Category: Leadership

Ride While Crying: A Focus on Resilience Through Trauma

This is hard.

It’s hard in a strange way.  I don’t always realize how hard it is.

I sometimes find myself engaged in the following reflexive Q and A:

“How are you?”

“Doing good.”

“How are the kids?”

“Great.”

I understand that there are many families challenged in ways that our family can’t even imagine.

I know that we live with privilege , and that experiencing a global health crisis is different for me and my family than it is for many others. I understand that it doesn’t always feel hard for us because we have everything we need, and if we think need something we don’t have, we can either get it or live without it. Joyfully, even.

We’ve spent most of our moments enjoying time together over the past several months, feeing comfortable and secure, and being able to generate strength on the foundation of the “silver linings” lens we’re fortunate to see through and live within. I know that our privilege exists on the foundation of a void of privilege for others. I also know writing that sentiment won’t provide resources, security or health to the others in question, but somehow I felt pulled to write about that recognition of my privilege as a precursor to the following reflection, so I did.

One of my mentors puts our situation like this: same storm, different boats.

To whatever extent, and on whatever level, we are each living through trauma in this moment. We are each wondering when some normalcy will return to our world, for our children and for ourselves, and we are each hoping beyond hope that it will be sooner rather than later.

Our five year old learned to ride a two-wheeler without training wheels this summer.  One of his favorite British television shows refers to training wheels as “stabilizers” – so of course, we do too.

On the first day of riding without stabilizers he managed to slowly but surely plow head first into the giant cement base of a sign post. I watched in wonderment as his face ran in what seemed to be slow motion across the gritty cylinder. Unable to stop himself, he slid all the way to the ground, bracing himself with his head. It was fascinating and troubling simultaneously. Thankfully, thick skulls run in our family.

As he managed his way back up, untangling his legs from the bike frame along the way, hopping and shifting to gain balance, determined to reset, I noticed a gigantic alligator tear sliding down his reddened cheeks. 

I suspected he’d be ready to throw in the towel. I was wrong.

This kid, my strong-willed wife’s son, our adventurous explorer, the determined fourth child, looked up at me in earnest and asked, “Can I ride while crying?”

“You sure can, brother.”

And ride he did.

And guess what…he wasn’t crying for long.

Again, this is hard. Whoever you are, whatever boat you’re in…this is hard.

None of us have stabilizers for a pandemic.

Cry if you need to.  I have.  I’m sure I will some more.

But, ride while crying. 

We’re strong.  We’re courageous.  Individually and collectively we have the will to overcome, to survive, and to thrive.

We aim for joyful and balanced days, and a bright future for ourselves and our children…and our aim is true.

Have your good days and your bad days. 

Fall apart as frequently as you need to, but always put yourself back together – better than before.

Forgive yourself for stumbling.

Be ok with the mess of it all.

Build resilience.

Ride while crying.

In it together for the kids!

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

My 2020 Fifth Grade Commencement Address in Speech and Song

This past week I offered a commencement address honoring the first group of students I met as kindergarteners when I became an elementary school principal.

Needless to say, this is very special moment in time for me. 

I remember the feeling of being “the new principal.”

I remember feeling like I had a lot to learn about the job, and that I had a lot to learn about the kids. 

Caring for children from the age of 4 or 5 through the age of 10 or 11 is a different thing than caring for children beginning when they’re more advanced along their educational journey. 

Along with the families and staff who are my partners, I feel like I’ve played a role in raising these kids, and the truth is, I’m extremely proud of them. 

To be clear, I’m proud of every student I’ve met along this journey. 

Still, for these kids, I’m the only principal that they’ve had.

So this year, as I considered a commencement address, I sat and looked at the cabinet in my office which is lined with the handprints these 10 and 11-year-olds gifted me when they were 4 and 5-year-olds. 

I thought of their hands then, what their hands have done since, and what their hands, hearts, and minds are capable of doing now. 

I truly believe in the power of possibility, and I truly believe that these uniquely challenging times will foster a type of resilience that will manifest in positive world change generated from the hands, hearts and minds of this group of kids. 

So, in this year’s address I spoke some words from my heart, and remembering that music can deliver a message in alternate ways, I decided to sing as well. 

I sang a song that I wrote for all of the children of this generation. All of those who are engaged in any transition, moving from grade level to grade level or to from school to school, and in particular, for the four children my wife and I spend our days with, watching them thrive in an environment that completely shifted under their feet. 

Kids are resilient, and they learn how to grapple by having things to grapple with.

This generation of kids, at every level, are going to be sophisticated, compassionate, productive, and positive grapplers. 

As I watch the world go by with slow change in the rearview mirror and all around me, I have every bit of confidence that this generation will be the one to see our hopes and dreams of widespread peace, love, unity, inclusion and belonging fulfilled.

This is my message as I bid our fifth grade graduates a safe, joyful, and balanced journey forward. 

This is my message to all children. 

This is my message to anyone who’s interested.

In it together for the kids!

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

Finding the Good Ain’t Bad

Our experiences impact how we feel and how we function.  

Positive experiences tend to uplifted and energized us. Negative experiences can produce a range of responses that cause us to feel a range of emotions, from contemplative to drained of energy and upset.  

All of our experiences are important. None are without value.  

Even feeling pain, sadness and fear can help us learn and grow. Challenging emotions support the building of resilience. 

I’ve heard it said that kids learn to grapple when they have things to grapple with. I believe that’s true for all of us, kids and adults. We need to grapple in order to grow. We need to do so in thoughtful, safe and intentional ways. 

With focus and strength we can lift and shift the experiences of our days, and we can maximize the value of each. We can do it by compartmentalizing.  

When we make note of, and seek to understand our experiences, we can deign an energy flow that promotes positivity, productivity, and health. In this way, we can enhance our ability to process experiences, both positive and negative. 

Imagine each experience you have as a dash in a long, broken but cohesive line. A chain of events. Indelibly interwoven, but not connected physically. Imagine each experience as one piece of your day that eventually becomes a completed puzzle. 

Some experiences practically process themselves while some are more difficult to process.  

If we lift the more difficult dashes, or pieces, above the imaginary line of our daily experiences, and separate them from those that flow easily, we can put them aside for later reflection.

We can’t attend to everything in the moment it happens. There’s simply too much. If we want to remain present we can’t get wrapped up in every challenging emotion that comes our way. When we lift and shift, we can breath, regroup, focus, and go back to experiences with intentionality.

It’s not easy and it takes practice, however, when I’m able to achieve the lift and shift, I find it extremely worthwhile. 

For example, when someone treats me in an unkind way, and I’m able to lift that treatment out of my immediate timeline rather than attaching myself to negative emotions, I can stay present with the game of tag I’m playing, the book I’m reading, or the joyful experience of laying on a hammock with my daughter, counting leaves and imagining that clouds are dragons and bunnies.  

When I’m ready and have some time, I can re-engage with the challenging experience and it’s connected learning in a more productive way. When I do that, the lessons seem to take hold more deeply, with meaning rather than emotion as the foundation.  

Another piece of the experiential puzzle has to do with the narratives we write about our experiences. 

Narratives are important, and they come in multiple forms. There are the narratives we write instinctively, the ones that pop into our minds as experiences are unfolding, and then there are the ones we write reflectively, given some time and space. 

If someone treats me in an unkind way my instinct might be to consider that person unkind, when actually, they are more likely upset or frustrated. 

Most often, the initial narrative from a negative experience is not the one I want to stick with, in large part because it’s typically driven by emotion. 

When I lift and shift I still write the instinctive narrative, however, I give myself an opportunity to write multiple other narratives until I find the one that’s best for my learning and growth.

What else might be happening in any give scenario, other than the reactive, emotional possibilities that can enter our minds in moments of frustration?  

After writing multiple narratives, we can connect them to the most succinct understanding of reality that we know. We can’t read minds or understand all of the finite nuances of the world in which we live, but we can find the good in most things.

This strategy can help us decrease worry about things that are outside of our control.

Lifting and shifting, in conjunction with extended and thoughtful narrative writing, helps us assume positive intentions, which in my experience most people seem to have. 

Refining out ability to process in healthy and thoughtful ways increases well-being and perpetuates positive progress for everyone involved.

In it together for the kids.

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

The Importance of Embracing These Moments

A few weeks into this changed environment I looked back and realized my emotional bandwidth has been as broad as ever. Turns out a global pandemic sets the stage for emotional overload. Go Figure.  

Also, this era-defining moment has presented me with an opportunity to progress monitor my resilience and emotional wherewithal. Now, I’ve found a flow.  

I believe one reason I’ve been able to find this flow is the experience of accepting and intentionally navigating a wide spectrum of emotions.  

The first couple of weeks were mostly about prep work, setting things up, getting things ready, figuring out what structures work best for me to function in my roles as a principal, a husband, and a father.

Lorelei and I imagined, constructed, reimagined, refined and implemented a system and a consistent pace in our house. At this point, the kids have all but taken both over with a good deal of independence. Our days are flowing relatively smoothly. It adds a foundation of balance. 

I’ve spoken and written about the structured blueprint of our stay-at-home life on multiple occasions since the beginning. I’ll mention some particulars here as a side-note.

We have four kids, all elementary age. Our days begin with breakfast at 8:30 am, followed by a series of 45 minute sessions with10 minutes of transitional time for snacks, stretches and bathroom breaks in between each session. The sessions include “School Work,” “Fresh Air,” “Read and Relax,” and “Free time.”  

We maintain these structures with a foundation of flexibility.  We use the Zones of Regulation to see that we’re focused and ready to go for each session. If were not, we flex. We have a lot of conversations. We give the kids ownership and autonomy through which they’re demonstrating some wonderful independence.  

The few days I wrote about above came shortly after these structures were solidly in place, just after I was able to take my first breath, knowing we were on the right path with regard to some normalcy and balance for the kids. 

After the initial setting of the stage I was able to turn to my own feelings about the challenges we’re facing. In doing so, my broadened emotional bandwidth came into play. I was really sad for a few days. 

At first, I didn’t completely understand the sadness, where it came from, or why it was so intense. In hindsight it would seem obvious, but it wasn’t. I wanted to be “stronger than that,” and I had some trouble letting myself accept and appreciate that strength may not be in how you feel, but in how you respond to what you’re feeling. Upon letting go and falling into my emotions, I realized they needed my attention. 

Paulo Cohelo said, “You drown not by falling into a river but by staying submerged in it.”

What seems to have worked for me, and what I recommend, is that when we fall into a river of emotion, no matter the emotion, we recognize and accept that we’re there. 

I recommend that we look around ourselves, inside and out, for methods and means to rise to the surface and emerge. The difficult journey out might take an hour, it might take a day, and it might take a week. If it takes longer than that, I recommend asking for and embracing help from others.  

In my case, during this round of processing, it took just over 2 days. I emerged with enhanced strength and clarity of vision. I’ve since been in the flow I mentioned above.

I suspect I’ll fall into a river of emotion again during this challenging and unusual time, however it unfolds. I hope that when I do I can see clearly the value falling into the river has, along with the value of finding ways to emerge. That’s my plan, anyway.

We’ve got to give ourselves time, space, understanding and compassion. We’ve got to allow ourselves to experience the moments we’re living in, to enlist our minds and our hearts, to muster courage and strength, and to process through each moment and every feeling in ways that are healthy and balanced. 

Let’s not be too cautions about sharing our emotional truths. Let’s not turn our heads or our hearts away from those who share their emotional truths to us.  

In this relative isolation, we are truly not alone. We are together in our humanity.

In it together for the kids!

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

Let Yourselves Off The Hook Parents and Educators

This weekend’s sunshine reminded me of something important.  It reminded me of the ebbs and the flows of being a parent and an educator.  It reminded me that there are triumphant days and that there are challenging days. 

On triumphant days, the kids we’re serving and parenting demonstrate high levels of independence.  They engage in work and play without excessive arguing, fussing or fighting.  They make themselves cereal for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch, they put their dirty dishes in the sink, they put toys away after using them, they flush the toilet and they wash their hand.

On challenging days, our kids argue, fuss and fight.  They don’t even need to be asked to do anything, they crawl out of their beds grumpy, and they grump around all day.  They snap at us, they roll their eyes, they stomp and sulk, and sometimes they growl.  On challenging days, everything feels like a battle, all day long.  

They tell us that they don’t like what we made them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  They ask us to make them something different, and then they don’t eat that either.  

On really challenging days they tell us that we’re the “meanest” and that they hate us. 

The thing is, the sun goes up and the sun goes down, and then the sun comes up again.  

This weekend, as I walked with sunshine radiating against my skin and blue skies above, I remembered that, like the sunshine, everything comes and goes. 

Kids are kids.  Each one is unique in many ways, but each one is a kid.  Like us, they have triumphs and they have challenges.  As parents and educators we need to simply be sure that our limbs are inside the rollercoaster car and that the safety bar is securely fastened.  We need to throw our hands up and cheer when we’re racing over hills and around the turns.  

We need to celebrate the triumphs and face the challenges with as much patience and compassion as we can, knowing that with every experience comes opportunities for learning, for them and for us.  

We need to alway remember the deep and abiding love we feel for our kids.  Even, and especially when it’s difficult, we need to muster deep and abiding love for ourselves, and maybe most importantly…we need to let our selves off the hook.

This stuff ain’t easy, but we got it!

In it together for the kids!

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

Stop, Drop, And Roll With It

I came across a tweet today that articulated  so beautifully what we’re driving at with a focus on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and wellness in our schools, our homes, and our communities.  

The tweet featured some video footage of a dog show. One of the judges noticed a little girl on the sidelines, watching the action with enthusiasm. The little girl brought her stuffed animal to the show. She’s clearly a dog person and a dog show enthusiast. It turns out that this little girls is also autistic. 

The judge noticed the girls’ enthusiasm, he stopped what he was doing, he dropped the task at hand, and he rolled with an act of compassion, kindness, and fun. 

This judge went over to the girl and her stuffed animal. He examined the toy dog as he would have with a living, breathing dog, and he proceeded to guide the girl in how to show the dog. The little girl joyfully dragged her prize puppy in a loop, showing off the fine animal’s impressive pedigree and demonstrating an outstanding level of professionalism. Who knows, this could be her calling. Wouldn’t it be cool to see this kid grow up to be a trainer? Maybe a manufacturer of stuffed animals? A producer of dog shows? Some combination of all of those things?  Something that ties her passions to her unlimited potential. Anything is possible, after all. 

So much of this situation is wonderful. As I mine it for learning I love that the judge saw and seized a chance to share loving kindness and humanity. This fine fella saw a need. He understood that there are things more important than keeping a schedule. He noticed a child for whom he could make a deeply positive impact. 

He realized, seemingly without even having to think about it, that the connections we make with one another have to potential to enlighten, exhilarate, heal, and link us. If you get a chance to watch the video, look closely at the little girl’s reaction, listen closely to the crowd’s response, focus in on the judges body language. 

This moment produced so much joy for so many. The residual effects of this man’s energy, his core values, his decision to trust an instinct, and the action he took (with that trust at hand) will no doubt ripple out indefinitely. 

The moment reached me and reminded me how important it is to trust ourselves when we know it’s time to stop, drop, and roll with it. As we teach, learn, and care for our kids together, let’s always make sure that we get this part right.

In it together for the kids! 

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

[Point your iPhone camera at the QR code below to link to the tweet and the video]

 

Sometimes I Kick Myself (And I’m Ok With It)

I often feel that I’m much better principal than I am a dad.  I never (and would never) shout at school, and to be clear, I don’t go around the house shouting all the time, but over the course of ten year and four kids I’ve been there.

I kick myself when I shout at our kids.  When my frustrations bubble over and burst through it feels like I’m failing.  

The reality is that there are times I need to step away from being Dad and be alone for bit.  There I times I just need to be me, quietly, calmly, and in isolation.  I need time outs.  

In those moment, those thoughts, actions, feelings and words are tough to process and I’m really hard on myself.  The fact is, I love our kids dearly and I show them that love each day, even when I’m not at my best.  I couldn’t live without them and I wouldn’t trade my life with them for anything.  Parent tend to be really hard on themselves for being human.  I’m no exception. 

I don’t think raising kids is about stifling our emotions or energy.  Instead, I think it’s about continuously working to enhance our ability to regulate and restore, and maybe even more importantly, I think it’s about being open, honest, transparent, and compassionate about who and what we are.  

I think our kids benefit from experiencing our humanity if we’re intentional about providing them a comprehensive and developmentally appropriate view, with the communication and support for processing it.

I read an article this weekend that highlights Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills in a way that really connects with the core values that Lorelei and I share.  The author starts with, “Social and emotional learning (SEL) skills aren’t core content but they’re the core of all content.”

We’ve had, and continue to have lots of dialogue around SEL in our home.  The consistent theme is that there’s nothing more important to than giving our kids tools and strategies for managing their emotions and their relationships, and providing them with modeling and opportunities to practice regulating and restoring as we celebrate the triumphs and face the challenges together.

We use the Zones of Regulation (http://www.zonesofregulation.com). Being a Hero at school (or being your best self at home) in every Zone is the baseline for everything else we do.  The reality that all of us, kids and adults alike, sometimes find ourselves in each of the four Zones of Regulation (BLUE – sad with low energy, GREEN – focused and ready to learn, YELLOW – worried or silly, and RED – angry with “out of control” energy) binds us with common threads and makes it possible for us to connect with our kids as we tread the SEL path together.

Transparency is critical along the path.  As we shift through the Zones throughout each day we talk with kids about our practice.  We work hard to demonstrate the difference between being a frustrated person and simply being frustrated, being an angry person and being just angry, being a sad person and being sad in the moment. 

When we share our stories with our kids, and with one another we make visible, and open minds and hearts to tools and strategies that have the potential to enhance lives.  When kids and others can see that our energy and emotions fluctuate and are influenced buy our circumstances and experiences, just like theirs do and are, bonds of genuine trust and compassion are developed and resilience is built. 

We tend to remember moments of discovery in visceral ways.  Revelation moves us.  One of the great challenges we have as parents and educators is that it’s really tough to measure growth in some areas.  There’s no straight forward assessment that monitors the development of SEL skills.  We see kids shift and change over long periods of time, we witness the ebbs the flows, and we share stories with colleagues and parents around our amazement about how Billy “has grown” or what a “mature attitude” Susan has developed about her learning, but the real-time impact of our efforts are often undetectable. 

Kids simply don’t blossom on our watch.  Even so, our work with them, our dedication to them, and our love for them are all incredibly impactful.  What we do and how we act catalyzes discovery.  They’re watching.  They’re listening to everything we say.  They’re learning from their experiences with us.  

We need to consistently demonstrate what it is to be human, warts and all.  We need to be open and honest about our successes and our failures.  We need to make sure they understand the great benefit of missteps for those of us genuinely functioning with growth mindsets.  

SEL isn’t about getting it “right” all the time or walking through this world with a smile on our faces at every turn.  SEL is about having the wherewithal to weather the storms.  None of us are perfect at it.  Kids should know that we don’t expect them to be either.  They should know that, in fact, we expect just the opposite.  They should understand that we expect their roads to be long and winding, just like ours are, and that we’re here to help as they learn to navigate.  Let’s stay focused on the core of what it takes to teach the core.  SEL first.

In it together for the kids!

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

I Could Show You This All day

The Story 

Our five year old learned a magic trick. His brother got the box set from a show we went to at school.  It had all the classics.  There was a sliding wand, some gimmick playing cards, the cups that multiply, and the plastic yellow sliding mechanism that makes a plastic coin disappear and reappear right before your very eyes!  He was fascinated with the disappearing coin trick.  I remember that one being particularly fascinating as a kid, too.  

It’s awesome to witness young ones discover things for the first time.  When he saw what this thing could do it was like he was on to something that no one else knew about.  He couldn’t wait to show the world, and he wouldn’t give away the secret (because magicians simply don’t do that). 

He approached me with a gigantic smile on his face.  Even though he was covering it up with the hand that didn’t have the disappearing coin trick in it, I could tell it was a smile.  This kid smiles with his eyes.

He prepped me with a wonderfully professional intro, demonstrating that the coin was real.  Then he pushed the sliding mechanism in the casing, he gave it a magic wave with his hand, and he slid it back out.  When it came out, the coin was gone.  Amazing!  

His smile grew and his hand moved quickly back in front of his face.  I could still tell.  The eyes.

He turned the sliding mechanism over and slid it back into the casing.  This time, when he pulled it out the coin was there again.  How could this be possible!  My eyes lit up, his smile was evermore transfixed to his rosy, enthusiastic face, and we both reveled in the magic of the moment.  

Before I could even ask about his mystical, magical secrets, he performed the trick a second time, then a third, then a fourth and a fifth, and so on.  He didn’t stop, or even pause.  He just kept going. He was a master magician.  He made that coin appear and disappear at will.  It got stuck a few times, and a few times he lost track of the orientation of the sliding mechanism and put it in the wrong way, but he quickly recovered each time.  It was a sight to behold.

After a few dozen reenactments I began wondering when it would end.  It was thrilling to be sure, but still, I might have benefitted from a bit of a break.  Before I could ask, he looked up at me (still with the smiling eyes) and said, “I could show you this all day!” 

The Learning

Kids have only had the lived experiences they’ve had.  Redundant but true.  The fact is, kids are making discoveries at every turn.

Think about how it feels to discover something new. 

I’m forty five year old (and almost forty six, if you can believe that).  I certainly don’t know everything there is to know, but I have the basics down pretty good.

Sometimes, I make a discovery, even when I’m not trying or expecting to.  Those are my favorites.  Surprise discoveries.  Good stuff. 

When a surprise discovery comes along I feel like my world has shifted.  Now a days it tends to be something about calming my mind or finding ways to balance and simplify my life. Sometimes I’m reading when it happens, I could be listening to music, or even interacting with a friend or colleague who’s discovered some secret I’ve been waiting to know. 

When it happens, it feels kind of mind blowing to me.  It’s exhilarating.  I want to shout it from the mountaintops.  I want to share, I want to practice, I want to remember, and I wan to refine.  I’m in it.  I’m engaged and excited.  Just the way we want kids to be as they learn.

The thing is, kids are constantly making mind blowing discoveries because so much is new to them.  On top of that, they love sharing.  As parents and educators we need to remember how much it matters that they have opportunities to share as much as possible. 

Ask anyone, it’s the connections we make with kids that make the difference, even over the information we teach them.  In fact, it seems to me if we spend more time listening than we do talking, more time learning from them instead of trying to impart our wisdom, and more time simply focused on connections when they demonstrate interest and engagement, we may may all be well served. 

Connections before anything.  Spending our time celebrating the things kids are excited about and sharing in that excitement paves pathways to positive process, achievement, and wellbeing for all.

In it together for the kids!

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

A Bit Of A Smile

We were at the library. We were standing by the fish tank, doing the “fish tank stare.” Our daughter said, “We should get some fish.”  

She went on, “Fish are nice to look at, “ and then she finished with, “if you look really closely, sometimes they have a bit of a smile.”

Life is filled with challenges. It’s filled with triumphs, too. We can’t get away from facing the challenges. When we try, they just get more challenging. Turning away from challenges makes them grow. They follow us. They hide and they jump out at us. They insist. They’re quite stubborn.  

Triumphs are shy. They’re humble. They don’t mind going unnoticed. They’re happy just to be. They’re content. The purpose they serve is to simply serve their purpose. 

Maybe we should pay triumphs the kind of attention we pay to challenges. Maybe more.

When you think about it, challenges and triumphs are indelibly connected. Actually, one might say that they’re two parts of the same thing. 

If you visualize a challenge as a journey, a process, or something in motion, you should be able to name one part of that process the “triumph” part. The triumph is the part where the challenge is solved, overcome, or reconciled. It’s the end, the desired outcome, or in some cases one of the ebbs (of flows, depending on how you interpret ebbs and flows).

Fish are nice to look at, in part because if you look closely it looks like they have a bit of a smile. 

When we celebrate triumphs there’s often a bit of a smile associate with the celebration.

When we anticipate triumphs there’s often a bit of smile associated with the anticipation.

Maybe we should do more of both, more frequently. When things are nice to look at, life is nice too.

It it together for the kids!

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