Knocking Down Blocks

Anyone that follows my blog knows that I am fascinated with the way in which my children interact with and interpret the world. I truly believe that they have much more to teach me than I have to teach them.

The difficulty lies in the fact that the lessons they have to teach me are not always readily apparent. Usually though, if I stop and allow myself time and space to reflect, I am able to come away with something.

I’ll never forget the day that I was experiencing a moment that was meant to teach me something, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what. Actually, I experience quite a few of these moments. My son and I were playing with blocks. We would stack them as high as we could. And then each time, without fail, he would take extreme pleasure in knocking them over.

But why?

Why does he spend the time building them up if he is just going to knock them over each time?

Think Jon think!

And then it hit me!

HE DOES IT BECAUSE IT’S FUN!

Why does there need to be any other reason than that?

There doesn’t!

 

“There are times when I think I’m doing things on principle, but mostly I just do what feels good. But that’s a principle, too.”

Brian Andreas

 

We spend the majority of our time reading and writing about how to increase student learning. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Or is there?

Have we become so focused on teaching them that we have forgotten that they have much to teach us?

I hate to admit it, but I have.

We spend our days and nights trying to figure out how to help our students become better readers and writers, mathematicians and creators, innovators and artists.

But why?

I believe it is because we want them to have a good life and we want them to be able to help others do the same. In short, we want them to be happy. The problem is that there is no standardized test that measures whether or not we have done this successfully.

So what?

We don’t need a test to tell us whether someone is happy. And yet we in education often fall back on the phrase

“If you can’t measure it, then you can’t improve it.”

And it’s not as if we ignore happiness, but it can fade into the background if we are not careful.

Silly sometimes becomes a bad word.

Daydreaming is often discouraged.

Messes are seen as problems.

We start to discourage these things in our attempt to help our children become College and Career Ready. And so we witness fewer messes, we see less daydreaming and we discourage silliness. Or like Peter Pan, we forget how to fly.

 

Why can’t you fly now, mother?
Because I am grown up, dearest. When people grow up they forget the way.
Why do they forget the way?
Because they are no longer gay and innocent and heartless. It is only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly.

J.M Barrie

 

But Peter Pan was able to relearn what he had forgotten and I believe we can too. The problem is we are losing all of our best teachers.

Children

All children are born with wings, and yet we insist on clipping them because we believe we know better.

Do we really?

When was the last time you were as happy as a three-year old?

Most likely it was when you were with a three-year old who has not yet had their wings clipped.

I’ll never forget the day my son asked me if he could do something messy. I’ll be honest I can’t remember exactly what he wanted to do. But here was the exchange:

“Is it okay if I do it?”

“It will make a mess.”

“But if I do it, it will make me laugh.”

I remember this exchange for two reasons. First, I recorded it in my phone because I felt the moment was so poignant. And second, I didn’t let him do whatever it was he was hoping to do because I was worried about the mess he would make. And yet I felt it was important enough to record in my phone.

Shame on me!

I’m sure it would have been fun.

I’m sure he would have let me join in.

And I’m sure it would have been a start in helping me to regain my wings.

So start today.

Be silly!

Encourage daydreams!

Make messes!

And above all else,

Knock down some blocks!

I promise you’ll be glad you did!

See you in the clouds!

As I travel on this journey called Life, I continue to learn from the mistakes I make along the way. That’s okay. I’m doing the best I can. And that’s good enough for me.

 

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.

 

Click the link below to listen to some big mistakes made by some amazing educators.

MY BAD   

 

*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.

I Can See the Net

Teachers are tired, they’re stressed, and they’re frustrated. Much has changed since I last taught over ten years ago. But nothing has changed more than the amount of violence and aggression that teachers encounter daily. Hardly a day passes without news of some teacher somewhere being attacked by a child. It has become, in my opinion, a national crisis. Folks are leaving the profession in record numbers. And finding someone qualified to take their place has become almost impossible.

Reading the stories, hearing their cries and knowing the physical and emotional pain that teachers experience is troubling to say the least. There is much to say and much to write about this topic. Citing case after case of teachers’ stories does help to shed light on the issue of violence in our schools. But I want to take a different angle. While I don’t have any answers at the moment for decreasing the violence and abuse teachers endure, I do think I can help.

I have spent the past four years delving into and learning about the power of vulnerability. Over 100 amazing individuals have trusted me with their stories of pain and regret and for that I am forever grateful. Along the way I have learned much. More than anything, I have learned how powerful and transformative vulnerability can be.

I wasn’t always as vulnerable as I am today. It took some risk taking. It took listening. And it took a serendipitous event to convince me that being embracing vulnerability is a way to ease the pain that I often felt. Don’t get me wrong. Vulnerability is not a cure-all, but it has changed my life for the better in more ways than I can count.

And yet, in today’s tumultuous environment, I understand why many teachers are hesitant if not skeptical of displaying vulnerability. You see, many educators spend their days in fight or flight mode—literally. They must keep their guard up at all times or else risk being attacked physically and/or emotionally.

If this is the case, which I am certain it is for many educators around the country, how-why would they possibly think it is safe to be vulnerable? To be vulnerable, one must let down their defenses. But in doing so doesn’t the teacher risk being injured?

Yes.

Now I am speaking more of the emotional turmoil that many teachers experience on a daily basis. Being vulnerable is hard. Being vulnerable is risky. Being vulnerable is scary. And yet, I think it has the power and the potential to ease some of the pain that teachers are feeling. I think it has the potential to lessen some of the guilt that teachers pile on themselves. And most importantly, I think being vulnerable has the potential to change lives.

It changed mine.

And while, as I mentioned previously, I have not taught for over ten years. I have certainly been through the fire and back. Let me tell you, I can not imagine what my physical and mental state would be today if I had not learned and embraced the power of vulnerability.

Believe me, I get it. Being vulnerable is probably the last thing some of you want to think about right now. You just want to get home and rest. You want to feel better again. You want to enjoy teaching.

While I don’t have an answer for the conditions under which you work, I do have an idea or two about how you can take care of you. And it begins by being vulnerable.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing my ideas and suggestions on how and where you can begin. I understand I am asking you to take a leap. But trust me, I can see the net and it’s closer than you may think.

 


*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.

Take Care of You

Educators, by nature, are programmed to take care of others. It is what we do. And we do a darn good job of it.  We get up early, go to bed late and give up portions of our weekends and summers so that we can become better. So that we can better help our students, our teachers and our colleagues. This is fine, and this is good.

But who is taking care of us? 

Because from what I can tell, we don’t do a good job of taking care of ourselves. And that must change. If we continue to neglect ourselves, then we will no longer be able to take care of those we serve. Flight attendants remind us, “If you are traveling with a small child, please attend to yourself first, then the child.”

This mistake we often make is not an easy one to fix. And unfortunately, it usually takes something serious to wake us up and take notice. Each of the educators in this section reached a breaking point. But they were able to put themselves back together. And when we reach a breaking point—and we will or we have—we can put ourselves back together too.            

You may be wondering why I mentioned that we all reach breaking points. I mean this book is supposed to help with stuff like that, right?

I bring this up because I don’t want you to think that because you reach a breaking point, that there’s something wrong with you. There’s not. As I mentioned, we are all card-carrying members of the breaking-point club. But we can put ourselves back together.          

The thing we must do is admit we broke down. This is not always an easy thing to do. For some reason, we tend to wear busyness as a badge of honor. We are not allowed to be tired or take a day off. As an assistant principal who is responsible for securing substitutes, I often have staff apologize to me for having to leave school because they are sick, or they need to help care for a loved one who has taken ill. I have had people throw up and apologize to me for having to go home. 

Seriously?

Please, please, please.

Admit you are tired or sick or stressed or just plain ol’ ready to lose it. It’s okay. Others will not think you are weak or soft or unprofessional. And if someone does, well then, they’re not someone you should be worried about anyway.         

The second thing I have learned from others and much introspection is that educators feel guilty. Often. Any time not spent finding ways to help the people we serve tends to eat at us. Never mind that we work long hours. Never mind the fact that we often have little left for our family and friends because we have given everything at school. Never mind that we give up our Saturdays for Edcamps and our summers for professional development. We still feel guilty when we allow ourselves to stop just for a moment.              

We feel as if we are letting others down when we take time for ourselves. That somehow, we are selfish because the time we spent reading a book for fun or taking a nap could have been spent thinking of ways to improve our classroom, our school or our organization.         

But we’re not. 

Letting others down, that is. What I have found is that it’s quite the opposite. The people we serve and the people we love want us to take care of ourselves. They do. Yet, we still don’t take time for ourselves.

Do you want to know how much you should be doing? I’ve interviewed over 120 amazing educators, and they talk about time management or mismanagement often. And I have learned that I have no idea how much you should be doing. Only you know that. I’ll say that again, only you know how much you should be doing. Comparing your daily accomplishments to others is not productive. Maybe someone organized their classroom library by reading level, created three bulletin boards and crafted a bookshelf from a tree in their backyard. That’s great for them. But that’s not you. You do you.

The third thing I’ve learned is that it is okay to ask for help. In fact, I encourage it. We are not meant to tackle life by ourselves. But we often feel as if we must. We don’t want to burden anyone with our problems or our worries. Nonsense.

The people you spend your days with—your students, your friends and your colleagues want you to reach out. They are waiting to help. They know that you would do the same for them. Odds are, you have done the same for them. Imagine what would happen if we stopped thinking we had to be superhuman and started asking for and receiving help whenever we needed it. Education is already an isolating profession. Start reaching out to each other in times of need.

Don’t be seduced by the workaholics on social media. You can’t do it all, and you shouldn’t expect to.             

When you’ve had enough, and you’re tired, and you’re stressed, just admit it. Try not to allow yourself to feel guilty for taking time and taking care of yourself. I realize this is easier said than done. But remember, you don’t have to go it alone. 

Reach out.

And when you do, I promise one thing.

Someone will be there.

 

 

 

*This post was taken from a passage in my book My Bad: 24 Educators Who Messed Up, Fessed Up & Grew. If you enjoyed the post and are interested in taking a look at the book, just click HERE.

In The Next Five Days

Sometimes the thought of right now can be overwhelming! We have so much going on in our lives that we feel we cannot add one more thing to our already full plates.

I did not write this post to convince you otherwise. I wrote this post to give you and others and myself a different way of thinking about things that does not involve right now.

Because let’s be honest.

Right now is scary! And when we put right now demands on our brain it usually reacts in one of two ways.

Why Right Now Doesn’t Work

1. Our brain believes it has no other alternative than to take on this new thing immediately. This often causes stress for us and those around us. It’s kind of like the difference between being pushed into a pool or just diving in. There are times when we are pushed into a pool that we do in fact stay in a little while longer. But not often. On the other hand, when we dive into a pool we often stay for quite some time. And we can’t wait to go back in the next day.

or

2. Our brain says “screw it” and doesn’t even consider taking on this new thing. It says this could be cool but there is no way I could do this today. It believes it can’t be bothered right now and so it dismisses it altogether. This often results in a missed opportunity that may never return. It may have even been something that we would have really enjoyed. It’s just the whole “rightnowness” of it freaks us out!

I am here to suggest a third, and I believe, much more sensible approach. Now, I realize there are times when we do in fact have to get things done right now. As a building administrator I truly get that. But these aren’t the types of things that keep us up at night. These are the events that just happen and we have to react. And we do to the best of our ability.

Here is what I am proposing:

The next time something cool, fun, exciting or even a little bit daunting comes your way, convince your brain that whatever decision/action it decided to take does not have to be started right now.

Instead get together with your brain and ask the following question:

Can We Start This in the Next Five days?

This approach will do two things.

First, it will take some pressure off of your brain and not force it to freak out and think it has to make an immediate and rushed decision.

Second, it will give your brain the confidence to take on projects/tasks/initiatives that it never would have otherwise.

Right now is scary!

But 5 days is almost always doable.

Start to Read a New Book

Don’t miss out on reading something because you don’t have the book or you don’t have the time right now.

It doesn’t matter!

But can you get the book and at least read a few pages within the next 5 days?

Probably yes. In the next five days you can either download a digital copy of the book or you can order it from Amazon and have it at your doorstep. Then just read a chapter. Not the whole book!

You can take this first step and you can do this in the next five days.

Tip to get started

Here are a few possible authors/book series just to get you started:

Todd Whitaker, Dave Burgess, Peter DeWitt and the Corwin Connected Educators Series.

Oh and here is something cool. As you are reading the books by the above authors you can tweet them and guess what? They tweet you back. It is awesome!

Try it! I guarantee it!

Start Your Own Blog

This can be intimidating because what we often see are the finished, polished products of our colleagues. Don’t tell yourself that you have to create and blog and write a piece right now.

You don’t and you won’t!

But can you start this project in five days?

I think you can.

You don’t need to send it out to the world or even publish anything for a while. But you can tinker with websites and you can begin to think about what you might want to write about.

Your site does not have to look perfect and your writing does not have to be free of mistakes. Heck you don’t even need to write in complete sentences. Remember, as William Zinnser says writing is just thinking on paper.

You can begin this project in the next five days.

Tip to get started

Here is a quick 20 minute video put together by Michael Hyatt that can help:

“How to Launch a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog in 20 Minutes or Less”

http://michaelhyatt.com/ez-wordpress-setup.html

This worked for me and I am not tech savvy at all!

Become More Active on Twitter

Twitter is fast and exciting and exhilarating and can oftentimes be scary. Especially if you’re just starting out. Because you may not know where to start.

You are comfortable on the roads you know. But jumping on Twitter can be like driving on an eight lane express highway. So many folks don’t even bother to take their car out of the garage.

Here’s what you do. You find five two or three folks on Twitter that  cull through many pieces. See what they are reading and read what they read.

Take it a step further. After someone’s piece, write a comment. It doesn’t need to be profound and it doesn’t need to be long. Maybe just write a couple of sentences telling the author how much you liked their piece and how or why it resonated with you.

Twitter is intimidating! But you can read a couple of pieces and comment on them. You don’t need to do it right now, but you can do this in the next five days.

Tip to get started

Here are a few educators who always seem to find the best pieces out there:

Ben Gilpin @benjamingilpin

Star Sackstein @mssackstein

Todd Nesloney @TechNinjaTodd

Kyle Hamstra @KyleHamstra

Look them up on Twitter and simply click on a piece that interests you.

A New Way of Thinking

So there you have it.

Stop with the right now!

Ease up on yourself and teach those around you to do the same.

And just remember you can do this

In the Next Five Days!

*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.

 

What I Learned From Sherlock

I remember eagerly awaiting the return of “Sherlock” last year. As usual, it didn’t disappoint. I watch very little television, but this is one show that captured my interest from the very first episode. Sherlock’s brilliance and ability to solve mysteries always amazes me. But it was a scene in which his sidekick, Watson, rebukes him for not knowing that the Earth rotates around the Sun, that is easily my favorite.

Sherlock: Ordinary people fill their heads with all kinds of rubbish. And that makes it hard to get at the stuff that matters. Do you see?
Watson: But it’s the solar system!
Sherlock: Oh H$%! What does that matter?! So we go around the sun. If we went around the Moon…or round and round the garden like a teddy bear it wouldn’t make any difference! All that matters to me is the work! Without that my brain rots.

While I realize that this is simply a scene from a fictional character, I think we can learn much from Sherlock’s tirade. Yes, what Watson says is true. And the fact that someone as brilliant as Sherlock was unaware of this basic astronomy is surprising.

But let’s step back for a moment. What if we, like Sherlock, didn’t know that the Earth rotated around the Sun. Would it matter? Really?

I am not lobbying for the elimination of a rudimentary knowledge of the world in which we live. On the other hand, I do believe that we are taxing our children’s brains by requiring them to memorize a lot of stuff. Stuff that shows up on multiple choice tests and quizzes and then is never needed again. But it takes up space and as Sherlock mentioned above, causes brains to rot.

How much time do we allow for students to create, explore, fail, experiment and daydream? Because this is where the magic happens. But if their brains are exhausted from memorizing, storing and regurgitating, how much do they have left? Very little I imagine.

So what can we do about this? I believe there are three things we can start tomorrow.

Eliminate Memorizing

It’s not that we shouldn’t expect our students to store stuff in their brain. We just need to go about it differently. Information should enter and latch onto the brain through assimilation. comparison and application. The days of cramming dates and formulas and lists and rules into our students’ brains need to be gone. Instead, let them enter the brain on their own. When they are ready. When they are needed. If they are needed.

Allow For Periods of Nothing

While I have no research to back this up, I believe that our students are exposed to more external stimulation than ever before. The ability to multitask is seen as a strength by many. We make checklists and have calendars so that a moment does not go unused. The problem is that this leaves no time for the brain to rest. And be clear. Once again, I realize that Sherlock is a fictional character. But if you have ever watched him in action, you know that he does his best thinking when everyone is still and quiet. Let’s try to carve out some of this for our students. For ourselves.

Assign Thought-Worthy Tasks

Once we have succeeded in creating the time and the space for our students to create and problem solve, then we must give them tools and tasks that allow them to use the newfound brain space. Simply having them fill in a worksheet or color in some bubbles is not acceptable. Doing this would be like handing a child a pack of 64 crayons and a Post It note. The odds are they would only use one or two of the crayons. We want to provide them the opportunity to use the whole pack. And maybe even the sharpener on the back! They need a sheet of poster paper and room to spread out.

Let’s make it our mission to see that our students’ brains are used for what they were designed to do. Create and design and experiment and…

Grown-ups love figures…When you tell them you’ve made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead they demand “How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? “Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

 

*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.

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