Category: Student Success (ISLLC 3)

A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by ensuring management of the organization, operations, and resources for a safe, efficient, and effective learning environment.

Imagine That: The Impact of Play on Agency

Robin Williams’ Peter Pan in Steven Spielberg’s “Hook” was a masterpiece. I highly doubt I’m alone in holding that opinion. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading, find your closest television, search it up, and see it now. Don’t forget to come back.

Welcome back!

Amazing, right? Moving and inspirational around every turn. 

I especially love the “use your imagination,” feast scene.

Old Peter sitting at a table with the lost boys, starving while watching a swath of colorful and covered serving dishes being set, steam emanating from each. Believing that they were filled with culinary treasures he could smell the feast, only to be holistically defeated as lids were thrown off to reveal the nothingness inside.  

Peter’s face sunk as he stared at  the Lost Boys digging in without hesitation. In disbelief, he watched them believe. He was frustrated, confused, and desperate. 

We saw nothing, too. Mr. Spielberg gave us Peter’s lens. It was brilliant. He would expose us to the wondrous power of imagination in the same moment it clicked for Peter. 

At one point, Thud Butt (a lost boy) asked Peter if he was going to eat what was on his plate.  Peter looked down, shrugged his shoulders, and then passed the apparently empty plate across the table with is a sarcastic huff.  Thud Butt received the plate with glee.

Just then, Juilia Roberts’ Tinkerbell (“Tink”) said, “Eat.”

Peter asked, “What’s the deal…where’s the real food?”

Tink replied, “If you can’t imagine yourself being Peter Pan you won’t be Peter Pan, so eat up!”

And there it is. If you can’t imagine yourself being (insert your name here) you won’t be (your name again)! 

Then a hint of the moment appeared. The turning point became imminent.

Peter engaged in a Battle of words with Rufio (the leader of the Lost Boys in Peter’s absence). It got heated. Finally, when enough was enough, Peter flicked a dollop of technicolored food-goop across the table at Rufio’s face. The thing is, it landed. 

Everything stopped. Everyone was stunned and/or overjoyed. Someone said, “Your doing it Peter!”

Peter said, “Doing what?”

“Using your imagination.”

Then, from that point forward, without exception or hesitation, Peter Pan was Peter Pan.

Among other things, I’m “Daddy Tickle Monster.” Imagine that.

I don’t know how it started. Our kids love being tickled, they love playing, and they love pretending. They have wild and vivid imaginations. I’ve noticed that all kids tend to.

It typically begins as soon as I walk through the door after work. One of the “littles” (our younger two of the four) greets me at the door with puppy dog eyes, fighting a sly smile, and simply asks, “Daddy Tickle Monster?”

Sometimes I hold them off for enough time to set my backpack down, take off my coat, and say “hi” to Lorelei. Eventually we end up in what I can only describe as a combination of a rugby scrum and Wrestle-Mania three. Laughing, shouting, attacking and recoiling. The kids assign personas to themselves. They call them out.

“I’m Super Banana Jumper!”

“I’m Monkey Boy!”

Usually, as they enthusiastically announce their stage names they leap into the air, only to land on me with an elbow to the lower back, a knee in the neck, or an entire little body smack dab on my head. 

I do the best I can to protect myself. Sometimes as they land I’m curled up in a ball, and then as they try to get up I reach out with lightning fast speed for a quick tickle or an extended take-down. The old man always wins.

Yesterday, our five-year-old executed an incredibly impactful whomp during a particularly energized “Daddy Tickle Monster” moment. Imagine a frozen bag of sand landing on the side of your head from about three feet up. I let our a bit of a groan as I did my best to shake of the driving pain. 

His sister redirected him in a deeply frustrated tone, “Hey, don’t hurt Daddy!”

How wonderful. She truly cares. A daughter’s deep and enduring love for her father is a beautiful thing to witness. Awww. That’s my girl.  

Or maybe I thought too fast, because her next exclamation was, “If you hurt him he won’t be able to play anymore!” 

Still, I know she loves me. I can just tell. I sure love her.

Anyway, they agreed that they should’t break their toy, and they negotiated a plan to “take it down a notch.” Neither Super Banana Jumper or Monkey Boy consulted me as they discussed the situation. It was as though I wasn’t even in the room. No more inflicting driving pain, though. That was good.

Agency, I thought. This game gives them power. 

Imagination, pretending, and playing. This stuff helps kids learn how to visualize who they are and what they can be. It stretches their potential and opens wide the truly limitless possibilities they embody.

If you can’t imagine yourself being (insert your name here) you won’t be (your name again)!

Imagine that. Literally.

I imagine myself as “Daddy Tickly Monster” during much of my life right now. Who would’ve thunk it. In my mind (and my heart), it’s among the most important things I am. 

I also imagine myself as a leader and a learner, a partner in the service of thousands of kids, and a positive contributor the world I share with everyone I pass along the way, and even those I will never know about. I imagine myself this way through the triumphs and the challenges.

I consider it a part of my job, by way of teaching, modeling, and yes…playing, to give the kids I serve opportunities, tools and permission to imagine anything and everything they can. I expect them to do just that, and to top it off, I consistently imagine the incredible things to come!

In it together for the kids.

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

Well? Triggered Not Trapped

How do you feel? 

Well? 

If so, why?

If not, why not?

Did you sleep ok last night? How about that list you’re working on?  You know, all the tasks you have to accomplish today. How’s that going, so far?  

What about the people in your life? Are your personal and professional relationships intact? Any challenges needing to be addressed, problems needing to be solved, or conversations needing to be had?

This is a very abbreviated list of the kind of stuff each of us has to think about as the moments of our days tick from one to the next. It can be overwhelming.

Then, with all of this in mind (and much more), we need to head off to whatever it is we need to head off to. There’s often not enough time to attend to what we need to attend to before even more piles on our already overflowing plates; our wonderfully rich, magical and joyful…still overflowing plates.

Just the effort to prioritize becomes a chore, time consuming and often stressful.

So now we’re driving to work, headed to a soccer game, going shopping, walking into a family dinner or a kids’ birthday party, setting up to sell girl scout cookies outside the local farm market, or any number of other commitments that require our immediate attention and land smack dab in the middle of those moments that just keep ticking by. 

Who has time for wellbeing? 

Much of the time we’re so busy just “being” whatever it is we have to be in any given moment that we tend to forget about the “well” part. We push through and we soldier on. 

Sometimes I find myself rationalizing that I’m better off working through head aches and/or exhaustion rather than taking breaks. I convince myself that work production, as opposed to balance, will produced diminished stress (even thought I don’t actually believe it). Actually, the opposite usually seems to be true. More balance tends to produce more productivity…and more meaningful productivity, to boot.  

But it’s tricky. 

Sometimes plowing through to get stuff done gives us the ability to rest for stretches of time afterward. Other times resting in the moment gives us the strength and ability to dig into to work completion when we’re rejuvenated. Both seem legitimate, depending on the complexities of the situation.  

That there doesn’t seem to be a clear cut rule is problematic and often confusing. 

The question is how do we know? 

How do we measure where we are in real-time so that we can accurately determine wellbeing-enhancing courses of action? 

Our emotions can be triggered in many ways by a variety of antecedents. If we’re not careful, triggered can sometimes become trapped. When were trapped in emotional responses we think less clearly, we act more rashly, and in turn, we tend to be less connected and productive. As parents and educators we simply don’t have time to let triggered become trapped. There’s too much going on.

We’re human, and that means we can’t help being moved as the world moves around us, and as we move within the world. 

We experience a range of emotions throughout each day. It’s healthy. The key is what we do with those emotions; how were process them. 

We’re going to get triggered. It’s not realistic to think we won’t. It might be realistic, however, to imagine a paradigm in which we don’t get trapped in emotions after being triggered. It’s reasonable to expect that we can managed triggered emotions so that they don’t get in the way of our forward progress. 

Since we’re each unique, I’d suggest that the path could, would, and should be different for each of us as well. For that reason I have very simple advice here: take some time to make a list of things you can do to prevent being triggered from becoming being trapped, write it down, post it on your refrigerator, and and then play with the items on that list when it happens.  

What calms you?  

What energizes you? 

What revitalizes you?

What fills you with compassion?

What helps you understand?

Thoughtfulness drives thoughtfulness. Joy drives joy. Hurt drives hurt. We tend to get back what we give. Being able to decide what you give is a meaningful ability, and in my opinion, well worth working diligently at.

Get good at not being trapped. Have fun with it. Celebrate your successes. Forgive your failures. Keep trying, keep playing, keep having fun, keep celebrating, and keep forgiving. Keep making the world a better place for yourself, your those around you, and for everyone else, too. You might like it. 

In it together for the kids.

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

Low Power Mode

When my phone is depleted enough on battery function it prompts me to engage in “low power mode.” It recognizes that there could be some time between that moment and the time I’m able to charge it up. 

My phone is programmed that way. Good thing, too. That programming saves me from being cut off in the middle of conversations,  losing the ability to take that one last picture of my kids being a kids, or sharing a “thinking of you” text with my sweetheart. 

If I didn’t respect and respond to “low power mode” my phone would simply stop sometimes. It would stop in the middle of whatever it was doing. It would shut down occasionally. Boom. Just like that. 

“Sorry, no more phone for you,” it might say (if it could), “…not until you do the right thing and plug me in. I need a rest and I need a charge.”

Knowing my phone it might also say, “Consider wiping the sticky, dried coffee off my screen while you’re at it.”

Like my phone’s battery, my battery gets depleted. My power runs low, and even out. 

Unlike my phone, I’m not programmed to suggest “low power mode.” I’m programmed to push until the, “no more phone for you” part, but for me it’s more like, “no more me for you.” It’s, “no more me for you, for me, or for anyone else,” when I push myself to the brink of “shut down” and beyond. 

I see this happen frequently among the group of educators and parents I serve with.

We serve kids. 

We serve kids because we feel called too do so, and serving kids is as testing as it is joyful. 

We push ourselves to the brink of  “shut down” before allowing ourselves to fail in the service of the kids we serve. 

We’re very critical of ourselves, even to the point of occasional collapse. 

Sometimes we find ourselves lying in bed, surrounded by wadded up tissues, a bowl of chicken soup on the nightstand, burning nostrils, throbbing head and stinging throat, wondering how it happened. Wondering why we simply shut down, and knowing full well at the same time.

When I think about my phone’s programming, I have hope for another way.  A better way.

Let’s break it down into three states of being: 

“depleted battery,”

“low power mode.”

and “sufficiently charged.”

I typically start the day “sufficiently charged.” 

I’ve slept, I’ve exercised, and I usually get to school with some time to spend in quite thought. The start of the day is an energizing and productive time for me.

During the day I experience a series of challenges and triumphs. It’s a bit of roller coaster.  One that I wouldn’t change if I could.

Some interactions and events extend my battery while others require levels of effort and energy that use it up quickly. Both kinds are important. Both kinds are growth-producing.

I have a mentor who seems to know what to do and how to do it in every situation. It’s amazing. 

When I ask this mentor how a person can be so adept at managing self and situations, I’m flashed a knowing smile and offered the words, “I’m old.” 

Well, I’m old now.  Old enough at least to understand what charges me up and what powers me down.

I’ve been trying this “low power mode” mindfulness strategy and it seems to be working. I’ve been simply focusing on staying present in the moment (an oldie but a goodie) and prompting myself to enter “low power mode” as needed.  

Maybe I’m simply tired, maybe I’m engaged in a challenging interaction with someone whose well-being is compromised, maybe my well-being is compromised, or maybe I’ve just exerted too much energy for too long. 

During times when I find that my battery being depleted too quickly I remind myself to consider “low power mode.” 

When I can, I quickly recount a list of situations and activities that are meaningful, impactful to my mission and important, but that reserve my energy rather than deplete it. 

I politely excusing myself when necessary and/or move into spaces where I can engage in less battery-depleting, and even energizing activities for a period of time while brainstorming ways to fully charge myself up again. 

I’m finding this strategy benefits my leadership practice, strengthens the positive partnerships I work so hard to build and maintain, and enhances my ability to serve kids well. It’s been very restorative.

As educators and parents we are required to exist in the fray, and to manage it well. After all, we are the models of behavior and balance for the kids we serve. 

When we remember to model mindfulness and self-care we enhance our kids’ ability to move through this fast-paced world with intact well-being and increased joyfulness.

Try to recognize when your battery is depleted. Go into your “low power mode” when you need to. Remove yourself if that’s what it requires. Take it easy for minute. Write in a journal. Draw a picture. Eat a snack. Stretch. You know what you need. Take it. 

When you’re ready, re-engage at a comfortable, safe level. If my phone has 10% battery power I probably shouldn’t be streaming videos, but I might decide to look at or take a few pictures if it helps.  

Then, make plugging in and powering up a priority. Take the next opportunity that comes along. Once you’re “sufficiently charge” you can get back at it full throttle. 

Look after yourself. 

You, those you serve, and those you serve with are all better off when you do.

In it together for the kids.

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

Imagine That

In the first week of school our kindergarten teachers put a stuffed animal named “Chester” in my office.  They tell the kids that Chester is somewhere in the building and they spend some time searching for him.  Eventually, they make their way to my office, where they find him comfortably taking a break in a safe place. 

The kids stop by the media center, they see the playgrounds, and they pass bathrooms and drinking fountains. They get a comprehensive tour of the school, chalk full of important information as they search for Chester.  

When they get to my office I let them in on why Chester ended up with me. I tell them that he was feeling a bit sad and that he knew my office was a place he could come to talk, to rest, and to feel safe. I use my imagination. We all have fun pretending.

The teachers and I share some thinking about how kids can also come to me for support, just like Chester did, whenever they need to. We help them understand that our school is filled with trusted adults and we give them suggestions about how they can get the help they need by letting their teacher know how they feel and what they need.  

Most of the kids get pretty excited about Chester. They asked questions, they point and smile, they tell me all about the stuffed animals they have at home and the raccoon they saw in the driveway the night before. Many of them call out, “I found Chester!” 

This year, one little guy stood very still and silent. His eyes were wide. He looked back and forth from Chester’s face to my face. He studies both of us intently. 

Just before following the line of his peers out the door he looked up and asked in earnest, “Is Chester real…did he really come to your office?”

What a great reminder. Kids, especially the youngest among them, tend to believe what we tell them. At least they tend to consider it. 

I told him that Chester was “real” in my imagination. I said I was pretending Chester was “real” so the kids would understand that they can come to my office for help. I shared that our imaginations are very useful and imporatnt, and that pretending can be a great way to learn, especially because all of us have the ability to do it. I smiled and patted Chester on the head. He smiled, and I thought I saw a attempt at a wink.

The Berg kids imagine things all the time. They give me instructions – “You’re the person at the restaurant and I’m the chef,” or “I’m the teacher and your the kid,” or “You’re the brother and I’m the dad.” Then we play, learn, grow, and bond. They use their imaginations to unfold scenarios based on their interests, their curiosities, and their developmental needs. It’s pretty cool, it’s fun, and it’s engaging.

When we think about learning we often visualize something more formal than imagination and pretend play. Undoubtedly, there’s a place for formalities in education. That said, imagination is built-in and easily accessible.  

As parents and educators we have unlimited opportunities to rely on play and imagination, our kids’ and ours, for pathways to growth and well-being with equally unlimited potential.

Imagine that.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. In it together for the kids.

Made Of Love

A few weeks ago, over dinner, my sister told the four-year-old that he’s made of frogs, and snails, and puppy dog tails.  Then, she told him that his sister is made of sugar, and spice, and everything nice.  He thought about it for a minute before replying, “Auntie Rachy, don’t you know…we’re all made of love.”

All made of love.  The kid sees through a nice lens.  And this kid lives it.  

For example, I was pushed just past my limit the other night.  

I was with the frogs, and snails, and puppy dog tails (and love) kid, and the sugar, and spice, and everything nice (and love, too) kid.  We were working on getting to bed. 

The sugar, and spice, and everything nice kid was pretty much just spice at the time.  

In an effort to maintain my composure, I took a breath and told the dynamic duo I needed a bit of a break.  I’d been sitting on the edge of the little brother’s bed. 

Before I could get up off the bed and exit the room (during the extended sigh I perpetuated), he crawled up and grabbed me for a big old bear hug.  

He’s got and aptitude for hugging.  We’re pretty lucky that all our kids are mighty huggers.  It’s a very useful thing in the many moments of parenting growth I experience each day.  That’s to say, I’ve got a lot to learn about consistently being the dad I am in my best parenting moments, and it’s nice to get great hugs from my kids along the way.

This time, the four-year-old held his hug for what seemed an eternity.  Turns out, it was just enough time.  Afterward, he gently pushed me back a smidge, and with his hands on my shoulders and a huge “I told you so” smile on his face he said, “See, daddy…that was love.”  Love, indeed.  

I felt better.  The love offering fueled me.  It was just the ‘bit of a break” I needed.  I was able to re-enter the spice fray with just enough compassion to read, sing, and snuggle the precious angels to sleep.

A Wellbeing Extension: Just Share Love

Hugging isn’t alway the thing to do.  Sometimes, when your wellbeing is challenged, when you’re not feeling quite yourself, when you’re having trouble matching decision-making to your core values, you’re not in a hugging situation.  

You’re not always around people you’d feel comfortable hugging.  Moreover (and possibly more importantly), you’re not always around people who’d feel comfortable hugging you.

Love, though…there’s alway a place for love, isn’t there?  And love takes many forms.

For teachers and parents, when we’ve reached the end and have nothing left but love to share, that could mean listening to a kid read a book, or get excited over a piece of wiring or a drawing.  

It could mean going for a walk.  It could mean listening to music or playing a game.

For a friends, spouses, siblings, and even colleagues it could mean listening without judgement or even simply sitting in silence.

Sharing love could mean something different in each different situation where a love offering is the thing to do for mindfulness and enhanced wellbeing.

In the end, each of us is better off when we’re relaxed and content.  The spaces we occupy together are enhanced with a foundation of clarity and connection.  

It seems to me that the sharing of love, in whatever form works for all involved, can bridge the gap between frustration and clam.  Maybe worth a try at the very least.

In it together for the kids.

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.