On a cold, blustery day, I sit by my fireplace catching up on emails while Netflix plays in the background. The freezing rain pelts the side of my house making little, knocking noises against the siding. My wind-chimes are quickly singing a song as the wind swirls and blows outside. All is well… or is it?
I am tired.
I am tired of being worried about my own two children every time I send them off to school.
I am tired of playing scenarios in my head of where I might hide, how might I help students, what would I do if…
Something has got to change.
I have noticed that people, both adults and children, suffer from this lack of being heard; a lack of validation. It seems the only way to be heard is by lashing out verbally, physically, emotionally. People have to be the loudest, most disruptive force in a room. If you don’t hear me, if you don’t agree with me, if you don’t see me, then I will be the loudest one here and by that, “I win.”
How do we counter that? I don’t know. Maybe we need to have more conversations with each other, spend more time together, lower the pressures and expectations of our society, and change the mindset of, “the more stuff I enroll my kid in, the better they will be.”
People are not just data points, statistics, or a series of checkmarks on a long list of college entrance expectations. We truly seem to lack this investment in humanity. How has this gotten so out of control?
We need to invest in all students and people -- even the ones how are hard to reach! Guess what, they need us more than ever. We, as a global community, need a mindset reset! We need to change our mindset and investment in humanity. We need to focus on the growth and cultivation of exceptional people. We HAVE to change our expectations for ourselves and for the people with whom we interact. We need to celebrate differences and learn from each other. If I don’t do try… if you don’t try… then what are we truly to do?
*This blog has been inspired by current events in the U.S. and our local community. A huge shout out to my people who jump-started this conversational blog with our icy morning texts, @PK5Cramer, @CaraMcNorton, and @SunnyHalsted = I heart you!
She sits on the floor of of her bedroom, back against the bed. Her head is in her hands, tears stream down her face. All of the weight of the world is on her shoulders. She gives and gives and gives. She gives to her family, her friends. She gives to her colleagues. She gives to her students. She gives so much with nothing in return. All she has are her emotions.
She is now at the point where she has moved out further from shore. Then another wave comes and crashes on her head; she struggles to catch her breath. This is that pivotal moment that comes in a person’s life where they get to choose to let the waves win or to reach out for help, support, and safety -- for a lifeline.
The importance of self-care is essential. I have met and worked with many people over the course of ten years in education and that statement is more true than ever. We live and work in a time where schedules are full, expectations in the workplace are high, and we rarely have a moment to ourselves. It is always GO, GO, GO! You know those feelings and thoughts that sit in the back of your mind: If you don’t outwork others, you will be left behind. If you don’t always look like you have “it” together, you will be deemed basic.
What if you take time to do the things you love, that recharge your soul. Read a book. Listen to a podcast. Go do some yoga. Watch Netflix. For the love, most importantly of all, surround yourself with people who are truly investing in YOU and building you up. When those moments of being overwhelmed come and consume us, it is imperative to have a lifeline who will serve as that rock and anchor. These lifeliners keep us from drifting away into open waters. They help pull us back to shore.
If you find that you are in a good space, make sure to check-in on your people. Offer to be that rock and anchor. Be available to be a lifeline that brings them home. And when your moment comes, because you know it will, you can call upon those people to be yours.
As December winds down, I love to reflect on the year as a whole. I often find myself in my thinking quadrant, but this time of year I look at my life, beliefs, feelings, and actions from a 10,000 foot view. January is on the horizon. It’s a new year. It’s a fresh start.
Every year there is an undercurrent of excitement as New Year’s Eve approaches. There are hopes, dreams, tomorrow. Then it happens -- midnight. It’s a new year and time for bed. The next morning begins and we all go back to the exact same habits, the exact same routines that we had the day before.
I don’t know about you, but I have all of these plans to make changes in my life that inevitably fall short. Why? Maybe I’m not fully committed. Maybe I am not intentional with my goals. Maybe these choices were just a fleeting thought. Well, not this year. 2018 will be different. While I would like to workout more, drink less coffee (Okay, that is NOT going to happen!), learn how to play an instrument, jump-start writing my book, spend less cash …. The list goes on and on. I realize that best use of my talents, passions, and most important investment that I can make in 2018 is in my relationships with others.
Goals for 2018
It is imperative for us as humans to be present with people. Put your phone down and turn off your iPad (I know right!?!). When others share their story, stop and truly listen to them. Validate their thoughts and feeling. Being present is essential to cultivating strong human-to-human relationships.
So often we are quick to judge and impose our thoughts on others. Being gentle means we all must invite people into a conversation where we can be honest, kind, and real. Curb your agenda and practice gentleness so that when it’s your turn, you may also receive gentleness.
Reduce Negative Investments
Yes, there are those who are “fun-suckers”. Those who no matter what will never be happy or satisfied with you, your actions, or the shell of a relationship that exists. So, reduce the investment. This is a wonderful opportunity to practice kindness, while not caring what that Negative Nancy thinks or says about you. It’s quite freeing -- give it a try.
Surround Yourself with Your Peeps
Your peeps are your “Fortress of Solitude”. These people get the real you and are the number one support system for you. Choose your people wisely. These carefully selected people, can and should build you up. They should offer sound advice. They should make you laugh. The should not stress you out, too often. They should encourage you to follow your dreams. They should challenge your thinking to help guide you to a new and better self. Your people frame and shape you. Find your people and in return, be that person for someone else.
So here’s the challenge: What might your investment be for 2018?
The sun rises, casting a purple shadow on the mountains. The cool air reminds teachers and students fall is in full swing. Crisp leaves crunch under students’ feet as they walk past the community garden that is ready for harvesting. Rows of pumpkins, squash, and other veggies wait to be picked and prepared for fresh daily lunches and snacks.
Friendly faces greet those who cross through the threshold of the school grounds. Outside of the classrooms, there lies fresh green grass, lingering flowers, and tall shady trees where frequent outdoor lesson convene. Teachers stand outside in the fresh morning air, waiting to high-five, hug, and tell each child, “I am glad you’re here today. We are going to have an amazing day.” All are welcome.
Learning is a must. Kindness is key. Innovation -- you bet. Technology to enhance instruction. Community is essential. Flexibility in our schedule -- for SURE! Teachers, students, administrators, and all support staff take moment at the beginning and end of the day to reflect, set goals, and express gratitude for the opportunity to become better humans.
“You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not only one. I hope some day you'll join us. And the world will be as one.” - John Lennon
It is a place where learning, creating, and becoming world-changers is expected. All have an opportunity to learn in a different way. Students work in groups that interest them, not bound by grade-levels. There is student choice, a personalized learning experience, and an old “one-room schoolhouse” feel that allows a student to move fluidly throughout the building and classrooms. It is a place where “old” and “new” collide, where getting our hands dirty is the name of the game, and thinking outside of the box is expected and encouraged.
Maybe I’m a little “hippie-dippie” and maybe this would never work, but wouldn’t it be nice?
There is a wide open road. Take a spin, and all around me is a high-plains desert with Yucca plants, tumbleweeds, and red colored clay dirt. It’s so hot, my shoes start to stick to the black tar. Off in the distance, I can see the heat rising off of the pavement in sizzling waves. Something catches my eye. There is a small speck. It looks like a person walking toward me, friend or foe, I am not sure. I walk toward her. As we approach one another, she becomes familiar. It is a friend. I start running toward her. I am so hot, so thirsty, in need of relief from the heat. Running, running, all I can think about is the comfort the familiar face will bring. My gaze shifts to the ground in front of me, watching the yellow lines pass in the middle of the road. I hear her voice, look up and BAM!
The bus hits me without warning. No horn, no squealing of tires or burning smell of rubber. There I lie, under the bus.
That’s what it felt like when a close colleague, whom I believed was a confidant, used my vulnerability for personal gain and threw me under the bus. That feeling of helplessness, surprise, and being dumbfounded is one that I never wish to experience ever again.
Choose your people wisely.
Being young, new in the EDU-world, I was very willing to trust any and everyone, willing to share ALL of me, and clearly unaware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Since this particular situation, I have learned a lot. Choose your people wisely. It is more than appropriate to be friendly with your colleagues, but you do not and should not feel that you have to be friends with your colleagues. My circle of confidants is small now -- seriously four people and only one of them works in the same district as me. These amazing people have proven time and time again that they are trustworthy and support me. They offer advice, are a sounding board, and are, well, my people; I am theirs in return.
So next time I am on that deserted road, I may take a look around. I may start to run toward that speck down the road, but I will be aware if a bus is heading my direction.
I remember once when I was a little girl, I had a terrible dream. This was one of those dreams that wakes you in the middle of the night feeling all icky. The type of dream that borders on a hazy reality. In this dream, I was trying to get somewhere and was late. Little did my young mind know that being late would be a habitual problem in my adulthood. (If you know me, I am either late or early, never on time.)
But I digress. I am late getting somewhere, the place in which I need to get is never really defined. I distinctly remember a schoolyard. This schoolyard is filled with many people, young and old. It is interesting because of the schoolyard, which resides on the side of a hill, looks down toward the rest of the town. It’s night time, just dark where you see the lights from inside homes and on street lamps. As I walk up the hill in the yard, I weave in and out of the crowd like a snake looking for shelter. Then I come upon a slab of cement. It reminds me of a four-square area but there are no lines, no ball, and only one child. This child sits alone in the middle of the area, knees curled up, arms wrapped around his legs, and head tucked down. What’s interesting about this dream is that no one is stopping to help the child. People move here and there, focused only on getting across the yard, paying no attention to the child.
The thing that strikes me in remembering this dream from ages ago, is the child. There he sits. Alone.
How many times have we put our heads down and walked past the child or even adult in need? How many of us see others put on the brave face but deep down, there is a scared, isolated child? How many of us are that child?
I honestly don’t remember much more of the dream. But if I could rewrite it, I would stop and sit with the child. I would offer help, a shoulder to lean on, just be present with him.
Slow down. Look around. Spot the child in your space and pull up a chair. “You are safe. I’m here for you. I’m glad you’re here.”
Thinking back to the beloved movie The Goonies we can watch a group of kids who band together to change their world. These kids have the heart of a Pirate and find that they are successful in their quest because they utilized their individual strengths for the greater good of the group. They had to work together to achieve their mission and goal.
Being a Pirate Leader in the educational world is very similar. What does it take to be a Pirate Leader? Well, a Pirate Leader needs to be ready for adventure, challenges, thinking on your feet, utilizing the strengths of teamwork, and must be willing to have fun. Having just read the amazing book Lead Like a Pirateby Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf, I feel the burning in my EDU-soul; a fire that has ignited. I am ready to lead my team of teachers on the EDU-quest of the century.
I feel the best way to illustrate my biggest takeaways from the book are done through the use of#BookSnaps.
When we Lead Like a Pirate, we inspire others to tap into their Pirate awesomeness and conquer the world. So, do you want to Lead Like a Pirate? Let's do this #LeadLAP thing!
Pirate photo is my amazing, inspiring daughter from about five years ago. She has the Pirate spirit!
The first day of school is quickly approaching. One thing that I have heard over and over again is the importance of building relationships with staff and students immediately. So often we are faced with getting into the curriculum, teaching the standards, and meeting district goals so much so that we often blow past the relationship building piece. If my ten years of teaching experience has taught me anything, it's that relationships, relationships, relationships are the key to a successful year.
How might you cultivate strong teacher-to-student and student-to-student relationships?
Let's think about your own learning experience. Who was the most influential teacher you've had? More than likely the response goes to the teacher who took the time to be consistent, caring and built a relationship. Then we were able to feel successful as students socially, emotionally, and academically.
In what ways can you build students up socially and emotionally so that they can be successful academically?
Building Trust is like putting a deposit in the bank. We want to fill that bank account with each student, so that when things get difficult they know we will be there, no matter what.
This summer, my family and I have been watching a nightly movie. We take a moment to write our choices down, put them in a bowl, and… drum roll! We pick! Our movies have ranged from Red Dawn and Descendants to Get Smart and Gladiator to name a few. Most recently, we watched The Breakfast Club. Yes, you can bet that was my choice! This iconic movie really rocked my world as a kid. I loved how all of the characters began as acquaintances and eight hours later, we find they have bonded so deeply that nothing can break it. This was my parental duty to give my kids a move-i-facation.
While watching, I could not help but look at all of the kids in the story and think about our modern-day students and how they are still dealing with the SAME old stuff as the characters from the 1980s hit. All of the characters have problems. They feel downtrodden because of a variety of circumstances. They need to be heard but never want to break their social constructs. They are all committed to the roles that they are playing because it's all they know. They hide behind … you name it.
One of the most poignant quotations comes from a gal in the film. She says, "We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it."
How might you be able to reach ALL students in your classroom? Even those who are good at hiding?
For many students staying in the comfort zone is easier than putting themselves out there for further judgment. It is far easier to be miserable; at least being miserable is familiar. What really caught my attention was that each student represented a different social demographic. When forced to interact, they all could relate to problems and pressures from parents, friends, etc. The main thing that got to me was they are all yearning for new experiences and acceptance, to not be ignored; to be seen and heard.
What will you do to ensure that all students will be seen AND heard in your classroom this year?
So in a good Breakfast Club ending I will leave you with one last quotation, “It just happens... when you grow up, your heart dies.”
Why does it have to? What can we do as EDU-leaders to ensure that kids DO turn into adults with thriving and passionate hearts?
What’s up with reality talent shows? I know I like them. In fact, I will watch pretty frequently. Now, I love theatre and the arts so I have to ask myself, what’s the draw? Just recently, I was watching America’s Got Talent. I like watching the amazing talent, hearing the heartwarming stories, and feeling and seeing the unexpected - being wowed! A grown man doing the splits, yes, please. Kids on ukuleles, um, YEAH! Magic acts that make my head say, “OMtotheG!” sign me up! I love waiting for the unimaginable.
What motivates others to get up, lay it all out there, and share their talent?
I wonder is it the validation from strangers? Is money or fifteen minutes of fame the motivation? Maybe it’s hope for the unexpected and the chance to inspire others. Heck, no! It’s all about being willing to be the risk-takers! When watching those shows we’ve got a front row seat to watch these risk-takers do something amazing or completely crash and burn. No matter the results, one thing sticks with me, the fact that they tried. Good, bad, or otherwise all of these people are willing to get up, put themselves out there, and try while we stand by waiting for something epic.
Either way, after watching I feel motivated and reevaluate my goals asking myself what I really want to try, what I want to experience, and what I want to share with the world. So wouldn’t it do us right by our students to set the stage and give them that front row opportunity to see something amazing? If you could teach anything in the world, one lesson to change your life and the lives of students, what would that be?
Taking the biggest risk you can think of, what is your “Golden Buzzer” lesson or moment be that will change the EDU-world?
When you model risk-taking for your students, they will be more likely to create those "Golden Buzzer" moments on their own. And guess what, we get a front row seat to that show too.
Mena T. Hill
Educator, Wife, Mother, Colorado Native