Category: STILT

Working Together Works!

I had some amazing experiences this week.  Actually, I have some amazing experiences every week; it’s one of the benefits of being an educator!  A few of those experiences stand out and connect deeply to the professional journey that I’m finding myself on.  This past Wednesday, I attended the latest in a series of meetings through which a group of colleagues are working together to develop a concept born from a collective desire to share the responsibilities, the challenges, and the joys of educating students across our district.  We are hosting a conference focused on the incredible work that the teachers in our buildings are engaged in.  We are relying on that work, as articulated by those teachers, to fill the sessions of the conference.  It’s turning out to be an exciting model for authentic, real-time, professional learning.  I’m very much looking forward to attending!

Many of the teachers in our district have integrated varied degrees of Ron Ricthhard’s Making Thinking Visible philosophies and routines into their instruction.  By way of the upcoming conference, those teachers are teaming up to communicate the process and outcomes of that work to their colleagues.  Our committee, which is made up of administrators and teacher-leaders, is dedicated to the careful design and implementation of a platform for them to do so.  Together, we are all working hard to so something amazing for children that no one of us could possible do on his/her own.  It feels good.  It’s exciting.  As we brainstormed, hashed out the possibilities, and boiled it all down, I realized repeatedly how significantly enhanced the possibilities became as a result of our teamwork.  Working together works!

One of the connections lies in the nature of my assignment as it stands today.  I was recently given the honor of serving my district as an Interim Principal for an elementary school community who’s Principal is healing from an accident.  Fortunately, she is doing well, and all signs point to a speedy recovery.  I will officially begin this adventure on Monday.  I am truly honored and humbled by the opportunity.  On Thursday, I visited the school to say “hello,” and to begin building relationships with staff, students, and parents.  I was amazed!

This community, through a challenging time, has come together brilliantly!  The halls are energized and filled with learning artifacts, the classrooms are beautifully and intentionally designed, decorated, and maintained, and the people are warm and welcoming.  In collaboration with our central office administrative team, through deliberate and authentic partnerships, and with a universal expectation of distributed leadership, this phenomenal learning community found a way to thrive during adversity.  They are doing it together.  Again, working together works!

When I arrived back at the Middle School where I serve as Assistant Principal, I was quickly reminded of what I have known for some time.  The collaborative, value driven, nature of our population is outstanding!  Leaving a school community that I love, colleagues I’ve grown and connected with for four wonderful months, and an incredible group of students and parents, even if it’s only for a few weeks, is a significant action for me.  The knowledge that they will continue to thrive during this shift provides me with significant joy!  Already, they are working together, setting up structures, communicating next steps, and putting all of the pieces in place that will make it happen.  They are working together.  Again, and one last time, working together works!

The fact is, we are always better together.  As I move into the second half of this incredible school year and prepare for a new role that I’m honored to fill, I will keep collaboration, distribute leadership, and teamwork in mind.  I will listen, I will encourage and support, I will value the good fortune of being surrounded by incredible colleagues, and I will be thankful that we are in a position to provide the highest quality K-12 education to a district full of amazing students!

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

Get To: A Powerful Way to Live and Lead

I recently took my 2 year old and my 8 month old for a visit with my one hundred two year old great aunt.  It was powerful.  Along with tickling baby toes, passing pictures back and forth, catching up on family news, and sharing the many joys of being together, “where does time go?” came up as a reoccurring theme.  I once heard someone suggest that minutes drag and years fly.  It certainly seems that way at times.  I remember being a child, playing at aunt Chilli and uncle Marv’s house.  I remember them both as vibrant, healthy, and full of life.  To me, this seems like only a moment ago.  My uncle Marv worked in scarp metal, and he was exceptionally strong.  He could open a walnut by crushing it with one hand.  Fun for a little boy to watch!  Uncle Marv left us too soon.  While he is always with me, I sure do miss hanging out.

During our visit, My amazing aunt Chilli, who is incredibly sharp and funny, repeatedly mused about how, “the years sure do fly by,” and don’t they though?  A few years go, at her hundredth birthday celebration, I asked her how she was feeling.  Without missing a beat she exclaimed, “the golden years can kiss my donkey!”  Only she didn’t say “donkey.”  While her intention was to get a good laugh from me (something she still works on and does well), it also made me think.  I regularly preach about being present, to myself and anyone else who want’s to listen.  The problem is that I don’t always hear it.  Strange.  I understand that we are each only given a certain amount of time.  I truly believe that the best bet is to enjoy it.

This past week at a district level leadership meeting, one of my Directors distributed a list of thoughts on positive leadership from Jon Gordon.  One of those thoughts was something to the effect of:  frame “what you have to do” as “what you get to do.”  What a great idea!  When I think through that lens it doesn’t take much to remember how incredibly blessed I am.  Life is certainly not always easy, but what a treat that I “get to” live it!

Right now I get to be sitting in a little café, taking a short break from getting to sort through e-mails and plan for a meeting.  I just got to eat a really tasty bowl of chicken noodle soup, and while it’s relatively cold outside, I get to see and feel the sun peeking over a building to my right and streaming in through a wall made entirely of glass panels.  A group of older ladies has pushed a few tables together a few feet away from me.  They get to be knitting and telling stories about what matters to them.  There is no shortage.  Not a lull since before they settled in.  Even as the yarn, pattern books, and needles were coming out of their bags, I got to learn about cousins from Ohio, doctor visits, in-laws, Jimmy repeatedly losing his winter gloves, Maggie and Paul’s 50th anniversary, and so on.  I’m half expecting Alex Trebek to appear with a pitch for Colonial Penn Life Insurance.  The store manager gets to stroll around with a sweeper, joyfully engaging in conversations with his customers.  He gets to ask them how they like their food, and then transition into extended pleasantries.  Young families get to eat together.  A woman in a booth gets to make out her bills.  An elderly couple gets to sit together, chatting, and staring resolutely into one another’s eyes.  The man is tall and gangly, slumped over, with his knees almost touching the table from underneath.  The woman’s feet don’t even reach the floor.  They’re dangling just above.  She’s wearing one of those big, Russian style, fir hats that seems like it would make a cozy nest for a family of squirrels.  It looks really warm and soft, and it brings the top of her head up nearly a foot, almost matching his.  He mostly gets to listen.  She mostly gets to talk.  They both get to look really happy.

We each get to do something different.  As educators, we know that some of the things our students and colleagues get to do are relatively difficult, sometimes distracting, and often hard to understand.  I believe that when we are able to, modeling joy through the undertakings of daily life is a good way to foster a sense of joy in others.  I am so easily distracted.  Visiting with my incredible aunt, seeing her play with my children in the same ways that she played with me a relatively short time ago, and believing that the we are each only limited by any restrictions we assign to ourselves, reminds me that I must work harder to find the joy, and the meaning in every moment.  The knitting ladies, the happy older couple, the store manager, my aunt Chili, the students I serve every day; while unique in many ways, we are all very much the same.  We will each encounter a series of moments within the time that we are given.  When I am actively thankful for those moments, it helps me connect with my base, and it brings me ever closer to being the best learner and leader that I can be, for myself, and for those around me.

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

When Creative Play Turns Into Video Production

This morning my four-year-old decided to wake up extra early.  It was quite a feat, given that we all went to bed extra late last night.  Adding insult to injury, my wife was up every hour on the hour with our runny-nosed infant.  Even as my mind raced to come up with some good reasons why it should be her turn again, I knew that I wasn’t nearly that clever.  I rolled out of bed.  My feet hit the floor with a bit of a clunk.  My shoulders stood up before my neck or head, bringing them along for the ride.  I followed the sound in the dark.  “Momma?  Momma?”  He was calling for her.  Didn’t that mean anything?   I knew it didn’t.

When I arrived at his bedside (little brother sawing logs next door) I naively asked if he wanted to rest some more in Momma and Daddy’s room.  I crossed my fingers, threw salt over my shoulder, held my breath, and visualized all kinds of pennies and rabbits’ feet…all to no avail.  The words didn’t come out right away.  It appeared as if he was considering the invitation.  I hoped.  In hindsight I think he must have simply been shaking that last bits of sleep off before dropping the, “I want to go downstairs” bomb.  He followed that classic with, “and I want apple sauce, milk, yogurt, and a Fiber One bar.”

I ached for my bed.  It called to me.  The whisper of my pillows slithered through the hallway and shimmied in through the boys’ cracked bedroom door, “Seth…we miss you.  We miss your head.  Please come back and lay down!”  I could almost feel my face resting against a revitalized “cool side.”  Alas, it was but a dream.  I was awake, and it was “go-time.”  Then I remembered yesterdays’ post.  “Be present,” I told myself.  Life is short.  I get to sleep every evening (for a little while at least).  However, I don’t get to wake up and play with my buddy every morning.  A burst of energy shot through me.  I picked the kid up, and down we went.

This one loves to draw.  We collaborated on some farm animals.  I did the rough sketches and he did most of the coloring in.  He told me what to draw, and while my technique admittedly leaves much to be desired, it was good enough.   As we worked he began to tell the story of three farm friends.  Turns out, “Cow-iobi,” “Pig-iobi,” and “Sheep-iobi,” were best friends.  One day when Cow-iobi was walking near the barn, he saw Pig-iobi climbing down from a tree.  On the last climb, Pig-iobi leapt out of the tree, only to get stuck on the fence.  The two friends had to think fast.  What would they do?  It wasn’t long before they remembered that “Sheep-iobi” was a real handy guy.  If he could come to the barn with his hammer and screwdriver, he might be able to set Pig-iobi loose from the fence.  As luck would have it, that’s just what happened!  The three friends celebrated.  They were filled with joy, and in being so filled, they proceed to jump for it (joy, that is).

This morning our creative play reminded us that friends always help friends, a wonderful lesson to remember in my estimation.  We had so much fun drawing, coloring, and making up a story, that we decided to produce a short film about the farm friends’ adventure, another reminder.  Extending learning based on learners’ interests is a great way to promote longterm engagement and achievement.  Little brother joined us before long.  Then came Momma and baby.  We all sat together for a while, playing and creating the Berg Brother’s debut production.  So, without further glamorization or adieu, pop your corn, find a cozy spot, and enjoy the film that critics are calling the breakout hit of the holiday season!

The Berg Brothers proudly present:  “Farm Friends in ‘Stuck on a Fence’.”

Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

 

Being A Toddler Stand-Up

I Learned

What works for one person does not always work for another.  As a parent and an educator, part of my job is to figure out what works for my children and my students, and then incorporate that into the learning/growth experience.

Here’s How

Today I found out that I’m really funny…to a toddler.  In fact, if I were a stand up comedian, I would bring the house down at a preschool!  The problem is, the silly nonsense that engages my two-year-old is not always the most engaging stuff for me.  This morning, I was doing some adlib at the breakfast counter.  Little man was feeling cranky (a slow wake-up).  There was a steady whine emanating from his mouth, which fluctuated in pitch and volume depending on the his message.

Responses came in the form of high-pitched, shrill, eardrum numbing, noises accompanied by wriggly, off balance, occasionally jerky, full bodied motions that repeatedly threatened to propel him off the counter chair he was barely hanging on to.  That would have been a disaster.  When not responding to anything, the whine was dull and droning.  Like the ever-present hum of florescent lights combined with an extended run of fingernails across a never-ending blackboard.  My eye was twitching.  Something was going to have to give.  I decided to pull out my most authentic Cockney accent (mediocre at best) complimented by a monster hand, a squinty eye, and a half raised lip, “Aw-right,” I began, “it’s time foe me to tickle yaw tummy!”

The toddler stand-up routine was working.  The whine slowed to a stop and became a giggle.  The long face scrunched up, his mouth became an ear hammock of a grin.  It was working!  The problem was that he wouldn’t let me stop.  “Do it again Daddy!”  He must have said it twenty times.  It got to the point that the sound of my own voice doing that silly accent was more distasteful to me than the whining I was working to get rid of.  But then a light bulb went off.  This kid was happy.  He was engaged.  We were enjoying time spent together.  We were pretending and being creative.

Like a flash, an idea popped into my head.  I decided to parley the fun we were having into an extended activity.  We got the pirate ship, we populated the couch with dinosaurs, dolls, and giant stretchy lizards.  We grabbed big brother and some blankets to build a fort.  The next couple of hours unfolded quite naturally from there.  Each incarnation of the game we were inventing built upon the previous one until it was time for naps.  I learned a bit about how to transition with these guys.  More importantly, their interests and needs guided the play this morning.  Good times for all!

Application

It’s not easy to get excited about every experience we have as parents or as educators.  However, our excitement (while arguably important) is not always as important as our children’s and/or our students’.  When we find moments that learners are enthusiastic about, we should work hard to capture and build upon them.  This morning I noticed that the joy my boys were experiencing through my silliness and pretend-play made it all right that the games were repetitive and not inherently engaging for me.  I was having fun because they were having fun.  I was engaged because they were engaged.  Consistently, when I focus on keeping the joy and engagement of those I’m working/spending time with in mind, that the work/time we spend together will be more rewarding and meaningful for everyone involved.  This is turning into another “being present” lesson for me.  It must be worth my continued attention.  I’ll keep working on it!

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

STILT: Showered With Gifts

What I Learned

Life is precious, even (and especially) during the most difficult times.  Keeping that in mind helps to enhance it for me.  Also (and maybe more importantly), it helps me focus on working to enhance it for those that I spend my time with.

How I learned

It ain’t always easy.  In fact, sometimes it always ain’t easy!  Life is fast paced, considerably unpredictable, and often confusing.  It can be a recurrently frustrating whirlwind of joy and pain.  Over the course of any given lifetime, an unfathomable amount of stuff happens.  We are each left to sort thought that stuff, and to make it fit within the space and time that we’re given.  There are dull drudgeries, stinging realizations, whimsical and wondrous circumstances, and each exists within a set of seemingly fleeting moments.  Dark struggles can turn minutes into hours, while bright, miraculous stretches can turn years into seconds.  I won’t claim to know anything about the “why” or the “how.”  However, I was reminded this week that I have some idea as to the “what.”  Life is a gift…every struggle, every celebration, every moment, every breath…a gift.

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Above is a picture of the ever-growing mountain of presents in the lobby of the office of the school in which I work.  Our incredible, compassionate population of faculty, students, and parents, anonymously gathered information about some of the needs that exist within our community.  Subsequently, they organized a system by which those needs are being met.  It has truly been amazing to watch the myriad offerings grow over the past few weeks.  The gift of a gift is wonderful.  The gift of knowing that people with whom you spend your time care about each other as though they are a family is inspiring.  I work in an extraordinary place, with incredible people!

Because I Learned

We have one more week of school before a long break.  I know that not everyone has joyous circumstances to wrap him/herself in during the holiday vacation.  One of the things that I will focus on this week (and beyond) is being present.  As a school administrator I wish for every member of the community in which I serve to fully understanding that I care, because I do.  There is a lot going on this week.  I will continue to work on developing myself as an active listener.

Distractions are called distractions primarily because they distract (profound…I know).  Sometimes I find myself rushing through a meaningful conversation or wondering how much e-mail piled up during a meeting.  When I’m able to fight that urge, I am consistently pleased with the results.  We each have a finite amount of time to spend with one another.  I intend to work harder at fostering authentic meaning and connectedness for myself and for those that I spend my time with.  We can each look forward to good times and bad.  When we work as hard as we can to make sure that the time we spend together is positive, we model kindness, and we help to enrich each other’s lives.

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

STILT: Patience, Compassion, & Calm

Today I was reminded how important patience, compassion, and calm are in making sure that those you love understand how much you care about them.

This morning my two year old was not thrilled.  He’s going through a bit of a thing, which kids do.  I understand.  He called out just after seven o’clock (better than just after four o’clock).  “Mommy…Mommy!”  Technically, that’s better than “Daddy…Daddy!”  However, given that my incredible wife does the great majority of the “wake up in the middle of the night and service our children” duty (and that seven o’clock slept me in for two hours as it was) I headed to the scene.

For any two-year-olds reading this post, you understand that Daddy is an entirely deficient substitute for Mommy.  For those of you who are not two…take my word for it.  Regardless, I wasn’t met with, “Thank you for coming to my aid father,” or, “welcome to my room Dad, it’s a pleasure waking up with you…shall I give you hug?”

Instead, a nasally, screeching bellow forcefully rose from beneath the covers of my darling child’s bed.  “No,” he protested (with considerable fervor, if I hadn’t made that clear), “I want Mommy!”  On it went from there.  Turns out, he came around after a while, some apple sauce, a cup of milk, an English muffin with grape jelly, and lots of patience from his mother.  And guess what…we still love him – maybe even more!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the learning that accompanies life.  I’ve been working to reflect on, synthesize, and communicate that learning as it relates to me, my personal and professional paradigms, and anyone else who wants to share it.  I’ve been using this blog, Twitter, conversations, and varied other forms to engage in that communication.  I’ve played with multiple formats.  You are reading the latest incarnation of my growth, development, and wellbeing process.  I’m calling it STILT (Something That I Learned Today).

The word stilt has multiple definitions, including one about a bird with long reddish legs.  However, there’s a common theme among those definition, and that theme is support.  A stilt is a thing that supports something else.  Critical reflection has been an incredibly important, impactful, and significant support for my personal and professional learning, growth, and wellbeing.  It is a stilt.  So, after about a full year of following through with my self-commitment to blog regularly, I’ve decided to take it to the next level.

Look for regular STILT posts right here on Berg’s Eye View.

Join me for #STILTchat, a new half hour Twitter chat (short but sweet – and, if all goes well meaningful) on Sundays from 1-1:30pm eastern standard (nap launch for the brood).

Tweet your daily learning anytime using the hash tag #STILTchat (if you don’t mind me stockpiling and sharing it out via the brand new Berg’s Eye View STILT archive at http://bergseyeview.edublogs.org/category/stilt/)

Follow this simple format (and adapt to meet your needs):

1.  Briefly explain something that you learned (or were reminded of) during any given day.  It can be something momentous, something lighthearted, or something that falls anywhere in between.  Just make it something that you find meaningful.

2.  Describe the situation in which the learning took place.

3.  Give one or more suggestions as to how you (and those who read/hear about your learning) can apply it.

Above, I described a situation in which I was reminded that children don’t always ask for our love, attention, guidance, or compassion in direct ways.  Sometimes they scream, throw things, and act out.  As a parent and an educator, it’s my job to remember that they need to know how much I care about them through it all.  In fact, maybe even more so during the rough times.  Some suggestions:

Be patient

Listen well to the message behind the noise.  People from two-years-old to ninety-two-years-old get frustrated.  They feel frightened somtimes, they’re sad when they feel lonely, they might have trouble expressing themselves in kind ways when there’re tired or hungry.  Patience and understanding go a long way to confront those and other challenges with positive relationship building and emotional growth opportunities.

Show Compassion

We are more alike than we are different.  Be relatable to students, friends, and others that you spend your time with.  It could go a long way to foster growth, productivity, self-actualization (for all involved), and even joy…a wonderful thing to feel!

Stay Calm

Whatever is happening is happening whether you’re overwrought or calm.  If you’re like me, you think more clearly, act more decisively, and simply feel better when you’re able to stay calm.  Be intentional about your mood, energy, and attitude at school, at home, and everywhere you travel.  It could make a positive impact on your life and the lives of others.

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.