Category: WAYS

These are some ways that I’ve seen, read about, or otherwise come across that seem to engage students in learning and growth.

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.  

What If Our Passion Is Our Purpose?

I was recently invited to speak at the Center for Advanced Studies and the Arts (CASA) in Oak Park, Mi.  CASA is a wonderful school that offers students from multiple local districts opportunities for alternate programming based on their interests.

I was honored to receive a “Distinguished Alumni Award” this year.

I thought about it.  

“Alumni” … certainly.  I studied Philosophy and Japanese at CASA.

“Distinguished” … I’m not so sure.

If I am distinguished, why?  

I have a family and a job.  I serve kids, and I partner with colleagues and parents to do so.  

My core is aimed at positive progress.  I think and I act on a foundation of optimism, growth, kindness, and determination.  

I hold on to hope even when I’m gasping for air.

I work hard to forgive my shortcomings and those of others.

I reflect with some intensity as I stumble through this world so that I can enhance that stumbling, and I even have faith that my stumbling could eventually become a stride.  

I work for it.  

I believe.

I don’t know that I’m distinguished on a foundation of achievements or position.  After all, I’ve been given so much.  I’ve been privileged my entire life.  I remain privileged.  

No, if I am distinguished I think it might be because I follow my passions wherever they may lead.

I wonder, what if our passion is our purpose?

What if the process outweighs the product?

What if attending to and sharing our passions sustains a fire within each of us that spreads when we connect with others?

What if, even with the stumbling along the way, that’s what changes the world?

What if our fires burn brighter when they’re shared?

What if life is a series of mutually beneficial interactions of inspiration that drives a collective passion and enhances our world?

I have passion for literature, for music, and for storytelling.

When I was invited to speak at CASA I thought I’d be sharing a part of my story with students.  It turns out I was sharing with students, teachers, administrators, parents, and fellow Alumni.  I was glad to have the opportunity.

I was also nervous.  I was very nervous.

I was especially nervous because I decided I’d be playing my guitar and signing that morning.  I believe I referred to my nervousness as “terrified” when I addressed it with the audience.

In full disclosure I decided to throw in the towel many times before the event.  I tried hard to convince myself not to do it.  I thought of many good reasons not to.  On the basis of my fears I vigorously attempted to talk myself out of it.  

But that morning I found myself carrying my guitar to the truck, and then to the space in which I would deliver the message.  I knew that if I had my guitar with me I was likely to play it.  If others saw me with it I was likely to sing.  They would expect it.  They did.

Before I left the house I asked my nine year old son how he prepared for the stand up comedy/ventriloquism act he recently did in his school talent show.  This kid has demonstrated some shyness over the course of his nine years, and the courage he brought forward for an outstanding, funny, and passionate performance was inspiring to so many people on so many levels.  Me and Lorelei especially.

His performance is embedded in my heart and my mind as permanent inspiration for the pursuit of my passions.

Nonchalantly, he told me the secret, “I took a deep breath and believed in myself.”

Indeed.  Out of the mouths of babes.

As I watch and reflect on the recording of my reading (thank you Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom: What Do You Do With An Idea?), my singing (thank you Colin Hay: Waiting For My Real Life To Begin), and my sharing, I see that some of that nervousness bled through.  

I would have thought that I might cringe a bit at jumbled words and phrases, misplaced notes and chords, off pitch vocals, and a wobbly-kneed presentation of thoughts and ideas, but I didn’t…and I’m not.

Actually, I feel good about the rawness of the moment.  I feel good about being fallible in front of a crowd.  I feel good about publicly moving through mistakes on the foundation of my core values and sharing a bit of my humanity with others.  

I am a husband, a farther, a learner, a leader, and a servant.  

What if this type of moment is just what I need to enhance my ability to carry out each of those roles with an increasingly positive impact throughout the moments that follow?

If I am “distinguished,” what if some uneasiness and the enlisting of a bit of determination to push through it is why?

So, in the hopes that a demonstration of followed passions and shared ideas might somehow connect with even one person in that room, or in this space, who might be in need of some permission to step over the edge in embracing and sharing a passion, a thought, or an idea, here’s what I did…warts and all:

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

Awake

There’s more than one way to wake up.  

I’ve been a father for almost ten years. I’ve had lot’s of practice waking people up and being woken up myself.  I have four kids.  Each one wakes up in a unique way.  Jump out of bed, stretch for ten minutes, pull covers over head and go back to sleep, groan.  

Motivation is a factor, too.  Getting out of bed at 4:30 AM for a road trip to our favorite water park looks a bit different from getting out of bed on your average icy cold Monday morning in January.

There’s also a strange space that sometime exists in which we feel awake when we’re actually asleep.  Some dreams are so lucid they’re deceptive until reality snaps in.

Like a dream about not being prepared for a test or a presentation.  Sitting in the front row of a class or a meeting.  A teacher or a boss standing directly in front of you offering an enthusiastic thumbs up.  You look down for a last peek at your notes or a double check on your number two pencil but nothing’s there.  

Sweat forms on your brow, your heart begins to race, it couldn’t feel more real. 

As your name is being announced or the test is being placed on the table in front of you a rhino in a floral patterned cardigan and riding chaps nonchalantly sauntered across the back of the room, puffing bubbles from a classic Sherlock Holmes style pipe. 

He catches your eye with a wink and a nod.  Consternation sets in for just a moment, then relief at the understanding of the impossibility of the situation before you shift into reality, thankful it was a dream.

There’s lots of ways to wake up.

There’s lots of ways to be awake, too.  Awake doesn’t necessary mean aware, and even when it does, there are levels of awareness.  

The most we can hope for in any given situation is that our lived experiences, our sensibilities, and our core values match up to help us navigate each moment with maximum benefit to ourselves and those we serve.

I engage in this reflection on the foundation of my diversity and inclusion journey, as an educator, a parent, and a human being.  

I think about and explore wakefulness in the light of my understanding that there’s so much more for me to know about myself in order to effectively lead in culturally competent ways.  

One of my biggest struggles in this realm is that each person I serve and each one I serve with is on a bit of a different journey.  

I struggle to understand where along the wakefulness continuum my partners are.  Ironically, this is critical information for me to know if my partnerships and my leadership are to be impactful.  Covey continues to remind me that I must first seek to understand people, their perspectives and their needs, before I’m able to support, encourage, and connect.

Every so often I learn something that rattles my foundation.  Most often that something is about myself.  Something about my level of wakefulness.  The more I learn the more I figure I’m less awake than I’d like to be, and less awake than I would have previously described myself as.  

Sometimes I wish the right person would dump a bucket of cold water on my head, but then I remember that when I wake up with a start I’m cranky and clouded, not calm and clear.  

I know that when I wake up gently, with a caring, patient hand on my shoulder and a soft voice of encouragement in my ear I’m apt to receive the day in increasingly rational ways, more closely connected to who I am, who I am becoming, and who I intend to be at my very best.

I want those around me to be awake.  I want those I serve to live in heightened states of wakefulness while embracing their dreams as components of learning and growth. 

I’m working to enhance my ability to wake, and to help other wake in gentle, compassionate, calm, and patient way.  

I’m finding it requires trust.  

Waking slowly brings the looming threat of missing out.  Ironically, as I engage in slow, steady wakefulness to the best of my ability, it seems that just the opposite might just be true.

We live in a system in which many people are marginalized.  As parents and educators we must constantly and stringently reflect on our roles in this system.  A difficult and confronting task to be sure.

We must wake up to the extend that we’re not already awake, we must seek to understand our level of wakefulness and enhance it with each reflection, we must gently nurture the wakefulness of others, we must own our lived experiences, our individual pathways, and our collective responsibility, and because our efforts are in earnest we must forgive ourselves and one another with each exacting realization so that we move forward on behalf of the kids we serve and a brighter further for all.

In it together for the kids.

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

King Jr. Moments

We are each unique, which actually goes without saying because the words “each” and “unique” are not so unique from each other, both indicating one of a kind.  An individual thing as distinct from a larger set of things. Therein also lies a suggestion of similarities between each unique one of us.  “One” says we’re unique and “of a kind” says there are similarities between us.  I am me, and in being so I am one particular kind of person.  The “me” kind.  For better or worse. 

It seems to me that we’re each sort of different combinations of some of the same stuff and some different stuff wrapped up in the same kind of packages.  The human being kind.

If that’s not complex enough, we also have senses and choices. 

Senses give us information about stuff that exists around us.  Senses also give us information about what among that stuff we like, dislike, appreciate, or repudiate.  

Choices let us incorporate some stuff into our uniqueness and distance ourself from some of the other stuff.  

I may not be right, but I’m not alone in believing that each of us also has the capacity to learn, and that with some determination we’re each capable of applying that learning to our lived experiences, thereby perpetuating the unique designs we each have on our own lives, knowingly and possibly subconsciously.  

It’s easier said than done in some cases, and that makes it exhilarating.  Frustrating, discouraging, infuriating, nerve-racking, woefully maddening, and exhilarating.  The human journey is a dizzying ride.

Sometimes our learning takes hold and sometimes our intentions are waylaid by the organic ebbs and flows of the dizzying ride of a journey we’re each on.  Sometimes we’re in control and sometimes we’re out of it.  

The often-challenging news is that there seems to be no end to our struggles.  The confusingly-exciting news it that no end is almost just like perpetual progress (if not exactly like it), and that’s cool because it keeps us each in motion.  

As a parent and an educator I often hope my senses are keen enough to help me choose healthy, meaningful kinds of stuff to incorporate into my lived experiences, learn from, live by, and consequently model, so that the kids I serve have opportunities to sense that stuff too, and then make related choices that keep them living healthy, meaningful lives.  

I understand that health and meaning look different for each of us.  My hope is not for the kids I serve to make identical choices to mine, but rather to make choices on similar foundations when the see me making mine on the basis of healthy, meaningful stuff I learn.

I hope my modeling impacts the kids I serve in ways that influence them to take my intentional selection of stuff (along with the more innate combination of other stuff that makes me me) and incorporate it into their unique paradigms in new and evolved ways that influence positive progress for them, those around them, and even the world.  

A tall order, I know.  When I write it out like this it seems almost, if not actually, too lofty for me to reasonably entertain.  After all, I’m just me.  Oh well.  That’s where all the hoping comes in, I guess.

Yesterday morning my family spent a few hours packing bags of food for people in need.  We worked with an organization called Repair The World, who in league with an organization called The Noah Project and one called Gleaners.  Each of these organizations is set on a foundation of social justice, which seems healthy and meaningful to me.  

Repair The World focuses specifically on food justice and education justice.  Essentially making and acting on the argument that all people, regardless of our inherent and/or manufactured differences, have the right to good, healthy food and meaningful, enriching education.

Our kids are relatively young right now.  They each seemed to understand that every sandwich made and every snack bag packed was going to eventually reach the hands of a person, maybe even another kid, who was hungry and didn’t have another way to get food like this.  There are no doubt many complexities about poverty and hunger that our kids don’t understand, but they expressed joy at knowing they were helping people in need.

We drove separately because I had some work to do downtown after they left for home.  Lorelei (my wife) called my from the car shortly after we went our separate ways.  She was thrilled to report that as the navigation system announced a right turn on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard our youngest young one shouted from the back, “Mommy, Mommy…King Jr.!”

She was so proud that the big guy was aware and excited to share his awareness of Dr. King.  I’m proud to.  A simple thing to be proud of.  A piece of a much larger puzzle.  A start at the start of a life journey. 

Who knows how deep the awareness runs.  It’s hard to say what connections he makes from himself to Dr. King, and to the potential of a non-violent, compassionate, character-laden, generous, mindful life peppered with efforts at increasing social justice.

Might our expressed pride and excitement alone be a driver of some Dr. King modeling seeping in to him, mixing with the rest of his unique stuff and possibly enhancing the way forward?  

How about the combination of packing a few sandwiches and snack bags for kids in need in combination with the mention of Dr. King’s work around social justice?  

How do we make sure that an exclamation of, “King Jr.!” at the mention of Dr. King’s name translates in to some actionable, healthy, meaningful, rich learning and growth for our youngest kid and his siblings?  Can we?  Maybe we can’t officially make sure of anything.  Maybe that’s where trying and progress come in.

Maybe we simply keep doing the best we can and continue to hope, and push for better around each corner.

I imagine Dr. King might have counseled us that every little piece of the compassion puzzle is critical and meaningful.  

I suspect he might have not asked us to strive for his exact likeness but rather for some of his likenesses that connect us and connect to us.  

My understanding is that Dr. King understood potential as reflective progress peppered with hope, with grit, and with faith.  I gather he hoped we might each become the truest versions of our unique selves on a foundation of healthy, meaningful choices in and among the many challenges he knew we would each face.  I believe he had faith in each of us to get it done, too…to each eventually fulfill our unique potential with compassion, kindness, and justice in mind.

I take joy a great deal of joy in seeing each of my kids’ character unfold.  

When a “King Jr. moment” comes along, that joy permeates my hope and I viscerally feel that, while challenging, complex, and often times confusing and worrisome, this world is holistically headed in the right direction.  Consistently two steps forward and one step back as it goes, a delicate and frustrating dance in many ways and much of the time, but in the right direction nonetheless. 

If the best I can do is keep trying I intend to.  If the most I can offer is the sensing of light around me and the choice to share my sense of it with others, that might have to be enough.  Maybe it actually is.  When I fail to do so I try to dust myself off and give it another go.  If nothing else, maybe I can count those try’s and the connect actions as my own “King Jr. moments” and possibly, in some small way, serve as a conduit from Dr. King to the kids I serve.

We can’t each be everything, but we can each be something, and if we can learn from legends like Dr. King, and in turn from one another, we can each be proud of the something we each are and the something we are each progressively becoming.  

Unique and similar, we are truly each something great when we stay strong in choosing to be something we understand as something good.

In it together for the kids.

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 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.