Tagged: Happy

On Promoting Childish Conceptions of The Future

The other day my seven-year-old was reading on my iPhone. He was using comprehension-promoting software.  For every “book” he read there were a series of comprehension questions to answer.

Points were earned for correct answers. He could use those points to buy things in a digital store. The things he bought were meant to help him create a digital world within the software. It was like a game. He was having fun.  I’m old.

This is a kid who loves to read. He has actual, physical books strewn about his bedroom, and wherever he travels throughout our house books follow like the stardust dust trail from a comet.

He also enjoys digital devices. He likes this reading software and he likes games.  All of my kids do.  Thankfully, they all also seem to like actual, physical books too (my personal favorite – a bias I’m working on).

That day, I told him there were no iPhones when I was a kid.

“Really?” He asked.

“Really.” I said.

I told him that my friends and I could have imagined what iPhones would be like, but that they didn’t exist.

I told him that they pretended to have something like iPhones on TV shows about the future, but just not in “real life.”

His face turned incredibly thoughtful, he let out what seems to be an unstoppable, “Ohhh,” and then he matter-of-factly stated, “So this is the future.”

“It sure is, Bud.”

He went on to explain that if it’s true, anything he and his friends might imagine can become a reality one day too, in tomorrow’s future, or the future that will be here on the day after tomorrow, or the one that will happen any number of years from now.

“It sure can, Bud.”

When do we begin to restrict ourselves?

When do we start to deny the incredible potential of our capacity to unfold the individual and collective imaginations of ourselves and our contemporaries into the fabric of reality?

At what point do we decide that not everything is possible?

How old are we when time, cost, and ability begin to seem prohibitive?

At what age do the laws of physics begin stifling our desire to fly?

We must resist.

One of the greatest strengths of kids is that they believe anything is possible, unless and until we redefine their innate gift-of-a-paradigm into one in which it isn’t.

Let’s not.

Here’s to today, and to every future today we are blessed to experience with the incredible children we serve.

Here’s to their childish conceptions of a nonsensical and brilliant series of tomorrows and future todays.

Here’s to the hope that each of their wildly outlandish dreams comes true.

Here’s to the faith that it can, and that it will.

Here’s to the possibility that we will be with them, watching, hoping, supporting, inspired and proven wrong, and witnessing, with blissful awe, the unfolding of what might otherwise have been unimaginable positive progress.

Yes, here’s to the possibility.

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

Fresh-Made, Real-World Creative Play Rules!

When I came home the other day my five-year-old approached me immediately and with a focused urgency. He had no time to waste.

Bolstering a sizable orange at the end of his outstretched arm he asked, “Daddy, is this an orange?”

No greeting, no hug, just the question.

As I mentioned, it was an orange, and for that reason I answered, “It sure is Bud.”

Off he went.

I didn’t think much of it. Goofiness runs deep in our family. Here he was being goofy, par for the course.

No sooner did I drop my keys and loosen my tie when he was standing in front of me again, with a different orange at the end of the same outstretched arm. Different orange; same arm.

Now I began to wonder. Not so much about what he was up to, but how much effort it would take to clean up after this exploration.

“Daddy,” he asked again, “is this an orange?”

“It sure is, Bud.” My brow was furrowed at this point. He smiled. I smiled (on the outside at first, and subsequently on the inside, realizing that regardless of the insuring mess, this could be a moment that might become a cherished memory, and I sure do love those moments).

This time I shadowed the big guy into our kitchen, where sure enough I found subjugated orange parts strewn about the island countertop, encircling a small plastic cup with maybe a quarter once of juice inside it, and possibly two or three ounces under and nearby it.

Now, his smile was huge; super proud juicer in action.

He looked up and shouted, “Fresh-made orange juice…just ten dollars!”

I am a sucker for fresh-made orange juice, but that price was outrageous!

He enlisted the help of his two-year-old brother for sales while his seven-year-old brother and his three-year-old sister ran upstairs to get their piggy banks.

Over the course of the next two hours, the fresh-made, real-world play was energized and stimulating. After very quickly running out of fresh-made orange juice (little brother was thirsty) the team decided to fill what seemed to be about dozen cups with fresh-made water; much more accessible.

It went for ten dollars without a straw and eleven dollars with a straw. Ice was complimentary.

When the fresh made water well ran dry they turned to toys, buy on get one free. What seem to be hundreds of them laid out on various surfaces around the living room.

My daughter took advantage of this outstanding opportunity by filling a partially empty diaper box with sale items, digging her way underneath them, and working hard for some time to close herself and her bounty in the box. She wasn’t playing with the toys; she was playing WITH the toys. It was a spectacularly interesting sight to see. She’s strong willed; get’s it from her mother; serves them both well.

Our little big guy found a dragon puppet and set off engaged in a ventriloquist-style conversation for the remainder of the evening.

The school-age brothers worked hard at keeping shop. They even drew about and wrote about the experience, creating marketing pieces and making business plans. It was an engaging, fun, thinking and learning experience for each one of these kids ranging from two to seven-years old (not to mention me at forty three).

I realized, as I do each time I support and celebrate fresh-made, real-world creative play, that kids love it. Even fifteen minutes after bedtime routines were supposed to begin they were crying for more. I had to drag them upstairs kicking and screaming.

At no time did they talk about or ask for television or any device, and at no point did they disengage or complain of being bored.

So, in reflection I developed a set of very simple rules for adults interested in encouraging fresh-made real-world creative play:

  1. Listen & respond
  2. Celebrate, encourage, participate, & enjoy
  3. Extend & integrate

At home or at school, fresh-made, real-world creative play initiated on the foundation of kids’ interests can be exciting and meaningful, it can promote thinking, doing, and learning across subject matter and curricular areas, it can provide kids with hours of fun, social, and enriching opportunities, and by the way…no screen is required.

In conclusion, I’m going double entendre by once again suggesting: Fresh-Made, Real-World Creative Play Rules!

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

When I Need You Most

An open letter from every kid to every adult in our lives:

Please be there when I need you most.

I don’t always make good decisions. Please remember that I don’t always understand how. I don’t always have the tools, the skills, or the experience. I don’t intend to upset or frustrate you with my decisions, my words, or my actions; in fact, I’d like you to be proud of me. I’d like to always say and do things that cause you to celebrate and want to be around me. I just don’t always know how to make that happen. Yet.

I’m learning how to communicate with every experience and every interaction. I need your help. I need your support. I need your understanding. I need your forgiveness. I need your compassion.

I’m learning how to understand and attend to my feelings. Sometimes when I’m mad I say things that make me sound mean. I’m not mean, I just don’t always know how to ask for the kind of help I need, and as a result, I sometimes act mean just so that you know I’m mad.

I might even say that I hate you from time to time. I don’t. It’s just that I don’t always have the strength or the wherewithal to simply say, “I’m mad…and here’s why.” I wish I did. Frankly, showing my anger in negative ways doesn’t feel good. Believe it or not, it frustrates me. Sometimes it makes me feel even madder, and often times, sadder. Ironic, isn’t it.

It’s the same with all of my emotions. I just don’t have the life experience to regulate or restore them to a place of focus and calm all the time.

I’m a kid. I’ve only been alive for a few years, and I’ve only had the ability to interact with people in verbal ways for a few of those few years. At first, and for some time, I needed you to do and provide everything for me. Even now, I’m just learning how to do some it for myself.

To add a layer of complexity, confusion, and challenge, I’ll be learning that for quite some time. Please be there for me as I do. Please have patience with me along the way.

Mine is a nuanced path, one that will unfold along a zigzagging line, curiously unique to who I am and what I’m made of, with some categorical predictors peppered in, and a multitude of staggeringly surprising twists and turns at many points along the way, some magnificent and some distressing.

Read the articles and the books, talk and listen to one another with open minds and open hearts, and please always remember that there is no one right way. If you keep your eyes open and reflect through a learning lens, you’ll see that being there for me might mean something different in each passing moment. You’ll discover that there’s no static formula for supporting the safe and positive growth of a kid, but rather that, with some fundamental parameters, each one of us is bit different, with a bit different needs.

I might be sad for silly reasons. I might be silly for sad reasons. Regardless, it’s not “no big deal,” and I can’t “just get over it.” I need to process it. I need your help.

I need to know that taking a break can calm me down, and that being hungry or tired put’s me on edge, and that sharing my toys can actually make playing with them more fun, and that it’s ok to want to be alone sometimes, and that it’s even ok to go ahead and be alone when that want surfaces, and that saying, “thank you,” feels really good, and that meaning it feels really great, and that I don’t need to try to be like someone else, and that when I work hard to make sure I’m only trying to be like myself, no matter what people say, they’ll probably actually start trying to be like me, and that words matter, and tone reveals, and actions demonstrate, and that along with mattering, words land on people’s hearts, and that hearts are sometimes fragile, and that while it takes time for hearts to heal from unkind words, it’s possible, and that relentless, extended and ongoing kindness is a great way to care for a healing heart, and that I’m actually the best of what I have to offer, not the worst, and that mistakes are good things, and that when I embrace them they help me grow, and so much more; so much more that I need to know, to see modeled, and to practice over and over.

Please, please be patience with me along the way. Please see me for who I am. Please be firm and consistent with me, but please define and recognize me as my best and not my worst. Please share your faith in me with one another and support one another in maintaining that there is nothing but hope for me, and that I am to be celebrated and not diminished.

I will continue to test you and to try your patience, but I will also continue to amaze and overwhelm you with awe, wonder, and joy.

Please be there when I need you most. I know you can. I need you to.

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

I Am Here To…

I am a principal. That means I serve a community of people who function on the premise that all children can learn at high levels, and that through genuine and positive partnerships with those I serve, that I can support the children of my school community in safe, joyful, and consistent growth.

I have principles. That means I believe in certain things. It means I believe in them so much that they are embedded in my core, and that they surface in various forms through my thinking, decision-making, and actions.

Among those principles is the notion that they (the principles) should drive how I attend to my charge, and the notion that they should be, and always remain at least somewhat fluid. Who knows what I’ll experience next and how if might shift my worldview.

Based on a solid foundation of the where I’ve been, what I’m learning, who I am, and who I’m becoming, I believe that an open-minded outlook on the possibilities is essential for positive progress.

While principles should be bedrocks, time, along with other powerful forces, tends to shift even the sturdiest structures. For that reason I think we must be as steadfast in our resolve to maintain a principled center as we are in our openness to listen to and move with the winds of change.

Some principles are pretty standard. Kindness, gratitude, generosity, humility, faith, curiosity, reflectiveness, and more are likely not to move out of the principle bank that contributes to my learning and leadership. I can’t imagine a time when I discover that it’s actually not best to be kind, gracious, generous, humble, faithful, curious, reflective, and more. That’s not to say that I always measure up to those principles. The good news is that I hold mistake-driven growth as among the “more.” Falling down gives you opportunities to practice getting up; it’s a good thing.

So much happens each day in my life as a principal. The range of events, interactions, and emotions is extraordinary at times. I suspect it’s that way for many people and in many roles. It certainly is in my role as a parent as well.

With a focus on the core principles that guide me, I am able to navigate the extraordinary range of which I speak, relatively unscathed and with the mission in mind. If I can understand and articulate why I am here in any given moment, I can remain balanced and grounded.

I am here to serve kids & to learn along the way. I am here to model and share hope. I am here to be inspired and to inspire others when I can. I am here to take pride in myself and to be proud of those around me. I am here to model a positive, growth mindset and to share the tools and strategies I use in doing so. I am here to embrace and celebrate diversity. I am here to listen and I am here to lead. This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start and it’s a reminder.

Where are you? Why are you there?

Taking a moment to draw out your reasons and principles that support your journey can help to center you and steady your course. If you have that moment, give it a try. It might not help, but I’d suggest a strong likelihood that it won’t hurt.

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

What KIND are you?

I’m constantly looking for tools and strategies connected to emotional regulation and restoration, for myself, and for those I serve. I believe both contribute significantly to effective communication and meaningful relationship building. Each of us comes across challenging times during which our blood pressure rises and our vision blurs. A walk, a deep breath, some reflective writing, drawing or paining, talking to a friend, and so on; there are lots of effectual ways to calm the heart and settle the mind.

Among those ways is the transfer of kindness, and it works both ways. Simple acts of kindness don’t only make the receivers of that kindness feel good; they also have the potential to significantly impact the giver in positive ways.

With that in mind, I ask, what kind are you?

Here’s a list of a few kinds I can think of:

The hold the door kind. This kind is pretty basic. This is the kind who sees someone walking up behind and decides to step aside and hold the door rather than charge ahead. Sometimes this kind sacrifices a quicker trip to the counter or a better seat on the train. This kind doesn’t mind. This kind is rewarded by a smile or a nod. This kind enjoys the moment of shared humanity that generally transpires as a result of the humble act of holding a door.

The comfort kind. This kind is there when needed. This kind is a listener. This kind can deliver a message of compassion with his or her eyes. This kind truly seeks to understand. This kind is a friend first. This kind assumes positive intentions. This kind feels deeply, and this kind genuinely hopes that a listening ear and an open heart can support positive pathways for those entangled in challenging times.

The shine a light on others kind. This kind operates on the foundation of what Covey refers to as an abundance paradigm. This kind is happy when others achieve and this kind actively celebrates the achievement of others. This kind believes that the world is a better place when serenity and joy are spread far and wide rather than concentrated. This kind is excited to share and thrilled to be a part of the advancement of others.

The invite and include kind. This kind looks for opportunities to include. This kind seeks those out who struggle to get involved. This kind is actively aware when someone is standing off to the side, but seems to want to be a part of whatever action is fashionable in the moment. This kind smiles and reaches out. This kind is happy to show and to share. This kind feels good when he or she plays a role in putting a smile on someone else’s face. This kind understands the significant and profound nature of human interactions, and this kind seeks to build as many bonds between as many people as possible. This kind recognizes that even, and especially through our diversity, there runs a common thread linking us all together in a cosmic chain. This kind thrives on the strength of that chain.

The give gifts kind. This kind looks for ways to surprise those around him or her with gifts. This kind tries to understand the wants and the needs of others, and thrives on finding ways to translate those wants and needs into tangibles. It might be a piece of chocolate on your desk, a card expressing gratitude, or even a cool new bike. This kind is overjoyed at the delight associated with the giving as defined by the hopes and desires of others.

The gratitude kind. This kind is authentically grateful. This kind also knows that sharing gratitude can be deeply empowering, and that it feels good to appreciate and to be appreciated. This kind moves through life with a sense of good fortune associate with the people and things he or she has access to, and the experiences he or she is blessed to have. This kind expresses gratitude regularly and feels that the expression of gratitude is more than a passing pleasantry, but a model of healthy living. This kind is not looking to receive gratitude (although he or she welcomes and enjoys it), but rather to show anyone who’s looking that living with it is a boon to personal and communal balance, harmony, tranquility, and joyfulness.

The smile a lot kind. This kind smiles as much as possible. This kind believes that people should smile when they’re happy, and that smiling can serve as a catalyst to happiness. This kind can feel a smile on his or her face and on his or her heart. This kind allows smiling to infect him or her, and he or she believes that a smile is infectious to others, too (whether on not they understand, appreciate, or admit it).

I believe we’re each at least one kind, and probably more. I also believe that we can each learn to be any kind we want to be. It simply takes interest and effort. What kind or kinds are you? What kind would you like to be?

It’s fun to try out new kinds too. If you’re interested, you should give it a shot. You might just find that it’s cool to be kind. Personally, I feel almost certain you will. But then, I’m the naively optimistic, hopeful, and filled with faith in the human spirit kind.

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

Booger Boy and The Big Bad Nostril in “The Quest For Courage”

E.E. Cumming wrote, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” Ain’t that the truth.

The other day my two oldest boys (7 and 5 years old) told me about a story they were collaborating on. Jolts of delight visibly swirled in their minds and shot light laser beams from their inspired eyes as they revealed the idea.

The story was being constructed on the premise that a kid had realized his super powers in the form of an ability to project boogers from his fingertips. Gooey boogers, crispy boogers, boogers in any state needed for any given challenge.

Appropriately, Booger Boy is the kid’s name.

The Big Bad Nostril is the kid’s nemesis (appropriately, too).

The boys explained that The Big Bad Nostril has the power to blow so hard (out of his nostrils) that he can fly. Booger boy can use crispy boogers to knock him down and gooey boogers to stuff his nostrils so full that his flying powers are nullified.

Gross? Yes.

Creative, connected, and meaningful? Possibly yes, too.

Who is Booger Boy in the mind of a 7 or 5 year old? Who or what is The Big Bad Nostril?

What does it take for a child to understand the super powers in his or her own arsenal?

What does it take for a child to employ those super powers as needed?

Courage? I think so.

Just before I reminded my boys only to write and talk about Booger Boy and the Big Bad Nostril at home, and not at school, I found some courage of my own, and then I stopped myself.

This line of creative thinking might be a connected source of development regarding their own superpowers, and their ability to use them.

What if they’re figuring out how to be brave?

What if they’re digging into the source of their courage and unfolding pathways to practice overcoming challenges?

What if one of them is Booger Boy?

What they both are?

What the Big Bad Nostril needs to be addressed?

What if this is the boys’ way of getting at it?

What if this is an inspired story that deserves to be written?

What if the development of this story is a part of the process that has my boys growing into confident writers, independent thinkers, self-assured storytellers, reflective dreamers, and courageous seekers of tools and strategies designed to help them face and overcome any number of the inevitable challenges that they will each encounter over the course of their lives?

What if giving way to my hesitation, as founded by my perhaps baseless concern over the potential trouble these two unsuspecting young authors could face over the public exploration of this subject matter, is a super power in and of itself?

What if facing a bit of potential trouble over their creative thinking and expression might enlist just the courage they need to persist in true and brave ways?

What if?

It does take courage to grow up and become who you really are. I know this because I still need it at every turn; closer and closer each day, and still needing courage along the way.

Note to self: Be brave, and teach your children the same.

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

Keep Me

The Story. My daughter got new socks the other day. She’s three years old. New socks are nice for me. They’re super-awesome for a three-year-old!

These new socks have stripes on them. Stripes are super-awesome too.

Before we could leave the house yesterday, she insisted that I find her new socks. It was a really big deal. An adventure. Where could they be? Oh my, what if we couldn’t find them?

I had an idea…the sock drawer. Why don’t we check in the sock drawer? So we did.

Up the stairs we went, hand in hand, step by step, a pair of sock hunters; nervous, excited, eager with anticipation, and extremely hopeful. So hopeful we looked at each other and laughed a few times along the way.

Her hope was that the socks would be found so that she could wear them and show off her stripes. My hope was that the socks would be found so that we could reduce the excruciatingly extensive preparation-for-leaving-the-house process by even a few moments. It’s also fun to see her so animated and joyful.

At first glance she didn’t see them, but I did. Her face shifted from jubilant to distressed.

“There’re not here!” She shouted with the sharp agony of defeat.

I reached in. I pulled them out slowly. I smiled. I placed them in her tiny, eager, and outstretched hands. She beamed.

Again she shouted. This time, “Daddy…you found them…you found my new socks…see the stripes!”

I did see the stripes. They were super-awesome. I told her.

Then, she threw her arms around me and said, “You’re a good, Daddy…I think I should keep you.”

I was really glad to hear it.

The Point. Simple things can be really powerful too, the challenges and the triumphs. As parents and educators we mustn’t overlook the awe or the wonder with which kids move through this world. Everything is relatively new for them.

They need us, not only to guide them, but also to celebrate with them, even when we’re celebrating finding a pair of brand new stripped socks.

There are so many things we want to show and teach them, so many important things we feel we need for them to learn and demonstrate. It seems to me, the more we follow their lead the better able we are able to support each of their individual pathways to whatever it is they are each becoming.

The more we share in their excitement and rejoice in their happiness, the more connected we become, and the better we are able to serve them through the twists and turns we will inevitably face together along the way.

I’m glad that finding a pair of socks makes me a “good daddy,” because sometimes that’s about all I got sometimes, and I’m really glad that she thinks she should keep me, because I most certainly want to be kept.

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

 

Do Be Silly. Seriously.

I’m silly. I don’t know why. I’ve gone through phases in which I’ve tried to suppress it, times in my life when I attempted to not be silly. No good. Couldn’t do it. Failed miserable. I’ve had to face it; I’m silly.

My kids are silly too. They’re kids, so it seems more reasonable for them to be silly than it does for me. Most kids are silly. All of them are at least some of the time; all the ones I know anyway.

Occasionally, when my kids are being silly my wife looks at me as if to say, “you did that.” Like they’re silly because I’m silly. Like it’s my fault. When she does I look back at her as if to say, “don’t be silly.” Hypocritical, I know. Especially because I like it when she is (silly).

Truthfully, I believe she likes it too. After all, she did marry and proceeded to have four children with me. To tell a family secret, I was considerably silly even before any of that happened, and she darn well knew it.

I think she appreciates the silliness she’s surrounded herself with. At the very least, she couldn’t be entirely surprised that she’s become the mother of a veritable pack of silly kids. It’s a reality that might have been anticipated with very little thought and almost no effort.

I think she did it with intention. I think there was a moment along the way during which she thought, “this is silly,” followed by, “and I like it.”

I’m not suggesting that there isn’t threshold to reasonable, meaningful, and positively impactful silliness, that we should spend all of our time telling outrageous stories in broken, unidentifiable accents, or dancing around at all hours of the day and night with socks on our ears and stew pots on our heads. I am, however, suggesting that sometimes when we do those and other silly things, it makes us feel good and enhances our lives.

I’m also suggesting that there are degrees of silliness, and that if we take our silliness seriously we can use it for the greater good, ours and that of those we serve.

I’m suggesting that when someone says something truly silly like, “don’t be silly,” that someone is at least slightly misguided, and possibly significantly (misguided).

I say, do be silly. Seriously.

Is it silly to think that anything is possible? I say think it.

Is it silly to consider that being joyful spreads joyfulness? I say consider it.

Is it silly for parents and educators to praise our kids for being hard working and persistent rather than “smart?” I say praise on.

Is it silly to focus more on accumulating courage, creativity, and kindness than money and stuff? I say shift that focus.

Over the course of my forty-two years too many silly things have turned out to be wonderful. Silly has taught me too much. Silly has felt too good. Silly has helped me overcome too consistently. Silly has shown me the way to positive progress and reminded me not to take any of it too seriously. It simply moves too fast, and some of what seems to matter so much, turns out to matters so little (if at all).

At times I’ve confused my own silly with naïve, but it’s not. It’s silly, and it’s ok. In fact, I firmly believe it’s a source of strength. I can be silly and sophisticated at the same time. Frankly, I’d rather be silly than sophisticated. It’s considerably more fun.

If you’re already silly, keep it up. If not, try it out.

Put a toe in, take it slow, and stretch yourself.

If you’re resolutely serious it might feel strange at first, but don’t give up.

At the very least, look extremely closely and consider silly a viable alternative when serious seems like it might actually be silly in disguise. Seriously.

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

Picking the Positive [a(IQ)]

pick-the-positive

The Foundation. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity. I’ve been focused on considering ways in which I can effectively practice, model, and teach a healthy appreciation and respect for the diversity that exists in every direction I look around this ever-changing and often-challenging world.

I’ve been wondering about ways in which I can best make and support positive connections with those whose paths I cross or parallel along my journey. I’ve been carefully working to understand how the myriad thoughts, ideas, and perspectives constantly surfacing through my interactions with others play into our individual and collective learning and growth, and how the same enhance our individual and collective lives.

That’s what it’s all about after all, isn’t it? Looking for ways to be happy while simultaneously contributing to the happiness of others? The pursuit of happiness is an unassailable right indelibly connected to the core of who we are. Should it not be woven into the fabric of our quests?

As a husband, a father, and an educator, I feel a strong responsibility to protect that right for myself and for those I serve. Fostering and sustaining positive partnerships that lead to joyful teaching and learning has always been at the core of my learning and leadership vision, the foundation of who I am, and what I seek to do in every moment, with each passing day.

My aim is true. My intentions are pure and concentrated. I continue to look for tools and strategies to aid the unfolding of those intentions. I’ve become a master at forgiving myself missteps along the way in favor growth. Much of my thinking energy has gone into ways I might emphasize the importance and impact of positive partnerships.

Recently, I read an article called, “Unconscious Bias: When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough” by an author named Sarah E. Fiarman. Mrs. Fiarman is an educational consultant and a former public school principal who has written multiple books on learning and leadership. She sub-titled this article, “Deep rooted biases hinder our best intentions. Learn how to recognize and address them.” The article is published in the November 2016 issue of Educational Leadership, entitled “Disrupting Inequity.”

At first blush, when I’m considering equity in schools, I go to race. Then, I tend to move to socio-economics, followed by gender, and so on. Could this be a form of unconscious bias in and of itself?

After leading with some thinking on the impact of bias and the need for increased awareness, Mrs. Fiarman addresses naming it. She points out, “Sometimes we increase awareness by naming bias in others and in ourselves,” and goes on to assert that naming is not always comfortable. It’s not easy to consider your own biases. Especially in light of the fact that in most cases where bias plays a role in decision-making and actions the bias doesn’t fit with intentions or worldview.

Bias is often unconscious, which is why it’s so important to dig into it with an open mind, an open heart, and a clear purpose. My purpose in reflecting with critical intention on this article and digging into the potential of my own unconscious bias is to enhance my learning and leadership practice. I’m looking to do the hard work of figuring out where I could be more attentive to the needs of those I serve. I’m seeking to understand how I can enhance my ability to seek to understand.

After moving through pieces of the puzzle in which Mrs. Fiarman points out how important it is to recognize and appreciate that unconscious bias can negatively impact our behaviors, that designing systems to counteract those impacts is critical, and that positive, trusting, and collaborative relationships have the power to provide some essential unconscious bias understanding through shared analysis and genuine, caring checks and balances regarding decision making, I came to the part where she wrote about empathy.

She began with, “Another proven way to counteract the power of unconscious bias is to replace negative associations with positive ones.” This drove straight into the heart of what I’d been thinking about. It caused me to lift my eyes from the page and process. It’s what I would like to be best at. With Dweck’s growth mindset as a foundation, maybe it can be.

If you believe that everything happens for a reason, and at just the right time for that reason to be most striking, than it’s worth noting that this article came to me at just the right time. If you don’t, it might be worth noting anyway. Either way, I dig it.

Mrs. Fiarman says, “Biases are built by repeated exposure to a particular message,” and that, “Deliberately consuming counter narratives can help break down that automatic reflex.” I dig it, indeed.

So, what if our biases extend to the negative itself. What if we are bent to leaning toward the negative in any, and even more troubling, every situation?

The world moves fast ad it’s riddled with challenges. Lest we forget that every challenge is also a chance we could likely become wrapped up in the ongoing tumble of dirty laundry that seems to surround us.

The Story. Yesterday my five-year-old punted a beanbag in the middle of the living room at his Nan and Pop’s house. Let me clarify that Nan and Pop’s living room is not an ideal place for punting anything. Whatever grace prevented that punt from resulting in something being knocked over, smashed, or otherwise destroyed is undoubtedly real and indisputably powerful.

After several seconds that seemed to go by in slow motion, and upon a safe landing for the would-be-destructor of a bean bag, my son and I looked at one another wide-eyed and filled with relief in the knowledge that neither of us was about to be in big trouble.

I spoke first, “That was a really bad idea.”

Then he spoke, “A really bad idea but a really good punt.”

We both laughed.

The Reflection. What if that’s the way?

What if my astute five-year-old was the teacher and I was the student?

What if I found a new mentor?

What if, no matter the situation, picking out the positive is where the treasure can be found?

Sure, there are several, easily conceivable worse scenarios than the potential for a broken vase at Nan and Pop’s house, but in that moment, we were both slightly (if not considerably) terrified. Still, this kid picked the positive. My mentor modeled what might be the way.

My hope is that he understood the theoretically flawed decision-making and the potential for disaster. I try to impart learning around every turn. I also understand that learning comes at its own pace and in its own time.

What if the real learning here is that life is better when we look on the bright side?

What if the nugget of truth in this situation is about a holistic look at our moments with an eye on what went well?

Should I be considering the living room beanbag-punt experiment as a viable lesson in positive responsiveness?

What do we do when questionable decision-making goes right? Should we be focused on the decision making in a vacuum, or should we be focused on the “right?’

What if we set our individual and collective paths on picking the positive?

Is it possible that picking the positive could lead to a paradigm of progress and self-celebration? Might that be good for all involved? Could picking the positive help to foster cultures of teamwork, trust, and growth is school communities? Families? Within ourselves?

Could picking the positive shift our thinking in right directions by repeatedly exposing us to hopeful and optimistic messaging?

I suppose anything is possible, isn’t it?

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

 

Thankful Thursday: Unexpected Marvelous Surprises (ums)

Ums

Relatively recently I was the benefactor of an unexpected marvelous surprise. It was wonderful (in addition to being marvelous…as marvelous things often are).

Here’s how unexpected marvelous surprises (ums) work:

  1. You’re walking along, living your life in the way(s) you expected to be.
  2. Someone approaches you with an unexpected marvelous surprise (or one surfaces is some other form or fashion).
  3. It’s wonderful.

Ums are actually quite basic and they occur more frequently than some of us give them credit for. Also, when we recognize and appreciated them they have the capacity to be outstanding tools for developing relationships and fostering cultures of optimistic enthusiasm and positive progress in school communities and at home.

Ums have the power to support leaders and learners in framing the world as a surprisingly marvelous place, even and especially when they least expect it. Just one *um can fill a heart with joy and a soul with sustainable hope.

A viable school, classroom, and/or home practice to consider might be intentionally issuing 2-3 ums to people you serve on a daily basis. A nice note to your spouse, a new book from the library for your child, a “thank you” card for a teacher with some positive feedback on the wonderful impact he or she makes, or even the gift of a “magic” crayon to a kindergarten with the connected request for a “magic” drawing to be generated and hung on your wall.

Even the most simple, positive contact or communication can be an um in this busy world. Ums support cultures of caring and positive partnerships. Ums remind people that good is all around and that we are in this together!

The relatively recent um I’m writing about now began with an invitation to guest host a popular Twitter chat. My friend and colleague Dr. Mary Howard (@DrMaryHoward) contacted me and four other administrators from around the country. She asked each of us to guest host one in a series of five sessions that would combine to spotlight school leadership and collectively envision the incredible potential of forward thinking school communities (like the ones in which we’re each fortunate enough to serve).

Mary is the author of “Good to Great Teaching: Focusing on the Literacy Work that Matters” from Heinemann. She’s also the co-moderator of this enormously meaningful and collaborative weekly twitter chat under the hash tag #G2Great. The chat is co-moderated by the amazing Amy Brennan (@brennanamy) and the remarkable Jenn Hayhurst (@hayhusrt3) and it takes place on Thursday evenings from 8:30 – 9:30 pm. Join tonight with guest host Matt Renwick (@ReadByExample) if you can!

The invite was a real um for me, and it turned into multiple subsequent ums as well! It was my first time guest hosting a chat. The learning happened on multiple fronts.

First, I was blown away by the input from and digital dialogue of the #G3Great PLN (Professional Learning Network, if you didn’t know…and even if you did), and second, I was officially introduced to “tweetdeck” and thereby exposed to a whole new world of possibilities with regard to shared digital learning. Frankly…it’s awesome, not to mention very user-friendly. Check it out. And here’s the Storify link to our chat session if you’re interested: #G2Great 8/4/16.

As if that wouldn’t have been plenty of connected ums to fill me up for some time, Mary wrote a way-to-kind, accompanying post on the wonderful “Literacy Lenses” blog (linked to text).   The post warmed my heart, humbled and flattered the heck out of me, and it also fill me with inspiration and the ever-important reminder that the most effective and meaningful leadership is shared!

I’m so fortunate to have such amazing partners, from the students, teachers, and parents I serve, to my building and central office administrative partners, to the remarkable educational and organizational leaders I’m so proud to be intertwined with as a global PLN on this leadership and learning journey. I learn and grow the best and in the most meaningful ways when I do it together with others.

So, look out for incoming ums along with opportunities to provide outgoing ums as you prepare for the start of another great school year. Inspire those you serve with continued demonstrations of your commitment to shared learning and leadership, and allow yourself to be lifted up and inspired by even the most fundamental ums that come your way, if for no other reasons then…um…you’re worth it!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thank you.

 

* In this context the term “um” represents a single unexpected marvelous surprise given the coinciding facts that, 1. The words “unexpected” and “surprise” are synonymous, making it unnecessary to include both unless speaking or writing in multiplicity (with the “s” indicating multiple “ums” as it does with regard nous in general), and 2. You shouldn’t say or write the phrase “an ums” because it simply doesn’t sound or read correct (and arguably, neither does this explanation, but whatever…you get it).