I Can See the Net

Leap and the net will appear.

John Burroughs

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 120 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 to 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.


 

 

 

 

 

*If you would like to have my next article and my latest podcast episode delivered to your inbox 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.

How Was You Day? (Better than I first thought)

When my daughter asked me how my day went Friday, I was taken back. Not because I was surprised that she cared about my day. Her question just happened to be late. Nevertheless, my initial response was, it was okay—nothing exciting.

I am the assistant principal at an alternative school so a day in which nothing exciting happens can be a pretty good day. My daughter didn’t see it that way and she kinda felt sorry for me. I knew I had to search deeper. And then it hit me.

I did have something positive to share with her. A close friend of mine had heard some good news—awesome news really. He was so excited and as happy as I had heard him in years.

And so, you know what? So was I. His good news made me happy and I carried that joy with me with rest of the day.

Happiness doesn’t have to be a solo act. In fact, it rarely is. Think back to the times when you were your happiest or when you experienced the most joy. I bet it involved others. And I bet at least half of the time it involved someone else reaching one of their goals or someone else shining, not you.

We all know that laughter is contagious. Just try watching a video of a baby laughing and giggling without laughing too. It’s almost impossible. The same is often the case with happiness. If we witness someone else experiencing happiness or joy, we often feel happy and joyful too.

What does this have to do with education?

Students

We have all experienced moments of joy and happiness that had nothing to do with us and everything to do with what our students were experiencing or sharing at the time.

Maybe it’s the 6-year-old student who skips into class and can’t wait to share with you what she did over the weekend. She got to bake cookies with her grandmother and it was the best day ever. Her grandmother even let her lick the bowl and have an extra cookie. But don’t tell her mom she pleads, she doesn’t want to get in trouble.

What about the middle school student that just found that the girl he has a crush on, likes him too. You know that this budding romance won’t last long, but his happiness brings a smile to your face. You’ll be there when it is over and you’ll be there when he has his next crush.

Finally, how about when the high school senior that you’ve been working with since 9th grade shows you their acceptance letter to the college of their dreams. They can’t believe it, even though you can because you’ve been watching them grow for the past four years.

You see, we may have days that are tough, stressful and just plain suck. But, if we can take our focus off ourselves and what we are going through, I am certain we can find students who can lift us up. Or even if we are having a good day, students have the power to make it even better. I had one such day several years ago.

Colleagues

These are the folks that you spend the majority of your waking hours with. You laugh with them and you cry with them. During the course of a school year, you will all have ups and downs. And it’s hard not to take on the stress and frustrations of those that we are close with.

Since that is the case, why don’t we try harder to share in our colleagues’ joy? I know we have baby showers, birthday parties and such. But what about day to day victories? We’re all not going to have them individually, but we will have them collectively.

Maybe at the end of the day you and your team, or your partner or your staff come together and share what went well. As I mentioned, we all won’t have victories every day. But someone in the room will. That is a reason to be happy. That is a reason to smile and just knowing that someone else experienced a victory, has the potential to turn your day around. If you allow it.

Parents

Parents love to hear good news. Most often though, the calls they receive from us are not pertaining to positive occurrences. I am guilty and I must get better at this. I am certain if the only time I ever heard from my kids’ schools was when they did something wrong, I would not look forward to hearing their calls.

Additionally, parents have jobs and lives and difficult days too that have nothing to do with their children. But like us, their day could be turned around by hearing about someone else’s good news. More specifically, we have the power to lift parents up just by sharing something good about their child. It doesn’t need to grand and it doesn’t need to take long. Sometimes a 30 second phone call is all that’s needed.

Close your eyes. No wait a minute, this is an article and you have to read the words. Anyway. Just imagine if you were having a bad day. Nothing seemed to be going right. You couldn’t wait to get home so you could just rest and start over. Then, just when you couldn’t feel any lower, you get a call from your kid’s school. The school counselor called to tell you what a great kid you have. The counselor had observed your son standing up for someone who was being teased and they just had to let you know. All of the sudden you realized that you had a good day.

Last Friday

So, while I didn’t have any exciting or particularly great news to share with my daughter about my Friday—my friend had a great day. And that was enough to make my day good too. There will be days when great things might not happen to you or for you. That’s okay. Look around. And you’ll find all the happiness you need.

 

 

*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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