Saturday, December 6, 2008

Giving Thanks

Jim, Katie, and I made our annual trek to Columbus, Ohio to share Thanksgiving with Erin.

Holidays are hard on Jim unless he is with his own family. So this year, he wanted to make sure we had a hotel room so that he had some place to "get away" from all of the family time. His discomfort turns into a bit of stress for everyone. After 4 days of togetherness, we were all ready for some time apart.

Holiday stress is something that affects all families in one way or another. People are expected to stop their routines to cook more, eat more, spend more, visit more. And then at some point, one needs to just stop and reflect. What is this time supposed to be about anyway?

Thanksgiving should be about Giving Thanks! In all of the hustle of the days together, we did not give thanks! I want to do that now... I am so thankful for where I am in my life. Here are just a few of the reasons why:

  • Erin and Katie and I have been through a great deal together. We share a bond, a very tight bond because of our life's events. Thank god we have each other!
  • Erin and Katie have accomplished so much with their careers. It makes a mom very proud indeed.
  • My job is one of continued satisfaction and yet I know that at any time I can retire. That is a very very nice feeling.
  • Jim and I have a relationship that, although not perfect, is our own unique blend of support and freedom. I love him for that.

As I sit here now reflecting on Thanksgiving and listening to Christmas music, I am very content. Stress and frustration are just life and this life I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Branson, MO - Home of the Lonesome Cowboy

So, Jim and I took a week off and decided to return to Branson, Missouri to see what the concerts were like during their Christmas season. I can now say there is such a thing as too much Christmas! Oh dear, it's still November!

The week was great though and a perfect time to get away. My job requires that I spend a great deal of time pulling teachers together to work on curriculum revisions. Well, they don't want to do that during the month of Parent Teacher Conferences! Good time for me to disappear!

Branson is like a haven for Tour Buses carrying retired folks! You need not worry about what to wear. Your sweatsuit and tennis shoes will do just fine. It's the lastest fashion there. Life moves at a slower pace. The cars drive slowly. People walk slowly, many supporting each other! Oh if life could be like this every day.

So this is much like that story "Everything I Need to Know in Life, I Learned in Kindergarten". This one is "And Everything Else Doesn't Matter!"

It was a great relaxing week that brought back some childhood memories, a few too many versions of Silent Night, but all in all a sense of joy!

Trip to Branson

Sunday, November 2, 2008

LIfe is Good!

My birthday was yesterday. I had a great day! I have two thoughtful daughters who made sure that the day had all the right touches. No cake, but a great aromatic candle and flavored coffee. Then an unbelievable two hours of massage and scrub decadently scented in chocolate!

The day ended with a wonderful dinner, compliments of Jim. Tuscan foods and wine! The day was completely delicious, if a day can be that way!

Actually, as I read book after book about life and hardships in other countries and in other times, we have a stunning life! There is so much to be thankful for.

And yet...

People complain!

Everyday, I listen to issues related to having more, doing less, wanting different, expecting something other than what there is! So I find myself breathing in the silence, when it comes along gathering energy to listen to more issues come Monday!

This weekend was about breathing in thankfulness for a life that has been very good to me! I did not have a charmed childhood, nor did I have rousing encouragement as I took life's steps. It's because of that or in spite of that, that I have the life I have now.

And now is fantastic!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nothing Lasts Forever

Hang on to the beauty of the day! The air is turning colder. The nights creep up quickly! Daylight is too often overcast now! Nothing about any of this sounds appealing! Hold on to the feelings! Hold on to the warmth! And remember, nothing stays as it is for long.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fall Is In the Air

And so it should be. After all, it is October and it is Wisconsin! When seasons change so dramatically, as they do here in Wisconsin, though, the beauty of each day takes on a different meaning. Right now, I linger on each day of sunshine. It's like I want to harvest the warmth to have it available to me in the upcoming dreary months.

Fall is the smell of burning leaves, the brilliant colors of fall leaves, wooly bears creaping along pathways, geese and ducks flying in formation overhead.

Fall is the end. But fall is also preparation for something. The cycle never ends. It renews!

My thoughts always circle around the world I live in which is education. Each year, as a new school year begins at the end of a summer and the beginning of a fall, the visual scenery seems to shout in celebration! And yet, for all the living things, there is a saddness for the loss! For teachers, the lingering warmth, the long days, all give way to a hectic schedule and deadlines! For those who closed their classroom doors in early June and pursued other things during the summer months, it becomes a new stress over and over again, year after year.

The plants and animal kingdom has the beauty of predictability. It allows animals to prepare for the inevitable. If everything was predictable each fall in schools, the reentry would be less stressful. There is a desire and even heartfelt attempts to keep things predictable. Adults talk of children needing a sense of predictability and boundaries. Children are supposed to develop in a certain order that we can hold as a constant.

And yet, while adults try to hold on to these boundaries and this order, the world changes. The adults in the schools want to believe that September will always stand for specific activities, followed the same way by October, November, and December. And yet, the world does not see months of a year or developmental readiness. The world senses needs! The world reacts rapidly leaving some frozen in anxious contemplation. "What's going on around here?"

Everything spins when it should be slowing down for a long winter's nap! "Everything is out of control!" for some. We can not control the seasons...we can predict them. We can not control needs...we can predict them! We can not control is part of the cycle of life! We can control how we react to it!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

We Teach Who We Are

I spent much of yesterday on the phone with my sister. She is in a writing class, working on getting a college degree. She is in her 60's and yet wanting to increase her options for jobs! her story was about being young, playing with our brother on our childhood farm. She wrote from her heart, a story that was full of symbolism. She didn't even know it! The fact is that she can't help but remember events that speak of her feelings, her love of that time, her loss of a time gone by and her love for the brother who has died. She didn't intend for the story to be sad but it was! She didn't intend to let people into her innermost feelings but she did! She couldn't help it!

We had a speaker present at our district Back To School Inservice last year, who shared this message, "You Teach Who You Are". His book underscored the simple fact that we can't help but have our values, beliefs, and emotions show in our everyday work. We are who we are! The point was to acknowledge it! If we are passionate about something, we inspire others to be passionate. If we are frustrated, angry, bored, disenchanted, we share that just as openly!

People, young and old, find themselves being very much like the people they are surrounded by. If the majority of the group is upbeat, you are upbeat. If the group is downtrodden, you become downtrodden. Students in our classroom do not have a choice but to model the behaviors we, as the adults, model. We, then, need to be aware of the persona we present to our public!

My sister, unintentionally presented saddness and loss while she thought she was sharing a joyful childhood activity of chasing tumbleweeds. She wrote with detail about pulling petals from beautiful wildflowers not realizing that she was infact sharing a saddness of the years that were being plucked away from her life. She explained that she was sitting in the rain. She was crying! She didn't intend for us to know but there it was!

We teach who we are! We can't help it! Be very aware!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"I love your laugh!"

I heard it again yesterday! "I love your laugh!"

I have heard this many times before and it leaves me wondering every time. Hmmmm, I wonder what my laugh sounds like or what it is about my laugh that makes people comment on it! Once someone said, "I miss hearing your laugh!" when I had moved from one job to another. What is it about my laugh that people "love" and "miss"?

I think the answer is's not my laugh per is the fact that I laugh!

I find humor in life. I find humor in things that other people find stressful. I laugh to reduce stress! I laugh because life is funny! Kids, in particular, are hilarious. They don't know it. They're not trying to be. They just are! And when we can shed the seriousness of life and take on a little bit of that kid like persona, how can you not laugh?

So, I am going to start telling others..."I like your laugh!" Perhaps we can start an epidemic of happiness. Let's all laugh the stress away! Its simple and it feels good.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

On to Another School Year

And so, another year is up and running. We spent the summer studying results for previous projects, interviewing for open positions, strategizing how to stay on top of our game.
On Tuesday, September 2, 2008, over 3000 kids entered one of our 6 buildings and didn't care about all of that work. They cared about finding their classroom(s), seeing someone that they knew and making it through the first day!
No one noticed that the floors were polished over and over again to an icy sheen or that the bulletin boards reached out to them with messages of WELCOME! No one could tell that so much time had been spent making sure that the kids were placed in just the right classes with just the right groups or that teachers were hired with just the right characteristics.
No one noticed. Or did they? They left after the first week with smiles on their faces! The hairdresser said "My kids LOVE the Middle School!" The sentiment was echoed in other places as well from unsuspecting parents. The kids are happy to be back to school!
Congratulations! Job well done!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Calm After...

Thursday's inservice is now a memory. As predicted, it came and went in a flash! Was it a success? Was an idea conveyed? Hmmmm...

Remarks so far vary from "It was the best inservice yet!" to "I hate this F@$%^ Sh@#!" There was laughter and cheers, anger and jeers!

So, what do I take away from this?

Change is hard on all people! The feelings that it creates range from anxiety to frustration to anger! Yet, we ask kids to change all the time - every class period, every year! Always expecting them to "deal with it!" One teacher was heard saying "In the beginning, when I realized that I did not see one person from my school, I was pissed but now I think that I will teach differently understanding how hard it is for kids to come into my room not knowing anyone!"

It's also funny to see how people of like minds find each other quickly! There in the back row of the session on Motivation sat the frustrated/angry "kids" sometimes with arms crossed, sometimes rubbing their eyes with a vengence! Always not participating, needing to be drawn in sometimes successfully and some times not!

Then there were those who hung out by the doors until there was a chance to escape. As soon as people were busy, not paying attention, they would disappear! In the end, about 25% of the original group had disappeared from the final session! They weren't there to hear the district direction for the year nor were they there to hear and see the remaining group sing and cheer on their peers who had the courage to perform on stage! They missed the celebration!

It is the same with kids! Something happens that makes people "drop out". They don't feel they belong. They don't want to belong! They reject efforts to encourage participation!

Last year, John Perricone spoke about how "we teach who we are!" If there are teachers among us who reject participation are they then not teaching that to the kids?

Friday, August 22, 2008

In The Still of The Night!

It's 3:40 am, the third night in a row that I find myself awake.

Thoughts of the upcoming Back to School Event keep me from falling back to sleep once awake. The event will come and go in a short span of time actually but the preparation and planning has been going on since last May.

The kernal idea was to have an event that caused the staff at our school district to be so enthused by a presentation that they would stand and cheer the culmination!!! Set the stage for the coming year with a show stopper! No small directive!

Now we have had motivational speakers, heart wrenching photo slideshows, and award ceremonies over the years. The past Superintendent even delivered the Back to School Address all in Spanish one year - small feat for our middle class, predominantly white school system! Still in the end, there were some teachers who would leave saying, "That was ok but I wish I could have just spent the time in my room! I have so much to do to get ready for those kids!" do you bring back a staff of hundreds and share with them the vision and direction of the whole district in a short amount of time, in a way that will spark a tense Back to School brain? In other words, how do you become more important than time spent getting the classroom ready?

Key Elements To Include

It must be:

  • fast paced
  • interactive
  • able to drive home the ultimate vision
  • relatively inexpensive
  • and leave them cheering!

Can you do that with 600 staff members? Teachers, educational assistants, secretaries, bus drivers, cooks, custodians?

The answer is "Yes"..."Maybe"? We will know by next Thursday if we have pulled it off!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Countdown to Another School Year

I so look forward to warm weather. I can hardly wait to dig in the dirt once again and see plants coming up out of the ground. In May, I crack my window open so I can hear the birds and I yearn for the school year to be over. The stress level is so high that I just want to breath in some fresh air and feel the sun on my face. Finally June arrives and all I want to do is sing! I am so happy to have time away from that stress!

And then before I know it, the summer is gone and I am facing minutes left until the stress begins again!

Just imagine if I didn't love my job!!!

I have spent 30 some years going through the same ritual spring to summer to fall...year after year. When I was a teacher and a young mom, I felt as though the end of summer was like the end of my freedom. In those days, I actually had the summer months off! Blessed time with my kids! Then as a principal, I thought that summers would be a time to bring back the order to an office that had gone miserably out of order! Instead, all the days that I worked went towards making plans for that next school year. The piles remained until the last minute still and in a rush during this last week, I would find a place for all that stuff so that it looked like I had spent the summer in blissfull organization. Then, when I moved to the District Office, I thought for sure that this would be the time that summers would be relaxed. Come in late...leave early...that sort of thing! Guess what, it never happens. 100+ interviews later, I am now sitting here thinking, as usual, "if I only had just a little more time."

It doesn't matter, teacher - principal - director of instruction, whatever the role, come August you stop sleeping! The stress has begun again for another year!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday Morning Quiet!
It's Sunday morning, early. I love this time of day. It's the hush before a storm!

When we were young, Sunday morning was always a mad rush to get everyone ready and out the door to be on time for church. It always seemed to me to be a contradiction with what my mom referred to as the "Day of Rest"!

This Sunday, the rest will be focused. It is time to start mentally preparing for the Back to School flurry. 7 days to go before the New Teachers begin their journey with me. 11 days until the big district wide inservice program - my major undertaking! It is always at about this time of the summer for a teacher and still for me that the butterflies emerge - anxiety over what will be the outcome of another year of school.

For teachers, the list looks like this:
  • What will the kids be like this year?
  • How will I find ways to meet all of their needs?
  • Will there be help for me if I need it?
  • What will happen with my own family and homelife when the expectations from work multiply?

For me, the list looks like this:

  • What will the new teachers be like this year?
  • How will I find ways to meet all of their needs?
  • Will there be help for me if I need it?
  • What will happen with my own family and homelife when the expectations from work multiply?

It is no different. My kids are older. My kids are the teachers. Each of them coming with the same number of differences as the kids in their classrooms. I need to remember to practice my own recommendations:

  1. Stay calm.
  2. Take time at the beginning of the year to get to know each other. Show them that you care about them.
  3. Set expectations for how people will treat each other. Let them help set the expectations.
  4. Share the plan for the year - give everyone a sense of direction.
  5. Tell them that you will be there to help along the way and mean it.
  6. Stay positive by finding one positive thing that each person was able to contribute every day.
  7. Ban negativity! It only brings people down. It doesn't solve problems. It creates them!
  8. Start small. Remember everyone in the room has the same anxiety as you do!
  9. Have fun! Learning should be fun!
  10. Above all else, LAUGH! Laughter eases tension. Laughter calms fears. Laughter opens up the mind to take in new learning.

Sunday morning early - the hush before the storm!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Trying to Catch the Wind

When given time to sit awhile,
I long for so many things
but then I just smile...

Oh, what I wouldn't give to try to catch the wind!

My days would go on and on with
no need for rest...
Yes, wouldn't that just be the best!

Hmmm, but I may as well try to catch the wind!