you can (even if you think you can’t), and imagine a pond.

In it together for the kids.

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