I know...I know....it's football season, so this may be a sore subject for some. But I am not really talking about football today (I think I just lost some of my readers; sorry!). During church this morning, our priest was talking about how we tend to forget, sometimes, that we are all on the same team. Yes, we may root for different sports teams, we may vote for different political parties, we may believe in different religions (or none at all), but ultimately, I believe we are all on the same team. I hope it doesn't sound too Pollyanna of me, but I totally buy into the notion that I can love every single one of my family members and all of my dearest of friends, without reservation, even if we don't hold the exact same political, climate, vaccine, or immigration views. Why? Because we are ultimately all on the same side.
Let me start with an example. I came to a conclusion when the internet first became a big "thing" (I'm typically late to the party, so I won't say what year this was) that our Higher Power (God, Abba Father, Adonai, El-Shaddai, Allah, whatever you choose to call Him) was like the worldwide web, and our particular choice in religion was like the internet provider we chose to use. Our "internet provider/religion/spiritual path" has certain aspects that mesh most with our own beliefs and values. But that doesn't take away anything from others who believe differently than we do. We are all likely getting out to the worldwide web of our Higher Power in our own way, and we don't have to try to convince someone else to get there in our way. Yes, I thought I was pretty evolved for coming up with that analogy, but you can poke holes in it all you want.
Today, Father Brian said something that really hit home with me. He was talking about this notion of us being on the same team, and I was thinking, "Then why in the world do we so vehemently feel the need to convince others that they are wrong in their own beliefs?" He went on to give some great, concrete (okay, some are actually abstract) examples. For example, we all want "freedom". But how we get to our concept of freedom tends to differ, and therein lies the rub, right? We feel like our "pathway" to freedom is the right way, and then we feel the need to convince other people of our "right-ness". Let's just take one (of oh-so-many) example. We all want the freedom to make decisions about our own bodies. Some people interpret that as: I have the freedom to not get vaccinated with the COVID vaccination. Other people (or maybe some of the same people) interpret that as: I have the freedom to get an abortion if I was raped or for some other reason. This, I believe, is where the "team mentality" ends and we start putting on our different colors, carrying different pom-poms, or waving different signs or big styrofoam fingers (some are naughty fingers, by the way). But why can't we get back to center, where we all agreed we want freedom? Instead of listening to each other, truly trying to understand each others' reasonings for why THEY believe the way they believe, we get primed and ready to argue our own point. But to what end? Do we truly believe we are going to convince people to believe in OUR way? God (or Allah or Yahweh or nature (as my sweet mother believed)) is the way, the truth, and the light. So why do we have to disagree on how we get there? And why (in my own humble opinion) does it have to become a government-regulated issue?
In another example, all of us love the earth on which we live----yea! We're all on the same team. But, wait! Start talking about how to save the earth, and all of a sudden, we put on our team's colors and get out our styrofoam fingers to wave in each others' faces. "Climate change" either becomes our rallying cry or it becomes bad words...why? Again, I believe it's because we tried to make something NOT political into something political. Can't we go back to agreeing that we all care about the earth? Now go back to the beginning and let's figure out a way to fix it.
Yet another example? All of us want our schools to be safe places for students and staff to be, but try to get those who believe in gun control to agree with those who believe every school staff member should carry a weapon, and boom! out come the separate team colors again.
Finally, all of us can likely agree we want everyone in the world to be safe (Maslow said we have to have our basic needs like food, water, clothing, shelter, rest, etc. before we can ever get to the point that we are self-actualized), but bring up the subject of immigration, and we will likely all get on our soapboxes about illegal people entering our country or about the need to realize that illegal children might need to be protected, regardless of what their parents did or how they got here.
That's why I absolutely loved engaging in the series our church in Tucson did, called, "For God's Sake, Listen!", in which we were tasked to listen to each other in small groups without interruption or even without reaction to each others' views but, instead, we each got one minute to simply state what we believed. It was only after each person in the group had shared their thoughts did we engage in civil discussion about the topic at hand. And, even then, we were tasked to not try to convince someone else that they were wrong but to simply discuss the issue, maybe even bringing up the notion of, "I hadn't thought about that until Barbara brought that up."
I am a huge fan of the author, Jodi Picoult. Her novels are typically based on some ethical dilemma. No matter where you stand on the topic of abortion, reading her book, "A Spark of Light" might encourage you to think outside your own bubble. I have VERY strong views on that subject, but after reading her book, I totally am able to see all sides (I think there are many more than two sides, by the way) of the topic.
I pray deeply for a world in which we can truly be on the same team, and we can agree that we might often disagree, but we can still love and listen to one another.
A dear friend of mine called last night. We haven't talked in nearly two years. She told me how much I had helped her in the past and that she was ashamed that she hadn't called to thank me. She said her dad had even told her to call me, but she kept putting it off. The more she put it off, the more she felt guilty about not calling, the more she felt ashamed to call. Boy, could I totally relate. We laughed and shed a couple of tears and were both so grateful to be able to talk openly and honestly.
Today's sermon was about how often we don't ask questions for fear of looking ridiculous. I could relate to that, as well. I always tell my graduate students to ask for clarification from the feedback I give them on their papers, but I had one student who told me in the 6th week of the 6-week course that she had just realized how to open her paper back up to view my comments (to her credit, we have a new system that makes you have to download the paper before you can read the comments on the Word document). She said she spent hours going back and reading all the comments on all the papers she had written throughout the semester. She finally felt comfortable enough to tell me that she could not figure out what I had meant every week when I said, "Be sure to read the specific comments I've written on your paper, and let me know if you have any questions for next week." Why? She was afraid to look dumb in asking the question.
I was teaching a group of high-school teachers about the need to build rapport before we can build rigor (the new "catch-phrase" seems to be "We need to Maslow before we can Bloom", but I have a tiny problem with turning these famous thinkers' names into verbs, so I'll stick with my own "Build Rapport Before Rigor"). I had given some directions to the teachers about writing a quote that exemplified the need to build relationships with students. I told them they had about a minute or so of individual work time then we would talk about what they had come up with; one teacher (out of the literally 100 teachers in the room) raised his hand and asked, "Can you just say again what you are asking us to do?" In the middle of 100 people, that teacher was not afraid to say, "I don't get it. I need you to give that direction a different way". I complimented him, making the connection that I believe that is just what we need to do with all of our students (whether they are five years old or 75 years old): create an environment in which asking questions of the instructor or of each other is not only permitted but encouraged.
For what reasons do I not ask questions? It typically has everything to do with my own insecurities about looking dumb. I want you to think that I know what I am doing, when in reality, I sometimes don't have a clue. What gets in the way of asking for help or answers? Typically, it is my pride, my own fear, or my own control issues. I want to appear to be on top of things...and yet...I am the one who tells my graduate students, my doctoral students, and all the participants in workshops I teach, "Vulnerability does not equate to weakness". In fact, in my experience, when I share my own vulnerabilities, it paves the way to others feeling more comfortable in sharing theirs. And when I share that I may not have all the answers, it allows people to be a little less harsh, I think. Just as I opened my website to write this blog, I saw a note from a former participant in a workshop I taught earlier this month. He wrote an apology for talking about something "off-topic" when I visited his break-out room during a training. He went on to explain the reason he was talking about his frustration, but he came back to the apology. He thanked me for the resources I had provided and for what he felt was a really great workshop. I couldn't help but see the irony of the timing. As I am preparing to write a blog on what fear holds me back from doing, I was faced with someone who shared their vulnerability and apology. Lest any of us forget, we are only human, and we are apt to make several mistakes along this journey of life. I am eternally grateful I don't have to be perfect, that I don't HAVE to take myself so dang seriously, and that I can, indeed, laugh at myself when I say something ridiculous in the middle of a workshop filled with 100 people.
What is fear keeping you from doing today? I hope the answer is "nothing", but if you are anything like me, there is likely something, and I pray that you realize in what good company you are if you make a mistake.
Dave calls it the "yabbits". You know, when someone says something you don't agree with, and you come back with "Yeah, but..." and then proceed to state your case. Or, could that just be me? I think not. In fact, I know not. A couple of years ago, I talked in one of my blogs about the initiative our priest was trying at our Episcopal church, called "For God's Sake, Listen!" The premise was that we would gather together in groups of 5 or so people and read a bit of information about a topic (we started out with something mundane like types of coffee, something about which I had no care, to be quite honest). Then we would proceed to talk about the topic, stating our views about it. The caveat was each person had one minute, uninterrupted, to share their thoughts. The next person (we just went around the circle) would not reply to the previous comments but would instead just simply state their own opinion. After everyone had their "minute" to share, we would then start the discussion. There were some interesting things I noticed about this protocol:
Dave and I have now been married for over 29 years. I have said before that we hold many different views about many different topics, some political, some not. Politically, we have often "canceled out" the other person's vote, joking that it made no sense to even go vote. But of course it does make sense, as it is our right and civic duty to cast our vote for what we believe, right?
What is not right, in my humble opinion, is to call each other names for what another person believes. This bugs me on so many levels, most of which stem from my belief that life would be pretty darn boring if we all agreed with each other. I think of Stepford Wives, in which the characters simply do what is expected of them despite their opinions that must stay hidden for some unknown reason. One thing Dave and I have learned to do is to try to avoid the "Yabbits" or responding against the other person's thoughts before we give the other person a chance to simply state what they believe and why they believe it. In the past few years, we have somehow adopted the practice of saying "You might be right about that" even if we don't agree, because as we all know, nobody has ALL the facts on most subjects, and much of what we see and hear in the news or social media is subject to interpretation....thus forming our opinions. We also always try to listen to the other person without interrupting their train of thought. When we do that, it seems that the volume of our conversation doesn't rise to a very high decibel level, as there is no need to raise your voice if the other person is not arguing with you or saying, "Yeah, but...".
I've been listening to Matthew McConaughey's Greenlights (2020) the last few weeks when I run. I love hearing him tell stories about growing up in Texas, but the thing that has most recently struck me as important is his story that he tells about being with two African tribesmen in a "nightclub" of sorts. He describes how a lady of the evening strolls through the establishment, and one of the men says something about her doing something wrong and immoral. The other man listens then says he believes she has a right to do whatever she wants. McConaughey describes how he thought about what both had said then weighed in, agreeing that what the first man said was "right". The man with whom he had agreed immediately turns on him, saying, "It is not about who is right! It is about 'do you understand?'" What a concept! Imagine if all the people who post provocative statements on Facebook (seemingly trying to prove their "right-ness") simply had conversations with others in an effort to understand others' views and to have their own understood? Stephen Covey (2004) thought this concept was important enough to make it one of the seven habits that would make people "highly effective". The habit is named "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." In other words, what is most important is not that we are understood but that we understand the points of view of others before imposing our own or bashing others' views. I have often quipped, "Do we want to BE right or do we want to make it alright?" I jokingly say my former answer would have been, "Can't I have it both ways?" But after further contemplation (and maybe a bit of wisdom with age and experience), I've realized that no matter how right I am in my "rightness", I'm not likely to change someone's opinion, especially if I steamroll over them with my own opinion. What is more important, however, to keeping solid relationships, I believe, is the ability to understand that people are going to have their own beliefs and opinions, and I can choose to accept those as the thoughts of that person or I can bang my head against a wall trying to get them to believe the same way I do (which is likely never going to happen). Since when has someone who is name-calling, gnashing their teeth, using foul language and overall acting like a toddler having a tantrum ever made you say, "You know what? You must be right about that. I am changing my opinion on that topic since you seem to be so passionate about it" ? Ummm....I'm guessing the answer is a resounding "NEVER". Instead, what if we listen to another state their opinion for a full minute without interruption (you'll be surprised to see how long that feels to the speaker, by the way), then take our own minute to state our own view without arguing against the other person's view? That is my challenge to each of you --- and to myself as well--- for the next few weeks. Ready to take the plunge, or should we argue about it?
Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic ([Rev. ed.].). Free Press.
McConaughey, M. (2020). Greenlights.
Dave taught me this years ago. I would often get frustrated with businesses who I felt like should read my mind. I would go in and complain to a business for messing up an order. Dave began asking me, "What do you want? Whatever you want, you should ask for it." Hmmm....what a novel idea.
So, I think I began learning a really good lesson. Ask! And, even better yet, ask nicely. Now that really is a novel idea, apparently, if you watch people up at the airline gates speaking to gate agents. I witness people yelling at those poor gate agents or even at flight attendants (about a flight that is going to get in late) for the potential of missing connecting flights (as if the flight attendants could make the plane go any faster!).
Speaking of flights, I am traveling for work this week. I had booked my flights a couple of months ago. Apparently, my bozo move was that I booked one of the flights a day too early (actually, the day I will be working with a school district)----oops! I just realized that yesterday. I decided to call and see what we could do to get the flight moved forward a day. The agent I spoke with said, "You can, but it will add $1000 to your cost." WHAT???! I almost screamed that to her. Instead, I said, "I am truly a loyal customer. I'm hopeful you can take pity on my idiocy and find out if we can get that change done without charge." She said, "Let me go check with our pricing department" and off she went. Five minutes later, she came back and told me it was all done with no charge. She asked me to refresh my application and see if it was good. I looked, and I joked with her, "Oh wait, it looks like I am going to Jamaica now." She said, "Oh no, wait!" and then I said, "Just kidding...it's all good." She started cracking up, and we both laughed, and then I said, "You are a rockstar! I would send you to Jamaica if I could". She was so grateful she could help, and I was certainly grateful for her help.
When we went to Hawaii a couple of weeks ago, one of the places we stayed was absolutely beautiful. It also had a couple of issues, such as a non-working microwave and a sliding screen door that did not slide. We reported the issues to the management company that, by the way, did nothing to help out ("We'll try to get someone out there in two or three days"---we were only there a week). I emailed the lady who owned the property, and I simply told her that her place was just lovely but we were having troubles getting the management company to help us out. We asked if she might be able to help us coordinate with them, and she did so much more than that. She refunded a bunch of money to us and apologized profusely for their negligence.
I think I have realized how much people appreciate customers being kind. Simply asking instead of griping is the difference that it takes to sometimes get exactly what you want...and more! Instead of being resentful, we end up being pleasantly surprised many times. Thanks, Dave, for your words of wisdom that help me not only get better things in life but they make me BE better in my life.
I am going to go ask Dave (nicely, of course) if he will scratch my back where I just had some stitches put in this week for a minor procedure. I am sure he will do it if I say "Pretty please".
I was working with educators and educational leaders this week on the culture of trust in their schools, and one of my participants made fun of me, because I had called on her to answer a question, saying, "Jenna, I can tell you have something you want to say." She asked me how I knew. I said, "From my vantage point, I can tell when someone has something they are mulling over or that they want to say but aren't sure whether they should say it or not. The kicker is how to make people feel like it's a safe enough environment in which to say what's on their minds." Heads nodded, and I realized it's so similar to what I used to see in my own classrooms when I was a teacher (or when I taught character education lessons to classes as a guidance counselor or principal)----you could always tell when a student had something they wanted to say from the look in their eyes.
And so it goes with air travel, as well, I have found. Have you ever watched the gate agents when you and your fellow passengers haven't yet boarded the flight, and the flight is scheduled to leave in 10 minutes (Newsflash: it is NOT leaving in 10 minutes if this is the case)? Just watch their eyes as they look out into the concourse---they are likely looking and waiting for a flight crew (or a member of the flight crew) to show up so they can begin boarding. If they are looking toward the jetbridge, they are likely looking for someone to call them to tell them it is okay to start boarding the flight. If they are looking at each other then back to the intercom, they are trying to figure out who is going to break the news to us that our plane has maintenance issues and many of us are not going to make our connecting flight in Chicago (or Atlanta or Dallas or wherever that hub is for your particular airline).
I love watching eyes. Dave has only to pick up the mail key for our bank of mailboxes in our rental house neighborhood, and Kirby (our 5 year old Lab/Clumber Spaniel mix) makes eye contact with Dave to ensure that his hunch is correct---they we are, indeed, going to go for a quick walk to get the mail. I think it is so adorable. When we had K.C. (our first Lab who we said "broke the mold" for all Labs since), Dave would look up at the ceiling, and K.C. would track his eyes, looking for what could possibly be drawing his attention to the ceiling. It was so precious.
I've asked my participants in online workshops to please turn on their video cameras so we can all see each others' faces and eyes. I don't do it for any other reason than except for the fact that I know that people are more engaged when they can see one another (the pandemic certainly pointed that out to teachers everywhere).
What do you see in the eyes of others? Please share, as I would love to hear your thoughts.
I suppose it is a bit ironic that my last post was about Red Lights and Green Lights, and today's post is about "slowing down", but there must be some lesson I am supposed to be getting that maybe I am not. I have always said that my favorite verse is "Be still, and know that I am God". I know for certain that God is my everything....of that, I have no doubt. It's that whole "being still" piece with which I have always struggled a bit. I try to do too much; I try to pile too much into one day or one vacation or one PD session I am teaching or one trip from the car. Doing too much is just one of my character defects, but I do think that God laughs at me, sometimes. Instead of allowing me to go on and on with my doing too much, He finds a way to slow me down.
We are in the midst of building our dream home, which is really great fun and also a bit nerve-racking, as we hurry up to pick out appliances only to find that our garage doors are on back order. We hurry up to find the right counter surfaces only to find out that the windows we chose are on a 14 week delay. Am I grateful we even have the opportunity to build this amazing home? Of course. And yet...we simply have to slow down, sometimes.
We made plans to take Dave's sister, Linda, to Hawaii since she had never been. We have all been looking forward to the trip. We left Texas to fly to Phoenix for one night, where I did some professional development for Grand Canyon University, before we would leave the next morning for Kaua'i. As we were deplaning in Phoenix, my right foot was planted in the aisle of the airplane and I turned back to grab my carry on bag from the seat. I turned my right knee and heard and felt a pretty loud "pop". Flashbacks from 2002 when I tore my ACL in my left knee and felt that same popping sound just in a different spot on a different knee. We waited to see what would happen (plus, I had to rush to go conduct my training from our hotel room all that afternoon), and every time I turned wrong, my right knee felt like it was going to buckle underneath me. On Kaua'i, we went to an Urgent Care to have it checked out. The diagnosis? I strained (not tore, for now, thank goodness!) my lateral colateral ligament in my right knee. Running is not in my future for a few weeks, and I am instead wearing a brace in order to feel some stability. Slooooooowwwwww down, Shelly. Well, now, I don't have a choice. I am planning to spend the next several days in Hawaii, reading and hanging out on our patio, by the pool, and on the beach. Yes, we're doing some sightseeing; yes, I am doing some walking; yes, I will enjoy the scenery, but the main goal is simply to slow down and heal. Maybe someday, I can learn some lessons the easier, softer way instead of being pummeled over the head with them. In the meantime....in the words of my dear friend, Cid Smith, "life sucketh not".
Did anyone else play this game when you were little besides me? You know the one. You start with everyone along the starting line; when the "leader" says 'Green Light', everyone moves towards the finish line. When the leader says 'Red Light', everyone must immediately stop. If players are caught still moving when the leader calls 'Red Light', they must go back to the starting line.
I haven't thought about that game in a very long time. I do remember not liking it very much, but I couldn't have told you why. Now, I think I can be a bit more profound and say my reasoning for disliking it. It seems like it is just an essay in impeding progress. Maybe it is a mirror of real life, but I don't have to play a game that mimics problems in life. We have a game for that, already. It's called LIFE! (I just heard Jerry Seinfield's voice when I wrote that. If he wants that line, he can have it...for a small price).
I love setting goals and making progress towards them. I am currently writing curriculum for a two-day workshop I will deliver on improving purposeful student engagement. I have written the objectives/outcomes and set the success criteria (how will I know they know what I want them to know?). Now, the fun begins. I get to design the instruction that will make the most sense in reaching the objectives I've set. I'm using several really great books to help me design the curriculum, but nothing is holding me back. It is simply moving forward toward the finish line, and it is so much fun! Helping teachers and administrators is one of my favorite parts of educational consulting. I can see green lights everywhere.
Ah....but every once in a while, a red light pops up in my life. You know...the kind that makes you question the choices you've made? When red lights pop up for me, they are usually in the arena of my career. I have admittedly done everything that and so much more than I ever dreamed I would do when I was a little girl. My mother used to tell me I would make an amazing teacher one day. This was when I was seven years old, by the way. I taught for years and loved it so very much before going back to get a graduate degree in counseling so I could be a school counselor. A few years later, my mother told me I would be a school principal one day. "Sorry", I thought, "but that is not on my radar." Well, it may not have been on my radar at the time, but it was God's plan, for sure, for that to become part of my narrative.
I believe being a school leader is one of the most awesome jobs in the entire world (but, then again, Dave always reminds me, "You say that about every job you have ever had"---you caught me---that's true). And who was this prophetic mother who knew before I even did what kind of green light would allow me to become a principal at the best elementary school in the world (I'm very grateful I don't hold any biases)? And what about getting my doctorate? That most certainly wasn't on my bucket list of moves when I was a little girl. I did, however, want to become a ballerina for a time (I had the pink tutu and everything, and I would have even settled for any sort of dancer---maybe one of JLo's back-up dancers?) Alas, that was not in the cards for me. But getting my doctorate was a decision I made directly as a result of a red light that was put in my way by outside forces. And I am eternally grateful for that red light, because the cohort with whom I got my doctorate, (along with the professors, books, experiences and collaboration from which we grew) all made the opportunity a reality, and a blessing all wrapped into one.
Getting my doctorate opened up doors I never imagined possible....more green lights. I have been given the opportunity to teach at multiple universities, including graduate students who want to become principals one day as well as students who are getting their doctorates and need mentors to help them through the dissertation process. I like to think that, while some of those students may feel I am tough on their writing (a small red light that will most assuredly allow for more green lights in their future, I tell them), it has been a tremendous learning experience not only for them but for me, as well. Learning how to give feedback that is specific and timely has helped me in so many other areas of my career, namely in my own consulting, in which I am often asked to coach new and seasoned administrators in the intricacies of coaching and giving teachers helpful feedback.
It seems that so many green lights have helped other green lights occur (almost like when you are driving, and you get on that "roll" of green lights, and it feels like you have won the lottery----maybe that's just me? I love small victories). So, when a red light has been put in my life (like breast cancer a few years ago or needing to turn down a "dream job" as the timing simply wasn't right or I am not chosen for a position for which I thought I was perfectly qualified ---- cue the "ego-violins"), I have been momentarily shocked and frustrated. How can this be, I ask God or the universe, when I have done all the right things? The fact of the matter is that red lights are often the things that give me pause (which I, admittedly, do not do very well). They make me sit back in my proverbial chair and think about what I might do next...besides finish planning this and so many other in-person workshops I am going to be teaching in the next couple of months, while Dave and I (oh, did I forget to mention this part?) work on building our dream home in the Texas hill country.
When I run in the morning, I always try to listen to a book on tape (okay, sue me, I just dated myself---I listen to Audible books). The one I am currently listening to happens to be Matthew McConaughey called...wait for it Greenlights. In it are a couple of really great quotes:
Your life isn't always going to be green lights, but that doesn't mean we need to be running the red ones or risking it with the yellows. Don't get discouraged when you hit a red, it's only a matter of time before it turns green. It might take a minute, a week, or a few years, but in time, we all find the green lights.
--Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights
“The problems we face today eventually turn into blessings in the rearview mirror of life. In time, yesterday’s red light leads us to a greenlight. All destruction eventually leads to construction, all death eventually leads to birth, all pain eventually leads to pleasure. In this life or the next, what goes down will come up. It’s a matter of how we see the challenge in front of us and how we engage with it. Persist, pivot, or concede. It’s up to us, our choice every time.”
― Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights
Wow, just wow. What perfect quotes for me to hear, and listen to...really listen to. I have a dear spiritual advisor who has always said that, when there is a rough patch in front of us, we should ask: What's the blessing? What's the lesson? (If you speak "Southern", this really rhymes, trust me). Just for today, I vow to remember that the red lights that come up for me will eventually turn into blessings....and maybe some more really great green lights. I am ready!!
What is up with cancer???? So many of our dear friends and family members have been dealing with cancer, lately. I am amazed when I see the strength, faithfulness, humor and peace with which these folks are dealing with such tough cards. It has been 6 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I can still be catapulted back in time to the fear, anxiety, worry, and stress of that time. It was truly through prayer that the miracle of serenity would wash over me; that, and the hugs and love from Dave and all our friends and family who lifted us up. As I watch others go through their own journey, I am in awe of how we all just take one step forward, one at a time, because, in all honesty, what else can we do?
Today's sermon in church was on healing----how Jesus healed a 12 year old girl who had been proclaimed "dead". I kept hearing the words "Great is our faithfulness" as Father Brian spoke. That song wasn't even one of the songs we sang in church today, but I kept hearing it and feeling it. When my mother was dying in July of 2005, K.C. (our first Lab and on whose life I based my very first book called "Letting Go of K.C.") and I sat by her side as she slipped out of consciousness then to death. After the coroner had taken her body away (Dave helped so much with that, while Peaches, who was Mother's dog, and I went to a back room to wait), K.C. and I drove home while Dave drove the other car home. When I turned on the car, the Christian radio station was playing Natalie Grant's song "Held" . I had never heard that song before, but the words were so very perfect.
"Who told us we'd be rescued? What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares? We're asking why this happened to us who have died to live. It's unfair. This is what it means to be held; how it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive. This is what it is to be loved and to know that the promise was when everything fell, we'd be held."
Click on the title of the song if you want to hear Natalie sing it---it's pretty incredible. How did God know I needed to hear that song in that precise moment of losing my mom? Ummm....because He is God, and I am not? I have a sneaking suspicion that's probably the reason.
I have had some major disappointments in my life----needing to turn down an amazing job because the timing wasn't right; not getting a job for which I thought I was perfectly suited; dealing with adversity with work; having one of my students be disrespectful to me, etc. etc. But you know what? (you probably do, by the way) None of that matters in the whole scheme of things, and it pales in comparison to the gratitude I feel for life and for all those in my life whom I love so very dearly. Yes, in the heat of the moment, that bad news is not at all fun and does not feel "fair", but I have heard it said (and so I have stolen it and say it all the time) that if a bunch of us were sitting around a table and we all threw our troubles into the center of the table, I would take my own back without hesitation. Why? Because they make up who I am! I didn't miss out on the job because I didn't pray hard enough; Kelly and Lisa didn't get cancer because they weren't faithful enough; my brother-in-law didn't pass away two days before Christmas because we all didn't get down on our knees often enough. Life deals us some crummy cards, sometimes. But I know this much is true: if I am feeling like God has deserted me, it most certainly is not Him who did the moving---I'm the one who moved away from His healing hands that are always outstretched when I want to be "held".
Just for today, whatever you are going through, please know that I am praying for you (especially if you tell me what you are going through), but I am likely not going to pray for your ailment to go away or for your spouse to be resurrected, etc. I am going to be praying for your peace and serenity while you go through what you were going to go through anyway.
Now, if I could only teach L.C. to heel, I would be healed. :)
Do you want to hear what people are saying about you?
Wow, this is a tough one, isn't? On one hand, we want confirmation that we are on the right path, that we are doing the right things, that we are saying the right things, etc. On the other hand, feedback can sometimes be tough to take. If, for example, it is unexpected or unsolicited or even disconcerting, it can be a little painful to take.
What about not getting that job that you wanted?
What about having a significant other leave you?
What about a friend losing touch with you?
When I was a principal in Florida, we conducted "climate surveys" every year. Parents would fill out surveys on how well they felt we were doing as a school---questions pertaining to academics, how the front office staff made them feel, how they felt their children were treated by the staff, how they felt I was doing as a school leader, etc. Of course, we wanted, hoped, and prayed that 100% of our parents would feel like we were doing a 100% job well done. But that isn't life, is it? It is a universal truth, I believe, that many people who fill out surveys only do so when they are disgruntled. Have you done the same thing? If everything was great with customer service at an establishment, you ignore the request to fill out the feedback form. But by golly, if you had a problem, that company is going to hear about it. Blessedly, our climate surveys showed that our parents were almost always very satisfied with what was going on at our elementary school. We typically received about a 60 - 75% response rate (which is what you expect, even if you invite people to a wedding or party) and the satisfaction, overall, with our performance was always in the upper 90th percentile. Amazing, right? We certainly felt so. However, I would obsess on the few that we would get back that wrote comments about feeling I was unapproachable ("What?! Everyone approaches me! How can you say that?!" I would think to myself), feeling the teachers gave too much homework ("Who does that? They are almost always quite cognizant of the limitations of work at home!"), feeling someone in the front office was curt ("What?! We have the best office staff EVER!"), and on and on it would go. The problem was that I was focusing on about 10 surveys out of about 250 - 300 that were filled out. Such is my obsession.
Fast forward to today, when I now do professional learning for teachers, administrators, and university faculty around the world, along with teaching graduate and doctoral classes for different universities. All of the participants/attendees/students are asked to fill out an evaluation at the end of our time together (whether that is for 3 hours or a semester). I am quite pleased to say that, typically, about 90 - 95% of the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Unfortunately, I hyper-focus on the 5% (or even the ONE person) who say(s) anything negative. In one workshop I taught a few years ago, the one negative comment was, "You should serve Starbucks coffee instead of the stuff that was served." Ummm....I don't make the coffee; the catering staff did, and what in the name of Labrador love do I have to do with the coffee? I am here to teach! Along the same lines, I had a graduate student who wrote, "Dr. Arneson grades like she is married to the rubrics." Ummm...did you miss the wedding announcement? Wait what? Married to the rubrics? No. But do I follow them pretty explicitly when I grade? Yes, and you should, too, if you teach.
Fast forward even further to this week, when most of my workshop participants answered "agree" or "strongly agree" to every question asked on the evaluation form. But one commented, "The presenter talks a lot". You caught me. I do. This one hit home, and I will admit that is one of my growth areas---filling in space with words, even when silence is perfectly acceptable. I tell what I think are funny one-liners that go along with the content, but not everyone wants to hear that. While two people stayed after one of my workshops to tell me that they appreciate (in a workshop that was 3 hours long and late in the afternoon/evening) how my sense of humor and my silly jokes kept them engaged the whole time, apparently I am not everyone's cup of tea, and some people would rather me simply press forward with the workshop content than to make a joke or embellish on a point I'm making with a specific anecdote or example.
Let's review: 90% are completed satisfied, with even a few raving about how much they learned and how it energized their practice; one said I talk a lot. What do I obsess on? The one! It reminds me of when I was a principal and read that the 5% of problems take up 95% of our time. But that, my friends, is a choice. I can choose to focus on the one or two comments that don't rave about my hard work, or I can file those comments in the back of my head (maybe even keeping it in mind when next I present as something to note) and rest my head easily on my pillow at night at the knowledge of a job well done (by myself but also particularly by the participants themselves).
Feedback is important; of that, there is no doubt. How do you take it in? How do you process it? In what ways do you allow it to grow your practice? In what ways do you keep from obsessing over it? There is a great saying that goes, "I'm an egomaniac with an inferiority complex", and I think this is so true for me, at times. I either am confident I can do something or I don't believe I can do it at all. Finding that accurate balance is the great goal in my life.
I hope and pray that you are able to find it as well.
I am in the midst of creating a graduate class I haven't taught before (or, I should accurately say, it has changed quite a bit since I taught it last). At first, when I saw the magnitude of the changes, I was grumbling a little bit. More work, I thought. I have to start over, I thought. I have a new book and new articles I have to read, I thought. The current situation is that Dave and I are on "family vacation" with our two Labs, L.C. (Elsie) and Kirby (Kirby) in Ruidoso, New Mexico (where it is typically about 30 degrees cooler than it was when we lived in Tucson and is about 100% drier than it currently is in Texas). I have thought to myself that I shouldn't have to put in so much work while on vacation. But then Dave reminded me, "You live for this stuff. You read educational books for fun. Why would you complain about that?" I dislike it immensely when he is right, but sure enough....he is exactly right. I am video-recording welcome announcements, using memes to enhance my discussion posts, and generally refreshing this course that was becoming a bit outdated anyway.
Renewal is good for us, whether it is spiritual, educational, or simply life renewal. Coming back to center or stepping outside our comfort zone can be good for the soul. In other words, change is good. After being a principal, which I considered to be the best job in the entire world, for almost 8 years, I resigned when Dave and I moved to Tucson almost 9 years ago. Since then, I have been doing educational consulting for schools, districts, and universities; working as a professor/doctoral chair at four different universities; writing articles and books; and so much more. I love every piece of everything I do. Do I miss being a principal? Some days I miss it with every fiber of my being. But I also have had many educational leaders tell me that, while I may very well miss having my own "family" of the elementary school at which I worked, I now have the honor and privilege of being able to watch good teaching and leadership occur all around the world and spread those great ideas I see and hear with the next schools I visit. I accept that challenge and welcome every new opportunity with tremendous gratitude.
Renewal in life is good for the soul, I think. While on vacation, we are taking L.C. and Kirby on hikes each morning. L.C. is our 1 year old yellow Lab athlete. She runs up and down the pine-laden canyons, doubling or tripling the amount of miles Dave and I hike. Every day is a new adventure for her, and she loves it! Kirby sticks pretty close to us but he enjoys his own journey, pausing frequently to sniff at new smells and leaving his business card at every few trees or bushes we pass. They get it, I think. They get the notion of embracing every new adventure life brings them with their own form of gratitude (sometimes consisting of a quick and quite cool shake-off after they traipse through a cool field or stream----good for them; not so great for us).
I hope and pray that you find your own sense of renewal in whatever form it may come.