Tagged: Journey

Everyone Will Think I’m Just a Painter

We were headed out the door to an event at the synagogue.  Of course, our five year old was wearing his pirate outfit.  It’s a good one.  There’s the lengthy, leathery foundational top coat laden with the silky, frilly accouterments you might see on the uniform of a real fake pirate.  Also, there was a right-sized sword hanging from the loop in his velvety belt.  To his credit, the sword was the centerpiece of the outfit.  Unfortunately, we simply don’t wear swords to the synagogue.  It’s just not done. 

I reminded him.  He brushed past me without acknowledging the reminder.  I called his name.  He didn’t look back.  He marched to the car grasping the sword hilt with one hand, bound and determine to keep the outfit intact.  I smiled in the light of his determination.  He’s strong-willed like his mother (and possibly his father, too).  It could serve him well some day. Off we went.

When we arrived at our destination I told him that the sword wasn’t leaving the truck with us.  He took a deep breath, he executed a precise and overt slumping of the shoulders, and then he sighed.  After an especially moving dramatic pause, and with a distant, forlorn look in his eyes, he said, “Everyone will think I’m just a painter.” 

I smiled again, trying unsuccessfully to hide it from him.  He broke the fourth wall and reflexively smiled back before quickly regaining his footing. 

Despite his best efforts, the possibly misconceived sword-less pirate and would-be a painter, his giggling sister and I walked into the synagogue. 

The idea of “what everyone thinks” is complicate.  It’s difficult to decipher, it seems really important until we understand that it’s not, and it’s almost always relatively concrete until it falls apart under the weight of self-realization.  

That is to say, we don’t really know “what every thinks” or is going to think, “everyone’s” thinking is typically set on a foundation of our own thinking (and projecting), and what others think of us (real or imagined) doesn’t change who we are or set our course in nearly as profound a way as does our own thinking.  Sometimes we think it does, but it doesn’t.  

In other words, it really didn’t matter if  everyone thought the kid was “just a painter?”  He was a pirate. He knew it.  The trick was convincing him of that “father knows best” nonsense. 

At first I thought to espouse the high qualities of painters, thinking I could initiate a paradigm shift that might comfort and instill a sense of pride in him.  Painters are creative, they have sensitivities that connect them to the world in wonderful ways, they generate beautiful works that drive imagination and spur innovation from those inspired by their shared thinking, and so on.  

I stopped short of enacting that reflexive societal instinct.  I wasn’t going to ask the pirate to pretend he was painter.  I shouldn’t.  I couldn’t. 

Fight yourself to work at becoming a thing you think “everyone else” sees you as or want’s you to be.  Try it.  Actually, I’m guessing that at one time or another you have. I would contend the core of a person is simply too strong to refuse, at least while keeping the person intact.  Whenever I’ve attempted to veer from my truest path I’ve been turned back, as if by gravity itself. 

There are many kids of painters and also assortment of pirates, I would guess.  We can certainly learn and we can undoubtedly grow.  We shift and we change in many ways over time.  However, I would suggest that we are each something at the center.  A pirate, a painter, or possibly something else.  

Children should be allowed and encouraged to get messy figuring out what’s at the heart of the matter for them.  They should try things on and see how they fit.  We should help them understand that a full and balanced life comes along with some seemingly limiting expectations (like no swords in the synagogue), but that they must push forward from a foundation of self awareness, resilience, power and pride. They should know that we expect them to go for it…whatever it is.

In it together for the kids.

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

Imagine That: The Impact of Play on Agency

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

Welcome back!

Amazing, right? Moving and inspirational around every turn. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter said, “Doing what?”

“Using your imagination.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m Super Banana Jumper!”

“I’m Monkey Boy!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agency, I thought. This game gives them power. 

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

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

Imagine that. Literally.

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

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

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

In it together for the kids.

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

Taking The Long Cut

I don’t often have the opportunity to pick our kids up from school. Usually I’m at work when they’re dismissed. Yesterday I did have that opportunity. My wife and I were able to pick them up together. It was wonderful.

We were able to pick them up because, along with my sister, we attended a funeral that had us close to school at dismissal time. Strange how life sometimes connects tragic moments with moments of celebration, and even joy. 

Loss seems to be that way in and of itself. We lost a childhood friend this past week. Danny. He was a wonderful, kind, and loving person. 

The funeral service was a celebration, and the afternoon was filled with an outpouring of love. A tragic and joyful series of moments. Confusing, upsetting, peaceful, and comforting all at once. Difficult, while simultaneously inevitable, important and meaningful. 

As our friend was eulogized we were reminded that life is for living, and specifically, that we should each live our lives in precisely the way we want, no matter what anyone says about it. This is how Danny lived. This was the message his family reminded us of as they braced themselves for a life without his physical presence. 

His sister reminded us to dance like no one is watching, because “why not?” 

She remembered her brother with no inhibitions; free, joyful, limitless in love for himself and for those around him. I hadn’t connected with Danny for many years but my heart swelled as she spoke with such longing. If only she could dance with her brother, even just one more time. She was overwhelmed with sadness and beaming with pride. She asked us to think and to speak of him often so that he might live on in our hearts, in our minds, and in the lessons he’s left as gifts for us.

Danny’s brother reminded us that nothing is more important than family as he showered us with anecdotes about Danny always putting those he loved before anything else in this world, specifically and especially his two young sons. Listening to stories relating the deep connections and the indelible bonds Danny built, maintained, and cherished tore at my heart and had me desperate for time with my family, my friends, and most importantly with my wife and children.

We all have to walk out the door. We all have to say goodbye. I sat in that space and racked my brain, trying to piece together a plan for doing it less, and for being more present. Confusing, upsetting, peaceful, and comforting all at once.

As we say, “under better circumstances.” However, it was powerfully moving and incredibly meaningful to connect with the village of people who assembled to celebrate Danny’s miraculous life yesterday. I often miss them in these busy moments that seem to sail by, too quick to truly capture. Yesterday left me deeply reflective and overwhelmed with gratitude for the life I’m blessed to be living. Tragic and joyful.

When Lorelei and I arrived at school we walked together to each of the doors our kids would be pouring out of. One by one we greeted them with hugs and high fives. They were surprised and excited to see us there together, waiting to reconnect after a long day and a long week at school and at work. 

They were all smiles, beaming with joy and enthusiasm. Detailing the excitements of the day too quickly for us to really hear, let alone process. Bouncing around us, grabbing at us, showering us with any and every thought that popped into their heads or even fluttered whimsically through their minds. 

Being together in that moment was sublime. I genuinely forgot to worry about whatever it is I’m usually worried about. I felt all together removed while at the same time inseparably connected. These moments are hard to define. They’re painted with frosted and glistening brushes. They’re saturated with stardust. They’re magical. They’re gifts.  

Our Daughter insisted that her and I walk home while the boys drove with Lorelei. She held my hand and told me, “Come on, Daddy…we’re walking!” It was freezing outside. I wasn’t cold. I was overwhelmed. That moment could have gone on forever and I would have never grown tired of it. I would have never wanted for anything else.

At each turn she asked me, “Is this the short cut or the long cut?” She insisted that we find all the “long cuts” along the way. We did. 

We turned away from home again and again as we walked through the neighborhood hand in hand, jabbering on about everything and nothing at all, smiling, laughing, skipping, eating snow, and sharing the afternoon with one another. 

Time stood still. It really did. These were genuinely pure and perfect moments. They were moments that will be impossible to ever forget, no matter how the journey unfolds. 

She told me that sometimes she takes “short cuts” when she’s trying to get somewhere quickly, and then she told me that sometimes she takes “long cuts” when she’s trying to spend more time with her daddy. She told me that and she smiled. 

I’ve been laden with gifts. 

I don’t know how this happened to me. 

I’m filled with gratitude. 

I’m working hard to be present and realize my right path in as many moments as I can. I’m trying to be ever-aware of what really matters in this life.

In the face of my many stumbles, I’m delighted to be taking the long cut. 

Rest in peace, Danny. Thank you for your lessons and for your legacy.

Imagine That

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine that.

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

Made Of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Wellbeing Extension: Just Share Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In it together for the kids.

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

Wait, What The What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That cloud looks like a cantaloupe.”

“Wait, what the what?”

“The daddy seahorse has the babies.”

“Wait, what the what?”

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

“Wait, what the what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In it together for the kids!

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

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.