The Fence

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This afternoon my son and I went for a brief walk around our neighborhood. It was a beautiful day. The wind was gusting, but the sun had been waiting all winter to make its presence known. And today it did. Providing the kind of warmth that made the cool breeze feel welcome.

We held hands. When he allowed me to. He’s becoming a Big Boy, so hand-holding isn’t always permitted. Sometimes we’d race down the sidewalk. I would let him get ahead of me and he would turn around and giggle like only a three-year old can. Blissful moments like these I do not take for granted. And I try not let anything interrupt them. Hoping they will last forever.

But they don’t. Somehow, invariably, thoughts of work always seem to creep into this sacred space. Like an uninvited guest that is not welcome. I try to push them away, while simultaneously clinging tighter to the interrupted moment. This is a skill that I have yet to master. Actually, I am not even close.

Why is it so difficult to stay on one side of the fence? Is it just me? Climbing back and forth is very tiresome and can become quite dangerous. And yet when I am at work I do not have difficulty staying away from the fence. Why is that? Maybe it’s because I have complete confidence in the other side of the fence. I know that it will always be there for me. No matter what. I take it for granted. Is that wrong?

Whereas, when I am at work I never know from one moment to the next what to expect. It can be invigorating, intimidating and exhilarating at the same time. And so really there is no time to even glance back at the fence. Then I go home. I cross the fence. To my place of comfort. My retreat. But from time to time I can’t help but glance back.

And when I do, I chance missing out on some of life’s most precious moments. I am guilty of this too often. Of not being altogether present, when I need to be. The other side of the fence is not going anywhere. It will be just the way I left it.

But if I continue to pay it too much attention can the same be said about my side of the fence? The side that I come home to every day. The side where my loved ones expect, at bare minimum, the same level of attention and concern I give to the other side.

This is not to say I can’t take work home. I can. And this is not to say that my work isn’t important. It is vitally important.

I just think that I need to stop straddling. Once my work for the day is complete. Once I have crossed over. I must not allow myself to look back. I must stay away from the fence. I owe it to myself. More than anything though, I owe it to those who have been waiting patiently for me all day. To climb back over. And not look back.

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One More Square

i have been looking forward to this all day.

you are going to love this story.

you wait.

 

but the paper you laid on my desk is not big enough.

i need more please.

 

i ask to draw on the back.

but you tell me i can’t.

 

that no one will see what is on the back.

when you stick it motionless to the wall.

 

well, no one will know my story if you don’t give me space to finish it.

one more square please.

 

but you tell me one is all i am allowed.

then please tell me how i can finish my story.

 

i know i did not draw a roof.

that was where my story was to begin.

in the clouds.

 

and yet now it seems that that is where it will end.

 

i could have just as easily drawn a house,

with a roof

some flowers

and a sun.

 

but that is not my story.

my story begins in the clouds and …

 

well i’m really not sure how it ends.

in fact, i don’t really think that it has to.

 

end that is.

 

i watch the big timer move towards zero.

and i want to get up and smash it!

 

i won’t though.

i will end my story now.

using just my one square.

 

but know this.

you were going to be in my story.

 

i was so excited to share it with you.

you would have been magnificent in your cape!

 

but now i…

what?

thirty seconds left?

 

ok.

i’ll draw a line for the roof.

 

almost done.

a circle for the sun.

and a few quick flowers in the corner.

 

what?

i didn’t follow directions?

 

well, i am sorry.

all i needed was just one more square.

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The Big Four

Twitter, Facebook, Email & Voxer.

Twitter, Facebook, Email & Voxer.

Twitter, Facebook, Email & Voxer.

I couldn’t stop. I don’t know if it was the dopamine or the procrastination that kept this cycle going. Either way, it was getting out of hand. I had a terrible headache and was able to convince myself that it was okay to lie in bed and just keep going. It wasn’t as if there was anything that I had to do.

At some point, I don’t know when. I wasn’t timing myself. Heck, it’s a good thing because I probably would have added that to the rotation. But, my brain finally stood up for itself and said, “ENOUGH! You’re killin’ me. DO SOMETHING!”

So I did. I gave myself a task. And I wasn’t allowed to even glance at one of the big four (Twitter, Facebook, Email & Voxer) until I had listed 20 things that I could do to help move forward on three different projects on which I am working. Then and only then could I go back to the big four.

It was fun!

My brain was on hyperdrive. It had been dormant for the past several hours and was glad that it was finally being put to good use. Creating this list didn’t take long. Twenty minutes tops. Now, I told myself it was okay to go back to the big four. And I’m not gonna lie. I did. But not for very long.

Because you know why?

I wanted to get moving on my list. It was fun. I got started on four different things. This isn’t a fairy tale and I’m not gonna tell you that I stayed off of social media the rest of the evening. I didn’t. But I did slow down on the big four. And my brain did thank me. Heck, I must have slept well. I am wide awake at 5:30 AM writing this piece.

So, if you ever find yourself stuck in a rotation like I did last night. Don’t fret and don’t beat yourself up over it. Just stop. Find something to write with and something to write on. And start moving. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish. Your brain will thank you and you’ll feel a lot better.

Now you’ll have to excuse me.

I’ve got to get back to my list.

 

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.

MY BAD

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Maybe We Should Make Him A Gift

Some children simply don’t know how to play. Let me be more specific. There are some children that we know have a very difficult time playing properly and safely with their peers. I know who they are and oftentimes when I am called to the playground I know it is them that I am coming to remove.

I’ll never forget the day I was called to the kindergarten playground because a young man had pushed and hit two girls. They had done nothing to deserve being hit or pushed. And though neither child was injured, I was still upset. Upset because this same young man continues to make bad choices despite the consequence he receives and/or the counseling that I provide. I truly believe that the way he plays at school is the way he plays at home and he doesn’t know any better.

Once I was able to get him to my office, I tried to talk to him about what he had done and why it wasn’t acceptable. No response. It is always frustrating when a child ignores you, but I have gotten used to it and I know not to take it personally. I was at the point where I had to decide what to do next. Do I give him a consequence or do I simply counsel him? Maybe I do both.

The one thing that I was certain of was that he owed the two girls an apology. So I called the two little girls down to my office. A place I don’t think either had been before. They came in and sat down in my chairs. I don’t believe their legs were even long enough to allow their feet to touch the floor. Both girls explained to me what had happened and it was pretty cut and dry.

It was at this point that I asked the young man to make an apology to the girls. He was determined to do no such thing. He wasn’t budging. I asked him again. Still nothing! This was making me angrier by the minute. These girls deserved an apology and there was no good reason that they shouldn’t receive one.

So I asked the girls what they thought we should do. Without a second’s hesitation, one of the girls, in her sweet five-year old voice said, “Maybe we should make him a present.”  What!? Did I hear her correctly? This child just got hit for no reason and her solution to the problem was to make the boy a gift?

Wow!

I told her that her idea was very sweet, but that she didn’t need to do that. I think the other girl looked at her like she had three heads. I’m sure her face looked much like mine when I first heard her solution to the problem.

But just stop for a moment and imagine the purity and goodness that was in this little angel’s heart. Maybe she was able to see what I was not. Maybe she could see it in his eyes. That what this boy needed was more love. Not punishment. Clearly whatever I have been trying so far this year has not been effective.

I’m not really sure what message I am trying to convey in this post. I think more than anything I wanted you to feel, if just for a moment, the warmth of a beautiful soul. Maybe I just wanted you to know that she is out there.

I have been doing this for quite some time now. And I have found that there is very little that surprises me. This week was an exception. Because while I hadn’t planned on issuing too harsh a consequence for the young man, I would have never thought to have made him a gift.

But you know. Maybe that is exactly what he needs. And it took a five-year old little girl to point it out to me.

 

Generosity is not giving me that which I need more than you do, but it is giving me that which you need more than I do.
Khalil Gibran
 
*My mistake in this whole thing was thinking that I was the one that had the answer, when instead I should have been looking elsewhere. I should have been looking to child. Lucky for me that she stepped up and told me what I needed to hear.
 
If you’d like to hear some more mistakes made by some amazing individuals, just click the link below.
 

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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 absolutely horrible mistakes made by some absolutely wonderful people.

MY BAD

7 am

ghojonesWhy on Earth would anyone do a Google Hangout with students at 7 am? Well, before you begin jumping on my case about the fact that students need more sleep and that their optimal thinking times are later in the morning, let me explain.  First, know that the class I did the Google Hangout with was in a different time zone than me. Second, I was the one in the 7 am time zone. Not them. It was 9 am where they were.

The class I had the honor of speaking with, not to, was none other than Mrs. Jones’ 5th grade Merton Elementary students. Thank you Principal Jay Posick for allowing me the opportunity to interact with such an amazing group of youngsters. We had a blast!

I got to share with them the motivation behind my My Bad radio program. While it is a story that I have told many times, it is one that I always enjoy telling. And it is one that I hope I have the opportunity to tell many more times.

After Mrs. Jones’ class politely listened to me tell my story and talk about the power of sharing mistakes, something quite wonderful took place. One by one. Her students came to the front of the room, introduced themselves and shared a mistake of their own. What was most powerful was the fact that the mistakes that were shared were ones that many others in the room had made too.

As the sharing continued it became obvious to me that not only was this an amazing group of kids, but they were/are led by an amazing teacher. Creating an environment in which children feel safe sharing their mistakes with their peers is not easy. Bravo Heidi Jones!

I would have loved to have spent more time with her class. Maybe someday I will. But, they had to move on with their day and I had an 8 am conference session to attend. We said our goodbyes and then Heidi had her kids do something I had never seen before. Each kid came to the front of the room, and one by one, they each gave me a high-five or a fist bump. That made my day! Heck it made my week!

As I am on a flight now heading back to the east coast I can’t help but think about how important it is that we work to create a culture in which it is okay to share mistakes. I was able to witness firsthand just how powerful this can be. It is important for students and it is important for adults to know that they are not alone. To know that they it is okay to make mistakes. And to know that we all bounce back.

That was the most fun I have had at 7 am in a long time.

Thank you Mrs. Jones’ class.

 

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 mistakes made by an amazing group of people.

MY BAD

Again!

I think if I had heard that word one more time I would have lost it!

President Trump closed his inauguration speech with a barrage of agains like I have never heard before.

Do I think that there are many things about this country that could improve?

Of course!

But that is not the message that I got from President Trump’s speech. The message that I heard, was that we’re not good enough. I am still trying to pick the a,g,a,i and n‘s out of my ears. Because if they remain in there too long they are likely to get stuck. And we can’t allow that to happen. I won’t allow that to happen.

The first episode of My Bad was released on April 7th, 2016. My goal, my hope, my mission was to

inspire people to share their mistakes with the people they love and the people they serve so that they would stop feeling as if they have to be perfect.

Learning from each guests’ mistakes is simply an added bonus.

Knowing that each guest was willing to come on My Bad and share their mistake, no matter how big and no matter how embarrassing. That was and still is the takeaway that I am hoping for.

Furthermore, my hope is that this mindset will trickle down to our staff, to our students and to our children. Every day I witness (at home, at work, on social media) people feeling as if they’re not good enough. We’re beating ourselves up over mistakes. Even worse, children are beating themselves up over making mistakes.

Our self-esteem is at an all time low. The social and emotional needs of our students is at an all time high.

So what do we do?

We remind ourselves that we are good. We remind our staff that they are good. And we remind our students that they are good.

We pick the remaining a,g,a,i and n‘s out of our ears. We share our mistakes and we celebrate our accomplishments. And we give ourselves and each other a little grace.

One last thing. When you have a half hour to spare. I know, I know. Like any of us do. But if you do. Pick any three My Bad episodes. Listen to them and appreciate just how vulnerable and honest my guests were willing to be. I promise you, you will feel better about yourself because you will be reminded you are not alone.

It might be just the thing you need to stop the agains from ringing in your ears.

My Bad

Why Did He Leave The Room?

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He just got up and left the room!

Who does that?!

In the middle of writing a sentence.

Who does he think he is?

Henry David Thoreau in need of an inspirational stroll.

Let me rewind a bit. My son is in kindergarten and last week he and his classmates brought home Writing Journals. Every Thursday night they will be given a writing prompt for homework. This could be fun. Although, I knew just because I love to write doesn’t mean my five year-old, who just learned how to hold a pencil, will share my passion.

We were playing with his matchbox garage when I asked him if he was ready to write in his journal. He was said he was and he went downstairs to get his brand new Writing Journal. When he came back up I was waiting with baited breath. I tried to contain my excitement.

The writing prompt was glued to the top of the page. It was so cute. His assignment was to illustrate something he likes to do in the snow and then write a sentence describing his illustration. Derek chose to draw a picture of a snowman. He seemed to be enjoying himself and I was beginning to think that this would be an enjoyable weekly ritual. His little snowman was adorable but, as you can imagine, I was more excited about what he was going to write.

When he finished coloring he just stopped. I had to remind him that he had to write a sentence. He was fine with that. I think he simply wasn’t accustomed to writing sentences. He dictated it to me first. It was something like “I like to make a snowman.”

He went back and looked at the reminders that his teacher had glued inside his journal. So he knew that the i had to be uppercase or capital. I can’t remember which term they use nowadays. And then? Well, then he had to go downstairs. He said he’d be right back. It was at this that I was worried that maybe this was going to be too much for him. Or that he just decided to give up.

A minute or two later he returned. With his backpack. He had remembered that that day he had completed a worksheet that actually had the word like on it.

What a clever kid!

Here I was thinking that he may have been giving up and he was simply warming up. He used this sheet as a reference to spell a few words and I helped him with the rest. I didn’t spell them for him. But I did help him sound the words out so that were phonetically correct.

I was so proud of my little buddy. He not only wrote his first sentence, he showed me that he had already learned an important lesson. One that I think we too often forget.

We don’t need to know it all!

We spend too much of our time trying to cram too much stuff into our heads. We don’t leave space for thoughts and ideas to move around. And yet we are constantly trying to fill our heads with more. Then we wonder why when it comes time to solve a problem or create something unique, we are unable.

It is because the stuff we have in our heads has no room to move. To breathe. To grow.

It’s time to stop this madness!

We must pick a few things and try to learn as much about them as we possible can. Things that we are passionate about. Things that keep us up at night. In a good way.

You have a question about how to implement Makerspaces. Contact Laura Fleming.

You’re not sure how to create an engaging lesson. Direct message Dave Burgess.

A leadership issue has you stumped. Tweet Todd Whitaker.

You can’t figure out how to motivate young black males. Connect with Baruti Kafele.

This list could go on and on. But you get the point. You don’t need to know everything about everything. Give yourself a break. Allow yourself some space. And simply pick one or two things where you can kick ass.

And while we’re at it, let’s remind our kids and our students of this too. We owe it to them. Honor rolls and Principal’s lists are crazy. Who nowadays is actually good at everything?

Lin Manuel Miranda and…

Short list of one.

My son taught me a wonderful lesson last week. Let’s just hope I remember it the next time I think I need to know it all. I won’t and I never will. And that’s okay. Because as The Beatles sang:

 

I get by with a little help from my friends.

The Beatles

Because I Love You

waffles

This happens every time!

She cooks and then she leaves the kitchen and the surrounding area a mess.

Then I have to be the bad guy and remind her to clean it up.

I do like that she loves to cook and to be honest she is quite good at it.

Well yesterday she made us waffles and they were delicious. And since she did the cooking, I probably should have offered to clean up. But she is eleven and I am trying to teach her to take more responsibility for her actions. Like cleaning up after herself. Just so you don’t get the wrong impression, she is not a rebellious tween who her mother and I are worried about. In fact, she is a straight A student who is kind to everyone and is the best big sister a five year old brother could ever ask for.

But back to the waffle debacle. The sink was a mess, the counter was dirty and the table where we ate still had plates of leftover waffles and syrup. I’ve learned that sometimes I have to choose when and where I pick my battles. Just earlier in the week she and I had gotten into it about this same type of thing.

So, after waiting a bit I finally decided it was time to remind her that I expected her to clean up the mess that she had made cooking breakfast for us. She said she had a headache and needed to take a shower. Promising to clean it all up once she got out. Fair enough I thought. The waffles weren’t going to go bad and it when it got done wasn’t really the point. It just needed to get done.

It was while my daughter was in the shower that I realized something. Yes, by making her clean up after herself I was teaching her responsibility. And the past ten times we had had this discussion I held firm to my demands. But this time? This time seemed different. I realized I had the perfect opportunity to model something much more important than responsibility.

I was not sure if the lesson would be lost. Tweens’ brains don’t always pick up what we’re puttin’ down. But then again, neither does mine. I knew it was worth a try. So while my daughter was taking a shower trying to get rid of her headache, I worked as quickly as possible to clean up everything. I rinsed the dishes, loaded the dishwasher, cleaned the counter, cleared the breakfast table and stored the leftover waffles in the fridge.

I finished just in time. When she walked through the kitchen to go upstairs I don’t think she even noticed what I had done. Hmmm, maybe my idea wasn’t so good after all. But then when she came back down she did. And she said, “Daddy, I was going to clean everything up. Why did you do it?”

 

Because I love you.

The Achievement Gap

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Three simple words that can silence a room almost as quickly as they are uttered. We all know it exists. We’ve known for quite some time now. But it’s not going away. In fact, it appears to be widening in many areas.

And it’s not as if we aren’t giving it attention. We’ve thrown money at it to see if it that would work. That had little to no effect. We’ve had educators receive professional development led by “experts” that we just knew would do the trick. Strike two. We’ve even begun, in the last two presidencies, collecting disaggregated data in the hopes that increased vigilance and accountability would somehow be the silver bullet we’d been looking for. Strike three.

Now what?

I for one, believe that we are going about this all wrong. My concern is that, we are so focused on being politically correct, that we have lost sight of doing what is right. For kids that is. Sure, we can say that we are trying to narrow the gap and maybe that allows us to sleep better at night. But each of us knows that the gap will still be there in the morning when we wake up.

The recent emphasis on equity as opposed to equality has led us to believe that all students are getting what they need. But it’s going to take more than our current level of differentiation to accomplish what needs to be done. What needs to happen is going to look very different from what we are doing and it is going to require us to think outside of the box. More than anything, it’s going require us taking some hits.

And I think these are hits worth taking because our current efforts are not working.

I know that what I am about to say will not come as a surprise to many, if any.

But the children that walk through our doors each morning are coming to us with vastly different levels of preparedness. Simply put, many of the kids we serve each day are just not ready for what it is we are putting them through. Yet, we act as if a tweak here or a tweak there will help them make it through the day.

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’m here to tell you that (a) they’re not making it through the day and (b) just making it through does not help narrow gaps. This is my 20th year in education and in all of my years I have never seen children enter school with as many social, emotional and physical needs as I do today. The current level of need absolutely blows me away!

We say Maslow before Bloom, but somehow Bloom always wins out. I would estimate that about 90% of my school day is spent helping students who are not ready for school cope and make it to the last bell. And believe me, it is extremely difficult for both of us. Many students in this country need more something different than what we are providing them.

It’s not as of our students aren’t trying to tell us. Some cry, some scream, some kick, some run, some sleep and some fight. We think that this is by choice. But let’s get real. Most of these students are crying out for help. They are tired. They are hungry. They are angry. They are stressed. They have cortisol levels that are off the charts.

And yet we expect them to conduct themselves like their peers and achieve at the same levels as their peers? Get the f*$% outta here! Their peers don’t have to deal with any of the issues that they do. Yet, and here is where things get tricky. If we even hint at having different expectations for these students then we are accused of showing prejudice. We are told that we do not believe that all students can achieve.

I for one, do believe that all students can achieve. And for the most part, I believe that all students have the potential to achieve at high levels.

But…

We must work to give all students a fighting chance. But we are not. It’s as if we are sending kids out to play tackle football without a helmet and without pads. Sure, they get to be on the field. And some may even make out okay. But most won’t. And as each day passes, they become more battered and more bruised. Yet they keep coming back because they are told they have to. And this is when gaps begin to form.

What do I have in mind, you ask. It will look different for each child. And it will take some time, but I believe it is possible. Here is a list of ways I think we can get there:

  • Begin each day with 30 minutes of rigorous exercise
  • Provide a comfortable and safe place for students that lack sleep to get some extra sleep.
  • Help students reduce their cortisol levels when they enter school so they don’t start their day angry
  • Spend as much time building inter/intrapersonal skills as we do math, reading and writing skills
  • End each day celebrating accomplishments and setting goals for the future

I believe the only way to close and eliminate the achievement gap is to make sure that all students are fully equipped. As I mentioned earlier, this will involve us taking some hits early.

So what?

If it means that more students are successful then I say bring it on.

We can’t worry about being politically correct.

We can’t what it looks like if we find that one group needs more help than others.

We can’t worry about what outsiders say.

We must remember that our number one priority is to fully equip all students so that they are able to run out onto the field and compete.

The bottom line is that we must start doing what is best for kids and stop doing what looks best for adults.

From now on the rule is Maslow before Bloom, always!

In those days, we finally chose to walk like giants and hold the world in arms grown strong with love. And there may be many things we forget in the days to come. But this will not be one of them.

Brian Andreas