Becoming

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Yesterday  while walking the dog together, Sarah and I looked for signs of spring. Beautiful blossoms everywhere. Honestly, I hadn’t noticed much of the color before I took the time to walk and take pictures. The vibrancy, the new life, nature’s miracle unfolding and becoming anew, and I had been oblivious. Yesterday, though, I noticed the myriad of colors bringing luminous life to the otherwise sort of drab neighborhood.



 

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I AM NOT FAILING. I AM BECOMING.

 

 

In a moment, I decided to capture the yellow dandelion for no reason other than its vibrant color and the way the flower was low to the ground but still such a vivid splash of color.

Now I wonder: why the dandelion?

The dandelion, a pesky and hard to control but vibrant weed.

When I’m criticized, I internalize and see myself as the pesky weed, the dandelion not as the azalea,  dogwood, or tulip.

I think of what Jon Gordon wrote about perspective and failure, and I think about the nature of the dandelion. The dandelion is strong, resistant, and hardy. It may not shine as brightly or stand quite as stately as some of the above flowers, but it is in its own unique process of becoming, and there is little one can do to keep a dandelion down.

When Jon Gordon writes about looking back on failure, he explains that he realized that he wasn’t failing that he was instead in the process of becoming. What a great perspective, one that the dandelion close to the ground seems to subtlely state in its strength and its hardiness.

I AM NOT FAILING. I AM BECOMING.

Tonight the frost might kill the tulip and the other flowers, but tomorrow the dandelion will reign. The dandelion is in the process of becoming. Yes, I’m a weed you can’t get rid of–constantly regenerating, growing, and becoming. Take that pesky failure. I am the dandelion. I am becoming.

 

 

 

The Best

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In class my students have been working with various texts related to grit and growth mindset. Yesterday we looked at the above infographic and discussed it. As we discussed the  words in the red on the left, students discussed their struggles. One student openly brought up the thought of the “success of others” being an area where he has a fixed mindset. Immediately I thought of the words of my fearless leader.

I thought of how to share those words with my students…

I thought, “A wise man once told me…”

No, too cliché-ish.

Plus, I don’t want the words to inflate the ego of the wise man’s head (aka my principal). We all know he doesn’t need that.

I settled for, “Someone’s dad…”

“Whose dad?” a few the kids responded all the while knowing the dad is the principal.

Then, I looked toward the son of the dad and then back to the student and continued, “Someone’s dad once told me, ‘Your will to be the best is your greatest asset and your worst obstacle.'”

I let the words absorb for  a moment, we talked a bit, and then we moved on. This is sixth grade after all, a place where focus is not sustained for great lengths of time. I do wish, however, that my kids could learn vicariously from the lessons that have taken me half a lifetime to learn.

A year and a half after the words above were shared with me,  I stop to reflect as I look up at the infographic and realize that each day I make the choice as to how I view the success of others: fixed-something that threatens me OR growth-something that offers lessons and inspiration.

I choose growth. I choose greatest asset. I choose to inspiration. I choose lessons.

In reality, I know I may never be the best, but I do know that I can learn from the best and better myself.

In the words of my indomitable leader on being the best, “BRING IT ON!”

Perhaps I can modify his words,

My will to be the best is my greatest asset OR my worst obstacle. The choice is mine.

 

 

Go Head to Head or Cultivate Peace?

Day 8 of 31: SOLSC

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How often have people advised you to avoid confrontation with this or that person. They will advise you in no uncertain terms that you should not go head to head with _____________ (that kid, that teacher, that guy, that boss, etc.)  They go on to to tell you that you’ll never win.

Recently I found myself advising adults in a certain child’s life to not go head to head with this child because it just doesn’t work. I attributed my building of rapport and improved relationship to not going head to head. Perhaps that helped, but what really changed is I showed the student I cared about him, his struggles, and his success. Essentially, I listened and empathized.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the people I have gone head to head with on a regular basis over the past few years:

  • certain friends
  • authority figures (yes, the boss)
  • certain students
  • my own children

Now I realize that over the years I’ve been “that” person, the one they say not to go head to head with.

I can imagine what was said, “Don’t go head to head with her. She’s stubborn. She’s defiant. She’s opinionated and bullheaded. She’s self-righteous.”

The mere act of going head to head results in the power tipping one way or the other or in stalemate with two people walking away frustrated, mad, and misunderstood. In essence, neither way leads to understanding. Perhaps  a kinder, gentler, more empathic me will emerge if I try to keep this in mind. Who wants to come out swinging? I, for one, do not.

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Yes, I have noticed that when I change, the people around me change, too. It’s a beautiful thing, actually.

As I watch the presidential debates, I see personal attacks and mudslinging. I see individuals playing dirty as they go head to head.

Perhaps the answer isn’t fighting for my beliefs. Perhaps the answer isn’t about making sure you understand where I’m coming from. Perhaps as I continue to seek to grow and change my nature, I will find myself able to listen on a different level. Perhaps then, I’ll truly embrace the answer, an  answer of cultivating peace and understanding.

Perhaps then, someone will speak of me in this way:

Don’t go head to head with her. She won’t take your bait. She will rise above that, listen, and meet you where you are in a non-confrontational way. She will cultivate peace and understanding.

That’s the person I’d like to be, so please don’t go head to head with me. This isn’t backing down. This isn’t a loss. This definitely isn’t weakness. This is truly victory on a higher level.

Let me end with powerful peace cultivating words,  The St. Francis Prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

 

Button Pushing Hyperbolic Subtlety

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Meet my principal–he’s anything but subtle. He’s direct. He’s hands-on. He doesn’t mince words. He’s critical and complimentary, sometimes both in one sentence. He says it like it is even when you don’t want to hear it.  If he’s mad, you know it by his body language, tone of voice, general demeanor, and occasionally even by the color of his clothes. He carries himself like he’s 7 feet tall, and when he’s got his game face on even taller.

A man like this you would not expect to take a less direct approach with a purpose, but of course, a man like this always has a purpose. When he feels he needs to take a different approach, he forgoes his usual candidness and engages in an approach that I’ll call button pushing hyperbolic subtlety.

Over the 3 1/2 years I’ve worked with him this button pushing has involved me talking too much at meetings, not listening to him, being hard-headed, making too many copies, not ever shutting down, working myself to exhaustion, being too busy in my lessons, giving excuses, being rude/disrespectful, and caring too much. Without the ability to laugh at my weaknesses, I didn’t find this button pushing at all funny. In fact, I considered this button pushing quite rude and often took each and every word personally.

Over the past 3 1/2 years, my response to this has ranged from pushback and defensiveness to reluctant compliance. For the longest time, I thought this was a  literal view of me as a loud-mouthed, paper wasting, self-righteous know-it-all teacher who was full of excuses who wasn’t going to listen to anything he had to say. While I tried to listen and be respectful, his delivery would often fall on deaf ears with me shaking my head in bewilderment at his audacity and judgment.

Over the past year, I’ve realized that this sort of button pushing picking on me is a bizarre sort of straight-faced hyperbolic statement that has a meaningful message for me to decipher:

  • Get your department to ease up on the copies. 
  • Listen more. Talk less.
  • Don’t try to do too much in a lesson.
  • Ground yourself.
  • Don’t pay so much attention to the problems of one child that you neglect other students. 

Most recently, though, I realized that his button pushing hyperbolic picking on me is his straight-faced humor schtick that should be met not with pushback, but instead with humor, introspection, and most of all action.

In a recent button pushing conversation, he told me that I plan by picking the technology I’m going to teach and plugging in my standards to fit it. I listened to him picking on me, got slightly defensive for a second, and then I told him I got his point. I walked away wondering what in the world a little annoyed but aware that he was making the point that technology should add to not take away from the lesson.  

Yesterday when the network decided to fail in my room only, I walked up to my boss deciding to have fun. I played the role of clueless damsel in distress teacher, “I just don’t know how to teach today. My computer isn’t working, and I had a great tech lesson planned that I was going to plug some standards into. Now that my computer doesn’t work–what will I do? I can’t teach without technology!”

He smiled and laughed. I told him how angry I had been about his pushing my buttons but that I understood what he was driving at about making sure my technology is instructionally grounded. With a “gotcha” sort of smirk on his face, he told me that maybe the message would have been lost if he hadn’t been so subtle.

My boss-on one hand, he’s a direct, candid, say-it-like-it-is type of guy.

On the other hand, he engages in straight-faced humorous button pushing hyperbolic subtleties that should be met with humor, humility, introspection, and action.

I suppose next time I feel as if I am not in a laughing and learning mood and if the message and humor are lost on me, I’ll just have to smile and say, “What’s your point, boss?  Get candid. I can take it.”

Sometimes, yes, I  take things too literally and too personally, miss the humor, and am so focused on the big picture that I miss the nuances in meaning. 

 

 

 

Mentally Tough Teacher

Discover. Play. Build.
I celebrate Ruth Ayers at ruthayres.com for encouraging celebration and positivity.

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Convincing myself for so many years that I was tough was counter-productive, counter-intuitive. Now I realize, being tough did not mean what I thought it meant.  Life continues to show me how wrong I’ve been and how wrong I sometimes continue to be.  Being mentally tough does not mean being mentally stubborn, dismissive, or arrogant. Being mentally tough is all about being present, letting go of my junk, living in the moment, and relying on God. Gordon writes of 20 ways to get mentally tough; I applied this to my teaching life.

 

20 Ways to be a Mentally Tough Teacher 

  1. USE SETBACKS TO REDEFINE YOURSELF. When you encounter a setback in teaching,  think of it as a defining moment and seek the takeaway that will lead to future growth and success.
  2. EMBRACE ADVERSITY–WALK THROUGH IT AND KNOW IT WILL LEAD TO SOMETHING GREATER. When you encounter adversity (behavior, motivation, management, conflict, whatever else), remember, the best don’t just face adversity; they embrace it, knowing it’s not a dead end but a detour to something greater and better.
  3. STAY POSITIVE WHEN YOU FACE NEGATIVE PEOPLE. When you face negative people (students, parents, coworkers), know that the key to life is to stay positive in the face of negativity, not in the absence of it. After all, everyone will have to overcome negativity to define themselves and create their success.
  4. WHEN YOU FACE THE NAYSAYERS, REMEMBER THE YES SAYERS.  When you face the naysayers (both young and old), remember the people who believed in you and spoke positive words to you.
  5.  WHEN YOU FACE CRITICS, TUNE OUT THE CRITICISM AND TUNE INTO FOCUSING ON BECOMING YOUR BEST. When you face critics (those who only see your weaknesses or who just don’t get you), remember to tune them out and focus only on being the best you can be.
  6. FROM YOUR HOUSE TO YOUR CLASS–WALK IN GRATITUDE AND PRAYER. When you wake up in the morning, take a morning walk of gratitude and prayer (from your doorstop, to your drive, to the parking lot, to your classroom). It will create a fertile mind ready for success.
  7. FAITH IS GREATER THAN DOUBT. When you fear, trust. Let your faith be greater than your doubt. Like Martin, recognize those fears, name them, cast them out, trust in God, and shed the doubt. 
  8. FIND THE LESSON IN FAILURE. When you fail (a lesson is unsuccessful, the test scores are not what they should be, an evaluation is less than satisfactory), find the lesson in it, and then recall a time when you have succeeded.
  9. ENTER THE BATTLE VISUALIZING SUCCESS. When you head into battle (that class, that student, that parent), visualize success.
  10. PUT YOUR ENERGY IN THE NOW. When you are thinking about the class or lesson or test that did not go well or worrying about the next class or lesson or test, instead focus your energy on the present moment. The now is where your power is the greatest.
  11. DON’T COMPLAIN–SEEK SOLUTIONS. When you want to complain about a student or teacher or parent or principal or standard or assessment, instead identify a solution.
  12. WEED OUT DOUBT. CULTIVATE POSITIVITY. When your own self-doubt crowds your mind and the tasks at hand seem too great, weed them out and replace them with positive thoughts and positive self-talk.
  13. WHEN DISTRACTED, CLEAR YOUR MIND & SEEK THE ZONE. When you feel distracted (when you are tired, sick, struggling or being evaluated), focus on your breathing, observe your surroundings, clear your mind, and get into The Zone. The Zone is not a random event. It can be created.
  14. WHEN ALL SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE, LOOK TO GOT AND REALIZE ALL IS POSSIBLE. When you feel all is impossible (that the bar is too high, the summit is unreachable), know that with God all things are possible.
  15. WHEN YOU FEEL ALONE, REMEMBER YOU’RE LOVED AND SUPPORTED. When you feel alone (just you and that daunting task of meeting each kid where he/she is and meeting all his/her needs and moving each forward), think of all the people (including the kids, parents, coworkers, family) who have helped you along the way and who love and support you now and realize you are NOT alone.
  16. WHEN YOU’RE LOST, PRAY FOR GUIDANCE. When you feel lost in your own school/content/class (in a lesson, a day, or a year), pray for guidance.
  17. WHEN YOU’RE TIRED, DON’T GIVE UP–ALWAYS FINISH STRONG. When you are tired and drained and the next break seems miles away, remember to never, never, never give up. Finish strong in each lesson, each day and each year. 
  18. WHEN YOU FEEL DEFEATED, SEEK THE STRENGTH OF GOD. When you feel like you can’t make it through the class (much less the school day, the quarter or the year), know that you can do all things through God who gives you strength.
  19. WHEN YOUR SITUATION IS OUT OF CONTROL, PRAY, SURRENDER–THEN, FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL.When you feel like your situation (the class, a student’s motivation/ability/behavior/work ethic, the standards, your resources, the evaluation measure), is beyond your control, pray and surrender. Focus on what you can control–let go of what you can’t.
  20. WHEN YOU FEEL PRESSURED, DON’T LET STRESS DEFINE YOU. INSTEAD REMEMBER WHY YOU’RE A TEACHER AND SMILE, HAVE FUN AND SIEZE THE MOMENT. When you’re in a high-pressure/high-stakes situation (when the next test ominously looms around the corner, and the daunting task of preparing the kids for this ominous task is haunting you), remember to not let that stress define who you are. Instead, remember why you became a teacher, and then, smile, have fun, and still enjoy each moment of teaching. Life is short; you only live once.  In spite of all that is thrown at you, quit counting the school days, and quit counting the days until that test. Be present to your students and to what they need.  SIEZE THE MOMENT!

 

At first when I encountered Jon Gordon, his positivity was too much for me, and I was critical of his writing, but now I see the difference that positivity makes, so as I read his blog, Tweets, and books, I try to reserve my cynicism. I enjoy the narrative, at times shaking my head at the naïveté of the protagonist, until I see how I am like a bit like the  protagonist and in need of a lesson. Then, I try to embrace my part in the story.

Like Martin, I feed the wrong wolf at times letting what others think about my teacher identity define who I am and/or get me down. When I see a negative comment about a moment in my classroom as a commentary on who I am anything but mentally tough. I do not want to feed the combative snarling, growling, and whimpering canine; that’s for sure.

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This is not who I am, who I want to be, or who I’m destined to be. Seeing the wall as unscalable,  I let myself be defined by what I think of myself and what others thing of me. When I try to climb the wall focusing on the obstacle without seeking God’s help, the wall is insurmountable.


 

Other writing about Gordon deals with  falls and setbacks/cha chas. Also, related to Gordon: Driving the Bus (9/9/14), My Greatest Asset will NO Longer be My Biggest Obstacle (9/15/14), Obligation or Opportunity (6/9/15), and From a Fizzle to a Finale (7/6/15).


 

The original list about being mentally tough:

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