Why Vulnerability is Exactly What We Need Right Now

The New York Times dedicated their Sunday paper to the nearly 100,000 lives lost so far to Covid-19. That is scary! It is difficult for me to even grasp the magnitude of such a large number of deaths in such a short period. But it is real and the number is getting larger each day.

No doubt, many folks reading this have been affected by this deadly virus. It sucks. Why search for a polite way to put it when this virus has been anything but polite? I sometimes feel like I am living in a sci-fi movie. This can’t possibly be happening—I often think to myself.

But it is.

Without an end in sight.

This will change much.

How we do school. How we interact. How we … everything.

And yet, I know that we will get through this.

Battered and bruised. Yes.

But we will come out the other end. And start over. Life will be different.

Every one of us is scared. Maybe not for the same reasons. But this whole thing has got us shook. As well it should have. We don’t know what to do next. If we ease up, then we may be risking our lives or worse, the lives of our loved ones. If we stay locked up, then we may be risking our sanity.

This is not a political piece nor is it a piece on educational policy.

This is a piece about a shift that needs to take place.

For far too long we have cared too much about appearing strong and cared too little about being strong. I can easily post, tweet, or say that everything is okay. But am I? Are you? Yes, there are times when we must appear strong for others. And there are those for whom we must appear strong for.

But most of the time.

Most of us.

Need to say, show, share how we feel. And that requires being vulnerable. And that is scary. And that requires strength.

Why would I want to appear scared, tired, weak, or afraid? Won’t others think less of me? Won’t others believe me to be incompetent? Won’t others start to move away?

They might.

But I doubt it.

Why?

Because like you. Like me. They get scared too.

And hearing you. Seeing you. Knowing you are not always whole. Will help them realize that they are not alone. That there is nothing wrong with them. It will be difficult—no doubt. Showing how we really feel and sharing what really scares us and admitting what we really think means taking a risk. But I promise you that you will find that you are in good company.

Now there is something I have yet to tell you. And you may not like the way it. In fact, it may cause you to think that you have just wasted the last 3 minutes of your day reading this piece.

I hope not.

Here it is.

Being vulnerable does not and will not change the fact that you will continue to experience moments in which you are scared, tired, weak, and afraid. It may not even diminish them in the least. I wish it did. But it will do something much more important.

No longer will you go through these things alone.

And that means more than we can imagine.

It means everything.

These are difficult days. And I have a feeling they are going to be difficult for some time. And when they are over we will have more difficult days.

But if we start sharing now. When it may be most difficult. When we are most scared. When we are most unsure. Well, then we won’t have to go it alone.

We may be required to wear masks when we go out and I get it. As uncomfortable and hot as they are, they help keep us and those around us safe. But there is nothing that says we must go through life pretending to be okay when we’re not. That is a mask that we can take off and I believe we should.

Be vulnerable.

And remember—you are not alone.

 

 

 

 

*To receive my 15-page pdf, You Got This, designed to help you move forward after making big mistakes. It contains steps for moving forward & links to episodes from the powerful My Bad episodes from the past 4 years. Click HERE to get your free copy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trying To Sell Tomorrow To Those With No Today

Our job is to help kids dream big. We want them to realize that with education anything is possible. And to an extent this is true. We show them the myriad of possibilities that lay before them and hope that this is enough to light a spark that will eventually catch fire.

Sometimes this works.

Many times it doesn’t.

And while we are not ever going to stop trying to get our students to reach their full potential, I think there is a crucial fact that we need to be aware of.

For a large portion of our kids:

“We are trying to sell tomorrow for those with no today.”

While I have written several posts about the importance of allowing kids to dream and listening to kids’ dreams, it has just occurred to me that I wrote those posts from a privileged point of view that may have caused me to underestimate the ease at which one can actually dream of the future.

Many of the children I simply want a better today. They want a good night’s sleep. They want three meals a day. They want to feel safe. They want to be happy. And they want school to be fun and seem meaningful.

Of course, there are those that are able to focus on tomorrow. They have their feet firmly planted in today and therefore have the luxury of a good vantage point.

But what about those that don’t? What about those that have never had anyone in their family even see tomorrow? We know this is the case. Unfortunately, we see generational poverty and generational ambivalence for school and we wonder why.

Aren’t we doing a great job of showing the virtues of a great education? I think we are. We bring in guest speakers, we read about success stories and we champion such feel-good movies as Dangerous Minds and Coach Carter.

So what gives? Why are we not able to inspire many of our students to strive for this utopia? Clearly, there is a better tomorrow just waiting for our students if they are just willing to work hard for it.

Well, we think it is clear, but maybe it is not so clear for those children who are just trying to make it day-to-day. You see, those of us that promote and try to inspire this grand tomorrow have our feet firmly planted and are therefore able to see great distances and temporarily step away from our todays.

Please don’t think this piece is a call for us to prevent kids from dreaming. I think, especially for those with difficult todays, dreaming of a better tomorrow is what will keep them motivated. I simply think we need to proceed with a little less befuddlement when our students seem indifferent or unmotivated about the promises of tomorrow.

These students will begin to see the benefits of tomorrow, and it will start to mean something to them. But not until we show them that today is worth it. That today can be better than yesterday. That school is not just about tests and walking in straight lines. Because really, if the tomorrow we speak of is just another version of that, why would anyone sign up anyway?

We must start taking a closer look at our students’ todays and see if we can make them better. Once our students begin to experience better todays I believe we will have helped them to dream about better tomorrows. And once we have done that, selling tomorrow will take care of itself. Or at least that is my hope.

“Tomorrow is a luxury for those of us that do not have to worry about today.”

 

 

 

*To receive my 15-page pdf, You Got This, designed to help you move forward after making big mistakes. It contains steps for moving forward & links to episodes from the powerful My Bad episodes from the past 4 years. Click HERE to get your free copy.

 

*Also, to read my latest piece published online by the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association titled Things Teachers Think But Don’t Say simply click HERE.

 

Flaws

I have flaws. I have lots of them.

Peter DeWitt

The first time we met, we hugged as if we’d been friends for years. It was at EdCamp Upstate New York in 2015. Before that day, Peter and I had only connected through email. Most of our emails had to do with pieces that I wrote for his blog Finding Common Ground that he publishes for Education Week.

Peter gave me the opportunity to publish pieces for his blog on numerous occasions. In fact, looking back now I can’t help but think that he was the one that gave me the boost I needed to take writing seriously. Well, not too seriously. But you know what I mean. It all began one day in 2015 when I decided to email him out of the blue to ask if he was looking for guest bloggers. I remember how excited I was when he emailed me back. And I remember how honored I was the first time I published a piece on his blog.

I would send Peter a piece and he would respond with suggestions and ways in which I could possibly make it better. Not in a red-ink sort of way. It was more like we were having a conversation and he was simply saying, here’s something to think about. I was getting free advice from someone who had been publishing for years. More importantly, I was getting advice from someone who cared.

Peter and I have stayed in touch through Voxer, and lucky for me he tolerates my stream of consciousness thinking that usually goes round and round and often ends up nowhere. Squirrel! I do know that he listens to my voxes because he always has something humorous to say about my lack of clarity or time spent talking about absolutely nothing. But the fact that he listens matters. It matters a lot!

So, when I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to have a podcast on Bam Radio Network, having Peter as one of my first guests was a no-brainer. Despite his hectic travel schedule, which takes him all around the world, we were able to quickly find a time to record an episode. And while Peter’s transparency and willingness to be vulnerable were wonderful, it was the logistics surrounding the interview that we still talk about to this day.

The interview, conducted via Skype, began with me locking myself in an isolated upstairs bedroom, away from any distractions. Well, within the first few minutes of connecting it was apparent that my cellular signal was too weak to continue in my preferred location. I began walking around my house trying to find just the right spot. All the while trying not to disturb my wife and kids who were each engaged in some sort of activity. But I was unsuccessful. Not one single nook could be found that was conducive for recording.

So, I decided I had no other option than to walk outside and try to find someplace where this was going to work. The only problem now was that I was no longer in control of the environment. After a minute or two of searching, I found just the right spot. Sitting on top of a rectangular green electrical box. The kind that you try to avoid touching at all costs because you’re not quite sure what it really does or more importantly, what it could potentially do.

Since it didn’t shock within the first few minutes I decided that it was safe to continue. At this point, we were finally able to begin the interview. The patience shown by Peter throughout this entire ordeal was wonderful. Truth be told, I think he was getting a kick out of the whole thing. I did have to stop several times because of geese calling overhead and the loud engine of what sounded like a monster truck. We were able to conduct the entire interview while I was in my front yard trying to navigate electricity, pick-up trucks, and migrating geese. How the interview turned out as well as it did is due to the editing skills of the team at Bam Radio.

I think I can speak for the three of us (Peter, Errol, and myself) when I say that we had so much fun recording the interview that we really weren’t too concerned about how the interviewed turned out.

But we got lucky. Or did we? Sometimes serendipity has a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it. And that is exactly what happened in this interview. Peter and I were having so much fun laughing about my unique recording environment that by the time we had to get serious, we had a flow state going that allowed for a very comfortable and open back and forth.

Peter is a prolific author who has published several books. His blog Finding Common Ground is read by thousands. And Peter graduated from high school ranked 262 out of 266. One of these things is not like the other. Or…

I mention Peter’s high school ranking because Peter mentioned it. I mention it because I think it is important for others to know. Most importantly, I mention it because Peter is no longer ashamed to share this. But Peter admits, he wasn’t always so willing to share his struggles. In the interview, Peter discusses how he was insecure because he had failed so often when he was younger.      

It took years for Peter to get over feeling insecure about his mistakes, and even to this day Peter still has days when he feels as if he is not good enough or he hasn’t’ spoken well enough. But with the help of a supportive college coach and unexpected responses to a blog piece titled The Benefits of Failure, Peter said that:

“It made me realize that there really is a benefit of failure. Not only what you learn from the process if you’re open to it. But also, how sharing that story can be really helpful to other people.”

Peter was also very aware of the fact that it is much easier for someone like himself, with experience and degrees under his belt, to come out and openly share his mistakes. He realizes that mistakes can be much more difficult to deal with for kids. Therefore, he believes it is our responsibility to share with them what failure and what learning from failure look like. Peter stressed that if we can do this they will be better off because they won’t feel so alone.

I could not agree more with Peter on this. It is my belief that the sooner we start sharing our imperfections with the people we serve and the people we love, the sooner they will stop expecting to be perfect. And if I could play some small role in helping others make this mindset shift, well then that would be a good start.

Having the opportunity to speak and learn from someone as reflective and as honest as Peter was time well spent. Yes, his blogs and books have been read by hundreds of thousands of people. But that’s not why I invited him to be a guest on My Bad. I wanted Peter to come on because he is good and he leads, writes, and speaks from the heart.

While I don’t know when I will see Peter again, I can’t help but think about our most recent connection. Peter had been hired for a one-day consulting gig in a town about twenty minutes from my home. We planned to meet for dinner at Panera. He informed me that he had to moderate a chat at 8 PM but that left us plenty of time to catch up and connect. I had an interview scheduled for 6:15 PM, but I knew that if I left once the interview was done I could be there by about 7 PM.

What made this meeting even more exciting was the fact that my wife and kids were able to come too. Since Peter was a guest, in my “neck of the woods” I was going to make it a point to pay for his dinner. I thought I had it all planned. But at the last second, Peter snuck up like a ninja and swiped his credit card. I’ll be ready next time.

I should have seen it coming. From featuring countless guest bloggers on Finding Common Ground to helping others publish books through his Connected Educators Series, Peter is always thinking of others before himself. And in his quest to champion for others I believe he himself has become one.

Here is the link to Peter’s episode:

Learning to Accept My Past and Present Shortcomings

 

 

*If you would like to have my next article and my latest podcast episode delivered to your in box just click HERE. And as an extra bonus, when you sign up for my newsletter you will receive A Teacher’s Blueprint To The Best Week Ever. This is a free, 40 page pdf designed to help you have an awesome week. It’s not what you think, trust me.

 

 

3 Things to Remember When Helping Students Living With Trauma & Toxic Stress

The hammering, sawing and drilling next door was more than I could stand. I had planned on a peaceful and relaxing day. Instead what I got was an experience that I won’t soon forget and one that has helped me rethink the effects that childhood trauma and toxic stress can have on our students’ emotional well-being.

By no means am I comparing a few hours of noisy construction to what many students experience on a daily basis. I was simply given a little perspective. I was unable to think, focus or have a coherent thought because of the construction that was taking place next door.

My experience lasted only a few hours and I could have left if necessary. On the other hand, many of our students live with much worse every day with no chance of escape—except for the seven and half hours they spend with us. Therefore, it is our obligation to provide them with a learning environment that best meets their needs. What follows are three strategies I have found to be helpful when working with students that are dealing with trauma and toxic stress.

Don’t Pile On

Many of our students are broken and bent before they even walk through our doors. We know who they are. They are already down.

So why pile on?

Don’t get me wrong. There are situations and circumstances that require us to intervene. And there are certain students that might need more frequent reminders than others. But we should be able to identify these by now. We are the adults. Furthermore, I think we must ask ourselves; will our actions make the situation better or worse? If the answer is worse, then I think we must re-evaluate what we are doing.

I am not implying that we ignore bad decision-making or that we let things go. But I do believe that oftentimes the end result of a pile on is a more beaten and battered child. Instead, we must try to lighten their load or at the very least, not to add to it. We may not always be able to make things better, but we must certainly do everything we can to not make it worse.

Give Space

Trauma and toxic stress can cause students’ brains to feel overcrowded. Unable to escape the thoughts in their head, students quickly become overwhelmed. Oftentimes what they need is just a little extra space. Eric Jensen, author of Teaching With the Brain in Mind, notes that:

“Students need time to digest, think about, and act on their learning; connections need time to strengthen. Therefore, adding more content makes little sense. Each learner probably has an ideal number of ideas that he or she can learn in an hour.”

And yet, because of demands placed on teachers, space is something they feel they can’t afford to grant. But for children whose brains are already stressed, space is exactly what they need.

Sometimes, the best thing for an overtaxed brain is quiet and permission to rest and yet rarely are either given. But they can be. And they should be. As an administrator and former teacher, I was guilty of not giving students space more times than I can remember.

Students often benefit more from time and space than they do a clever word. Many times, I have given what I thought was great advice only to find that it accomplished nothing. I should have simply offered a place to sit and kept my mouth shut.

Remember When They Feel Better, They’ll Do better

As an educator it can be frustrating when we feel as if a student has disrespected us or ignored a simple request. This is when things can escalate quickly and before we know it, there is a confrontation that results in anger, hurt feelings and further emotional stress on a child that can’t afford to take any more.

Think back to last time you had a headache—maybe even a migraine. Anyone making a noise felt your wrath and answering even the simplest question seemed impossible. Well, many of our students feel like this every day. Their memory is weakened because of the stress they are under.

We must remind ourselves that in order for our students to do better they must first feel better. I saved this strategy for last because I think it is not only the easiest to implement but it is also the one that will have the greatest impact.

Helping students feel better is something we can do right away. Or at least we can try. There will be times when we just can’t figure out how to help a child feel better. It is during these times when we must reach out to each other. Our ego must not be allowed to intervene.

Maybe the student feels more comfortable with one of our colleagues. Don’t take it personally. Maybe the student is directing their anger towards us. Not because they are angry with us. Quite the contrary. Oftentimes students who have experienced trauma will lash out at those that help them feel safe. It’s tough to bare but we must ride the storm out as best we can. Or maybe, we ask the student what we can do for them. Yes, we are the adult and they are the child. But sometimes they know best what it is they need to feel better. So just ask them.

Unfortunately, the number of students experiencing trauma and toxic stress is increasing. It is painful, frustrating and heartbreaking to watch what they go through on a daily basis. But we can make things better. Maybe not as much as we’d like and that is difficult to accept. We want to be able to instantly take away the pain and suffering for our students. But we can’t. What we can do though is try and implement the strategies above. That is a start and a step in the right direction.

How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime – a powerful TED talk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris that is well worth the 18 minutes it takes to view.


*If you would like to have my next article and my latest podcast episode delivered to your in box just click HERE. And as an extra bonus, when you sign up for my newsletter you will receive A Teacher’s Blueprint To The Best Week Ever. This is a free, 40 page pdf designed to help you have an awesome week. It’s not what you think, trust me.

The In-Between

I’ll never forget Men’s Fortnight. Two weeks that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Just to clarify, these two weeks had nothing to do with the wildly popular video game nor did they have anything to do with men.

Men’s Fortnight is what my 8-year-old son and I call the 2 weeks that he and I spent together last summer. My wife and daughter were in Australia, leaving my son and I to fend for ourselves. We went to bed when we wanted. We woke up when we wanted. We ate what we wanted. Which meant a lot of Chik-fil-A nuggets and pizza.

We went swimming every day, played lots of one-on-one basketball and watched movies from the fort we built in the big bedroom. The time. The laughs. The fun we had during those two weeks was what every father dreams of.

Yeah…

This sounds nice.

And my son and I did spend 14 days awesome days together last summer. But Men’s Fortnight isn’t the norm. I wish I could say it was. But it’s not. Don’t get me wrong. I try to spend quality time with my son every day. But it doesn’t always happen.

There are days when I come from work exhausted or with a headache and all I want to do is veg out and watch Netflix.

My son often asks me as soon as I walk in the door, “when are we playing Daddy?” My usual response is a lackluster, “A little bit later buddy. Let Daddy rest for a little while. He just got home.” All the while, I’m hoping that one of his friends from the neighborhood knock on the door. Essentially letting me off the hook.

And while I am off the hook, I do feel bad for not playing with my son. I mean, I want to. I really do. I just get lazy some days.

Why am I sharing this with you?

It’s not to relieve myself of some guilt. I still feel a little once in a while. I share this because I want you to know that you are not alone. And to be honest, there’s nothing wrong with resting when I get home from work. And there’s nothing wrong with hoping my son’s friends ring the doorbell so they can play with him.

Here’s why I am worried.

Most of what we see on social media are people’s best, happiest and most sensational moments. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that. I mean I don’t go on social media to see stuff that makes me sad or depressed or anxious.

But that’s exactly what’s happening. We see what someone posted on social media and we compare it to our own lives. These picture-perfect Hallmark moments cause us to wonder what is wrong with us. We begin to question ourselves, our self-worth and suddenly we feel like crap.

We must stop doing this. I have guilty and I still am from time to time. But here’s the thing. Each one of us has our Hallmark moments, our Men’s Fortnights, our highlight reels.

We just don’t have them all the time. Nobody does. Not Beyonce. Not Tom Brady. Not Michelle Obama. Nobody.

But there is something that we do all have in common.

The time in-between.

The late nights.

The sweat.

The struggles.

The tears.

The failed attempts.

And so on and so on.

It is the in-between that helps us have the moments that we cherish and crave. But we mustn’t ever forget that without the in-between, there is no Hallmark moment, no Men’s Fortnight and no highlight reel.

So hang in there and know that your moments are coming. You may need to grind a little more and you may need to suffer a few setbacks. You’re certainly going to make mistakes along the way.

It’s okay.

You’re not alone.

In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most of us are in the in-between at this very moment. And that’s okay. Because before you know it, you’ll be having one of those moments that we’ll hear or see on social media. And we’ll be happy for you because we’ll remember that like us, you spend most of your time in the in-between and that’s okay.

 

Want to receive a free chapter from my book My Bad: 24 Educators Who Messed Up, Fessed Up & Grew? It will remind you that you’re not alone and that everything isn’t about highlight reels and Hallmark moments.

Click HERE to claim your free chapter.

 

 

 

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