We Need Them

Photo by Alexandr Podvalny

In the wake of yet another tragedy, educators will be spending time in the coming week trying to help students cope/manage/understand (don’t know if there is a correct verb) all that has taken place. Not a day goes by in which I am not in awe of educators’ ability to provide comfort and support to children when they need it the most. It’s what they do. While they probably knew that a portion of their days would be spent helping meet their students’ social and emotional needs, I can’t imagine educators were expecting to have so many needs of their own.

But they do.

We do.

Yes, there are supports in place to help us cope with our social and emotional needs. Awareness of our needs is gradually increasing. Yet, I can’t help but think that is an untapped resource that we are neglecting.

Our students.

You read that correctly.

I believe that our students can help us if we just let them in.

 

They Are With Us Every Day

Think about it. We spend between one and seven hours with our students each day. While I am aware of the fact that we are the ones that are supposed to be taking care of them, I believe that they have the potential to help us. They notice things that we don’t. They can tell when we are upset or stressed. I know we are supposed to leave our issues at the door. But let’s be real. That’s impossible.

If we are having a rough day, why not reach out to them. I am not implying that we lie back on the sofa and empty our souls. What I am saying is that it is okay to let our students know when we are not ourselves. I have found that oftentimes they will empathize with us. They can surprise us if we let them.

 

All grown-ups were once children … but only few of them remember it.

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

 

We aren’t that different

The students that we spend our days with, whether they be 7 or 17, need to know that we are struggling too. Not that this will make them feel better. But what it will do is let them know that they are not alone. That we often deal with the same type of sh%$& that they do. We experience self-doubt. We get nervous. We have anxiety.

By opening up to our students, it gives them the courage to do the same. With us. With each other. With their friends. It seems as if every week we hear of someone who is struggling or worse, has taken their life. And yet we had no idea. We can’t let this continue.

 

Why do they treat us like children? they said & I said why do you treat them like adults?
& their eyes opened wide & they began to laugh & talk all at once & suddenly everything looked possible again.

― Brian Andreas, Trusting Soul

 

Better Together

We need each other. Our days are spent trying to find ways to help our students and our nights are spent trying to find ways to put ourselves back together. It is time we start opening up to our students — letting them in.

What we are going to find is that once we realize that we need them as much as they need us, we can start to heal and grow and rise together. The children that we spend our days with are amazing. And so are we. But we are also tired. Just like them. Let’s be tired together so that we can then get stronger together.

I think it’s worth a shot.

 

There are things that you have to do, not that you want to do, and those things even though you still have to do them, and they might not be great, they are better because you are doing them together.

Mary Marantz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Night Before Tomorrow

I begin to prepare.

Mentally.

Physically.

Never knowing quite for sure what it will bring. But knowing that once I close my eyes. For good. It will be here. Whether I am ready or not.

Back and forth I go. It will be a great day says one part of my brain. And I mentally create a list of all the things that I hope to accomplish tomorrow. A smile spreads across my face. Because I know it is definitely possible. Why wouldn’t it be? I have had days like this before. Recently even.

But then doubt creeps in the back door. Uninvited. But making its presence known nevertheless. Why does it always show up uninvited? It plants unwanted seeds in my subconscious that always push and shove their way to front. What if this happens? What if that happens? It’s happened before. Recently even.

Focus Jon! Stay positive!

You can beat this!

Anxiety stinks!

But it’s real!

And I experience it. More often than I’d like to admit. Usually it hits me the moment I regain consciousness in the morning. How is that possible? I have just had the entire night to dream of rainbows and unicorns. Yet they disappear the instant the possibility of the new day becomes real.

I don’t get it. I went to sleep happy. The last words spoken to my family members are usually I love you or involve my son making some sort of butt joke. Five year old boys. You gotta love ’em.

So what gives?

Why do I wake up with feelings of anxiety? Is it because I fear what might go wrong more than I dream of what could go right? It’s certainly possible.

Sure. Tomorrow may not go well. But it may very well be the best day of my life.

Is it because I am making it too easy for doubt to creep in the backdoor? Maybe, but I don’t think that’s it. Doubt is something that every single one of us experiences. We have heard time and time again from successful people, whatever that means, that they too, go through periods of self-doubt.

And yet they persevere!

I need to start spending more time thinking about the possibility of all the awesome things that could take place in my day. Yet, instead doubt and negativity creep in the back door and take a seat right at my kitchen table.

It’s as if I have set the table for them and have offered to make them a plate!

What I need to start doing is leaving my front door unlocked. Better yet, why not leave it open? So that dreams and bucket lists can pull up a chair. I know they have been knocking. Why have I been so reluctant to let them in?

No longer!

Starting tomorrow I am leaving the front door open. I know that doubt and anxiety will still sneak in the back door. But from now on they are going to have to sit across the table from my dreams. And my bucket list that has had to wait outside for way too long. I am curious to see what happens next.

So will this mean that I will no longer experience anxiety and doubt? Of course not. That’s part of human nature. But I am going to start dreaming out loud and I am going to start working on my bucket list!

It is the night before tomorrow.

And I am excited for what the next day may bring. I am a little nervous too. But so what?

That’s life!

It’s time to open the front door!

 

Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you have tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.

Pope John XXIII

* I wrote this post over 2 years ago. Before I started blogging for BAM Radio and before my podcast My Bad. So while I still experience anxiety and doubt—it’s not as bad as it used to be. And you wanna know what else? I am going after my dreams. Each and every day!

If you enjoy this piece and would be interested in receiving more just like it, join my email list by clicking HERE.

 

 

Better Tomorrow

dj

Photo taken by Drew Patrick

We hurried down to baggage claim because we wanted to get home as soon as we could. We had an hour and half drive ahead of us and it was already 9 o’clock. My wife and kids waited off to the side, while I waited right next to the conveyor.

Everyone was tired and just ready to go and it seemed as if it was taking longer than usual for the whole process to simply begin. I waited towards the back of the line. I am not the type to just jump right in the front. Looking to my left I noticed a tall African-American gentleman who if I had to guess, was about 35 years old. We struck up a light-hearted conversation and in so doing I discovered that he had been to Cambridge, the small town where I live. He told me that he had done a wedding there.

And then…

Before I knew it…

Words came out of my mouth that I regretted the moment I heard them. But it was too late.

I asked the gentleman if he was the dj.

Why would I ask that!?

He very easily could have been the dj. But he could have just as easily have provided an assortment of other services  at the wedding. I was embarrassed and ashamed. It turned out that he was the minister that had performed the actual ceremony.

I spent the next five minutes trying to engage in polite conversation. And it was. He introduced me to his wife and never once did he let on that he was offended by my ignorant assumption. I was so concerned with saving face and trying to make-up for my remark that I didn’t even notice that my wife and kids had gotten all four of our suitcases off of the baggage conveyor. Two of which were quite heavy.

I’ve shared this incident with my wife and a friend of mine, who happens to be African-American. Maybe I felt that sharing this with him would absolve me of any guilt I should feel. But it shouldn’t and it didn’t.

To this day I still can’t get over why I made those remarks. I think of myself as someone who is very culturally proficient and values and respects everyone for who they are and where they’re from. And I still think that I do. But I am owning my ignorant remark.

I have complete control over the words that come out of my mouth. Yes, social media is pervasive. Yes, we are bombarded each and every day with stereotypes. But that is no excuse for a 45-year-old who considers himself above making remarks like the one I made.

The crazy thing is I know many more African-American ministers than I do African-American dj’s. So why? Why did those words come out of my mouth? I don’t know. No excuses. Just moving forward.

Hopefully I can make this a learning experience. First and foremost I need to stop and think before I allow words to come out of my mouth. Because I believe with all of my heart, that if I had done so, I would not have made such an ignorant remark.

In moving forward I am trying to become as cognizant as I can of all of my actions and all of my words. The only thing I can do now is aim to be better than I was yesterday and lead by example.

A week after my airport incident I went into a Mexican restaurant to pick up a carry out meal. When I opened the door to the restaurant, right away I recognized the young girl working at the front desk. I smiled and said, hi Jennifer, it’s good to see you. I picked up my food, paid my bill and walked to my car.

As I sat down and got ready to drive away it hit me. The girl that I had spoken to was not Jennifer. Her name was Najeli. Jennifer was the name of another Hispanic student who had I knew from the school where I last worked. While both girls are Hispanic and about the same age, they look nothing alike.

I then thought to myself, what must this girl be thinking? That I didn’t remember her name? Or worse yet, that I simply confused her with Jennifer because they are both Hispanic? I didn’t feel good about either possibility. So I did what I felt was right. After a minute or two of self-reflection, I went back into the restaurant. Apologized to the young girl. And made it clear to her that I knew her name.

My apology did not excuse my airport incident. But it was a step in the right direction towards becoming a better person. That is all I can ever hope for.

By the way, I plan on being even better tomorrow.

My Bad

MY BAD IMAGE

I spend my days helping children learn from their mistakes.

Some as young as four-years old. Children who haven’t been on this Earth very long. Children who still look for our hand when they walk down the hallway. Children who sometimes call us Mom or Dad.

And here’s the thing. They do share their mistakes with us. We tell them that it’s okay to make mistakes. That that’s how we learn. It’s all a part of growing up.

Yet, what do we, the grown-ups, do with our mistakes?

We lock them up.

We try to forget them.

We hide them from the rest of the world.

But why?

 

This is just our first time playing this game called Life. And if it’s not. Well then what are we worried about anyway?

 

Social media is an amazing tool. It has forever changed our access to the world in which we live. We see everything. Or do we? I contend that far too often we are not. As Hope King, teacher at the Ron Clark Academy, says social media is a highlight reel. And while it is quite entertaining and fun to watch, it often doesn’t give us the full picture. They are not even close.

b2ap3_thumbnail_couros2.jpg

This image, created by George Couros’, was adapted from comedian Demetri Martin and included in Couros’ piece What Success (and Learning) Really Look Like, which talks about how learning can often be a messy process. And I couldn’t agree more. 

So if we know this, then why aren’t we sharing more of our squiggles? Why aren’t we pointing out more of our backward strokes? I think it’s time we start. Because when we do, it will not only give others courage to do the same, it will also allow others to learn from our mistakes.

Ten amazing seconds last year convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am right. Let me explain.

Last year when my daughter decided to sign up for soccer, I was excited. See, I grew up playing soccer and absolutely loved the sport. It was going to be my daughter’s first time playing on a team and I was curious to see how she would enjoy the experience. I was also a little bit nervous for her since she had never played soccer before and she just so happened to be the only girl on the team. Not that that mattered to me. I just wasn’t sure how she would handle all this newness.

It was amazing! She had a blast, despite the fact that she was still learning the sport. Most importantly, she had a coach who was positive and caring and did everything he could to make her feel good about herself.

What more could a parent wish for?

Well I’ll never forget the practice that had the potential to make or break my daughter’s self-esteem. Towards the end of practice the coach decided to have the team scrimmage against themselves.

No big deal. They had done this before and it was something that the kids seemed to enjoy. Towards the end of the scrimmage the ball rolled right to my daughter and she immediately kicked it and scored a goal.

The only problem was.

Iit was for the other team!

Uh oh!

These are the kinds of moments that have the potential for tears.

These are the kinds of moments that can shatter confidence.

These are the kinds of moments that can rewrite lifescripts.

Neither of the above happened!

Not long after she scored a goal, for the other team, they took a quick water break. I was holding her bottle and as she ran over to me I was prepared for the worst.

Instead, what took place was magnificent!

My daughter said to me,

 

Daddy you and I now have something in common!

I couldn’t believe it.

She remembered!

You see one day, I don’t recall exactly when, I had shared with my daughter how I had once scored a goal for the opposing team. When I was in high school! During sudden death overtime!

She had remembered the fact that, I too am human and that, I too make mistakes. Wow! I was so happy that I had shared that mistake with my daughter.

Because just imagine if I hadn’t.

I’m glad I don’t have to.

I learned a valuable lesson that day.

I learned that the sooner we start sharing our imperfections with the people we serve and the people we love, the sooner they will stop expecting to be perfect.

So today.

Right here.

Right now.

I am issuing a challenge. Start sharing your mistakes.

Big ones.

Little ones.

It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you start.

It’s time we start unabashedly sharing our mistakes.

I am officially throwing down the gauntlet. If you want to consider yourself a great leader and/or a great teacher, then you must start sharing your mistakes. And when you do, I want you to include the brand new hashtag #MyBad16. Why the 16? Because 2016 is the year that we start a paradigm shift.

And I’d like to take it a step further. If you are serious about becoming a part of this paradigm shift, then I am issuing you an open invitation. An invitation to appear on my radio show My Bad’ featured on the Bam Radio Network.

If you curious to see who the first person was to accept the challenge then click here. There’s not a person in education today who didn’t already consider my first guest to be a great leader. But I think you’ll be interested to hear what they shared. It just might surprise you.

So if you enjoyed the first episode, don’t stop there. Take a listen to the second.

And more episodes are soon to come.

I promise.

Because mistakes are being made every day.

 

First Episode: “The Day I Lost It With A Student”

Second Episode: “I Am Not A Perfect Teacher, I Have To Be Okay With That”

I Was Here On Time!

Are you freakin’ kidding me?

Of all days.

Typical.

Last week I had to take my daughter to get some bloodwork done. Nothing major at all. Just routine stuff. But as you well know, it has to be done in the morning and you have to fast for like a million hours.

Not a problem. The lab opens at 7 AM. I need to drop her off at school by 7:30 so she’s on time and so that I can make it to work by 8. The kids at my school arrive at 8:05. I had it all figured out. My daughter and I rushed so that we could make it out of the house a little earlier than usual. Not a big deal — but it took a little extra effort.

We were out of the house by 6:53 and arrived at the lab at exactly 7 AM.

Yes!

We jumped out, walked up to the door and pulled.

It was locked and the lights were off.

Arghh!

I guess that’s why the woman in the parking lot was just sitting in her car.

Great!

Not only would we be starting late, we had someone ahead of us.

At 7:12 someone finally arrived. She turned the lights on and unlocked the door. No sorry, no nothing. She was very short with us and appeared to be in a bad mood. We were the ones that should have been in the bad mood. We were the ones waiting for her.

I signed my daughter in and sat back down. After a minute I realized that I had signed my own name. I was so irritated that I wasn’t thinking clearly. I go up, scribbled out my name and wrote hers on top. It wasn’t neat, but that was their problem now.

About a minute later they called us up. I gave her my insurance card and paid the 20 dollar co-pay. As I was waiting for my card to be processed another employee entered the office. She and the woman who was waiting on me, the one that was 12 minutes late, greeted each other.

I heard one of them say something like, you too huh?

They began talking about how the manager couldn’t find anyone to open up.

And then it hit me.

They had been called last minute. To come to work. And wait on people.

People like me.

That make assumptions.

And overreact.

And make judgments before having all the facts. Before knowing someone’s story.

I was embarrassed.

This wasn’t the first time I had done this and, unfortunately, it probably won’t be my last. I made it a point to share my mistake with my daughter. Hopefully, she can learn from mine.

Life is busy.

School is fast.

We oftentimes don’t have as much control as we’d like over either.

But what we can control is ourselves.

Take time to learn someone’s story before you judge them. I am quite certain you’ll be glad you did.

 

 

 

The Masks We Wear

Photo taken Ted McNeil

When you look at this photo what do you see?

Are you sure?

What if I were to tell you that at the moment this photo was taken my daughter had a migraine headache and my son was as happy as a clam. It may seem hard to believe, but it’s true.

We oftentimes make judgements based on what we see. And that can be dangerous. But sometimes that may be all we have to go on. So we do the best we can. Then later we find out that we were wrong. We were way off.

I had no idea.

If I had only known.

I would have never guessed it.

These are some of the phrases we hear ourselves saying after we find out what really is. How someone really feels. When we finally hear about what someone has been battling for months, years, a lifetime. And we lament the fact that we never knew.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

We have become so skilled at putting on and taking off masks that we sometimes forget who we are. Are we the person behind the mask or are we the mask itself? I tend to think that we are a combination of both. And that is okay because that is how we make it day to day, week to week, month to month and year to year.

Is the ultimate goal to get rid of our masks? To reach a point where we never need them again? Always show the world how we are feeling and what we are thinking? I personally don’t think so.

From time to time we all need a place or a way to help us deal with how we are feeling at that moment. Because it can be confusing. And it can be stressful. And it can cause anxiety and even depression.

Over the past two years I have been battling anxiety. It hasn’t been easy and I am sure at times it has made me a more difficult person to live with. Luckily for me, I get to spend my days and nights with the three most amazing people on the planet. My wife, my daughter and my son. They have helped me through this in ways they probably don’t even know.

But it hasn’t been easy.

And yes I have sought out professional help and yes I do take medication that helps me with my anxiety and helps me feel better about myself. Because that is where I think it must begin. We must begin with ourselves. I am convinced that if you are reading this then you are someone who spends much of your time helping others. But in order to best serve others, we must first take care of ourselves.

This is not a selfish attitude. It is anything but. In all honesty, for those of us that suffer from anxiety or depression, we would much rather take care of others than ourselves. Yet, when we do this, we not only hurt ourselves, we hurt the ones we love. They want us at our best. They need us at our best. And it’s time we let them in.

Nicholas Provenzano, Joe Mazza, Rafranz Davis and Pernille Ripp have published pieces in which they share very personal battles. Countless others have shared their stories and to all of you I say thank you. Last year when Nicholas first went public about his depression I began to feel a little bit better. I now realize that I’m not any less of a person because I suffer from anxiety. Now. Today, with countless stories being shared through social media, I am beginning to feel whole again. And it feels good.

For the past four years I have been blogging. Oftentimes about the things in life that bring me joy. I doubt anyone who reads my blog would have ever thought that I was someone who frequently experiences anxiety. Many of my posts are upbeat and happy. And most of the time I am. But sometimes I am not. So I put on a mask so that no one else has to feel my pain.

At work when someone asks me how I’m doing I always respond with AWESOME! Why wouldn’t I? I have an amazing family, a great job and an amazing life. But there are times when I don’t feel awesome. I’ll wake up and my stomach will hurt before I even walk in the front door. Essentially before my day has even started. Eating can be difficult and coffee doesn’t even smell good.

But you know what? I am getting better. I have sought out help and now through the power of social media I can see that I have an extended support group. I share all of this not for pity or a pat on the back. I share my struggle in the hope that someone reading this, that is going through a similar struggle, will realize that they are not alone.

I believe that we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect and feel perfect all of the time. Well that’s not possible and that’s not real life.

I think we should begin treating life as one big dress rehearsal, a rough draft if you will. We must stop telling ourselves that it is the big show or the final draft. Because it’s not. And it should never be.

We will make mistakes.

We will fall.

We will have doubts.

We will experience anxiety.

We will feel depressed at times.

And that is okay. We have each other and we are not alone. Now we must make it our mission to convince those around us, especially children, that they too are not alone. That it’s okay to feel the way they do and that we are here to help them through this game called Life.

“Today I will be the best version of me.”

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author unknown

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