44 Sunsets

sunset prince

But on your tiny planet, my little prince, all you need to do is move your chair a few steps. You can see the day end and the twilight falling whenever you like…“One day,” you said to me, “I saw the sunset forty-four times!”

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Life can be stressful, exhausting and difficult. Life can also be wonderful, magnificent and beautiful. Yesterday, as I sat by the fire, reading The Little Prince to my daughter, the above passage jumped right off the page at me.

Some things we can control and some things we can’t. But do our students know this? Do our teachers? Do we?

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Viktor E. Frankl  Man’s Search for Meaning

Like the polar vortex that hit the southeast this past week, a school is a whirling vortex that, once formed can move, stretch, twist, and interact in complex ways.

We certainly can not control a vortex, but we can control the positioning of our chair. And we can teach our students and colleagues to do the same. We must! I hasten to mention that some of the students we see each day experience very few sunsets.

For those students that don’t have the good fortune of experiencing multiple sunsets at home, we must provide sunsets for them at school. Lots of them. This can be done through literature, love and perspective. We must teach them how to look for the beauty in even the tiniest of moments. Sometimes sharing a good joke may be a sunset moment.  Other times simply listening to a child may help them experience a sunset moment.

There will also be children that come into our classrooms like a ray of light each and every day. With no reason whatsoever except for the fact that they love life. We must teach these children to teach others, and teach us, how it is they are able to move their chair so easily, such that they experience sunsets all of the time. They are a gift that we must cherish.

While Hip-hop artist Pharrell Williams is probably best known his hit song Happy, I would contend that his best song is Rainy Days which can be found on the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack. More specifically the lyrics below, from Rainy Days have a lot to teach us about finding joy when it may not seem nearby.

rainy day despicable me 2

“This rainy day is temporary The contrast is why we got him ‘Cause sunshine due is just a cloud away…”

Rainy Days by Pharrell Williams from Despicable Me 2

So, because I wrote this piece does that mean that I am an expert on sunsets? Not at all. I am currently up to about 10 or 15 a day. But, I will continue to shoot for 44 because I know it is possible. I know it is possible because I have the pleasure of seeing it every day with my own two children.

From them I learn much. From them I learn how to find joy in life. And for that I am forever grateful.


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The Pieces Were Everywhere

He just threw them everywhere and at first I didn’t know what to do.

It’s been five years but I remember it as if it was yesterday. It was Christmas morning and it was wonderful. And then something happened. My two-year old son, who had been happy for the entire morning, lost it. He had had enough. He was overstimulated and over-sugared and he became a human cyclone. He went around the house and just started hurling toys everywhere. Huh? Why in the world would a human being do this? Then again, I have no idea how a two-year old brain works, so I just followed him around and cleaned up the mess. I felt like I was one part storm chaser and one part policeman.

And then it happened.

He went to the table where there were pieces from three different puzzles. Two of the puzzles were completely assembled and one of them was still in the box. My two-year old son began taking pieces from all three puzzles and just started throwing them all around the room. I was sitting on the couch listening to music. I just sat there and watched. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought to myself, there is no way we will ever be able to put these pieces back together to make them fit. We might as well throw them away.

But we didn’t. My wife and I waited for the storm to pass and then we began helping my son pick up the pieces a few at a time until we had the pieces from all three puzzles in one box. It took some time. It took some patience. More than anything, it took us believing that the puzzles were worth saving.

This experience made me think about many of our students that we work with every day. They are a combination of pieces from many different puzzles. They are disorganized, disheveled and dysfunctional. They come to us the way they are as a result of circumstances that we can’t even fathom; drug abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse, poverty, neglect, just to name a few.

Like the puzzle that was scattered and strewn across the floor, we can help them put themselves back together again. Though we mustn’t think it will be easy. And, like my two-year old son, we can’t begin to imagine what is going on inside their head.  One thing for certain is that we can not ever give up on them.

We can start by gathering up all the pieces and putting them in one place.  This requires learning the child’s whole story. Involve all stakeholders in this process so that there is not one piece missing. If just one piece is missing, the puzzle will never be complete.

If a child has been abused and we aren’t aware, we are missing a piece. If a child’s brain processes information differently as a result of drug abuse and we don’t know this, we are missing a piece. If a child doesn’t get enough sleep each night because they have no bed and we don’t know this, we are missing a piece. We must make every effort to get all the pieces before we can start to put the child back together.

Once we believe that we know all there is to know about the child, we need to provide them with some type of structure. With a puzzle we often look for all of the flat edges so that we can build the frame. With children we often try to give them some type of routine, some type of consistency. It is important that whatever strategy we choose, we stick with it. It is very difficult to put a puzzle together using several different strategies. By the same token, it is very difficult to help a child feel safe and secure without providing them with some type of structure or framework.

Next, with a puzzle we often look at the box to see what it will look like once it is put back together. This same strategy will work with children. We need to help them see what they can be when they are whole again. We need them to see what they will look like once they are put back together. Stephen Covey wrote, “Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.” That is our charge and I am certain we can do it!

Finally, we begin to fill in the puzzle, one piece at a time. And, as we do this, the process becomes easier and easier. The same will happen with our children. As they begin to gain confidence and see themselves for who they can be, they become more and more excited. Deciding where each piece goes is not so difficult. In fact, it is quite fun.

And that last piece.

Oh, the last piece!

If you have ever completed a puzzle with someone else you know what it is like putting in that last piece. That is the feeling we will get when we see a child that was broken, become whole again.

And that will be amazing!


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We Can Learn Much From The Giving Tree

giving tree

Many of us in the field of education have at some time or another encountered Shel Silverstein’s hilarious poems. There is no doubt that he has brought joy to many children and adults alike through his silly and wacky humor. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading Silverstein’s poems to my classes and my daughter, my favorite work of his was his short book titled The Giving Tree, first published in 1964.

I have always loved the short story for its beautiful message of love and selflessness, but it was not until recently that I realized that The Giving Tree has much to offer leaders. In short, the book is about the relationship between a boy and a tree and how their relationship changes over the course of a lifetime. I believe that if viewed through different lenses, The Giving Tree can help leaders be more effective if they just listen to the people they lead.

Much like the relationship between the boy and the tree, the relationship between leaders and those they lead changes over time. And, like the tree, we as leaders need to be able to recognize what we need to offer. We also need to be able to recognize what it is our teachers need at each particular stage of their career and we need to provide it for them to the best of our ability. As leaders we need to realize that our teachers are at different stages in their careers and development and therefore we can’t think that treating them the same is going to be effective.

The following is my new take on The Giving Tree and how it can help us become better leaders:

When he was young, the boy would spend everyday with the tree because life was all about fun and personal fulfillment. This is much like new teachers who are often single and stay at school all hours of the night. Like the tree, it is at this point that we need to be there for teachers to help them find themselves. Teachers ask for our help and advice quite frequently when they first start and it is important that we are there for them and we help them maintain their youthful exuberance for teaching and for life.

Once the boy got a little older he began to realize it was not all about self. It was at this point that the boy expressed to the tree his wishes to start a family. This meant that the boy and the tree would not be spending as much time together, and that was okay. Teachers that are in the midst of raising a family are always going to have a more difficult time balancing school and home. We, like the tree, must be respectful of this, and we must do all that we can support them in their pursuit of this difficult and stressful balance.

Towards the end of the story the boy, who is now actually an old man, visits the tree and the tree feels it has nothing left to offer the boy. The tree apologizes over and over again for having nothing left to offer the boy. To this, the boy replies that he needs nothing but “a quiet place to sit and rest.” Oftentimes, this is all some teachers need. They don’t need advice. They don’t need lectures. They simply may need just a place to sit and an ear to listen.

While I still believe that The Giving Tree is a story meant to teach us about love and selflessness, I now see that it has much to teach me about leadership and the power of listening so that I can best help each teacher based on their individual needs. Read it again and tell me what you think. Maybe it is just me, but I think that tree has a lot it can teach us.



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