It was a beautiful morning in Tucson. The sun was shining (not out of the norm but beautiful, nonetheless), the breeze was slight, and the desert was in full bloom. I was on my run (which is more like a jog, maybe sometimes more resembling a brisk walk) to the gym when all of a sudden…..AAAAAGH! I let out a tiny yelp (by which I mean I screamed like a little girl confronted by a scary monster from the closet). Slithering across the pebbly path was a four-foot snake. From my vantage point of ten feet in the air, the snake looked like a devilish creature better suited for the gates of Hell rather than lying across the path in our lovely neighborhood.
As I reached for my phone to take a picture of the evil serpent, so I would have proof of my bravery to show Dave, I heard from further up the path, “What is going on? Are you okay?” A gentleman was walking towards me. I asked, “What do you know about snakes?” He snorted and answered, “My knowledge of snakes would fit in a thimble, which is fine by me.” I agreed, “I don’t know much either, just wondered if this was mean or ultra-mean.” As the man and I laughed like co-conspirators in an anti-reptile plot, I heard another voice from the other direction, “Oh my, look at this beauty.” The man and I both looked to see what this new woman might be talking about, but amazingly enough, she was speaking of the snake! She continued, “Isn’t she beautiful?” Ummm….no. I wanted to say. I did not. But she continued, “She is a really striking King snake, isn’t she?” I answered, “Hmmm…get it? Striking? For a snake?” The gentleman laughed. Snake woman did not. She bent down on one knee (did I mention the snake was lying on the path???) and said as she looked (no, glared) at us with narrowed eyes, “She is nervous because she knows some humans don’t love snakes.” I assure you she said the word “humans” as if the man and I were co-presidents of the “Bad humans of the world” club. Soon enough, slithery serpent slipped away and we humans all parted ways.
This incident got me thinking about how curious it is that the man and I could perceive that creature on the path as one thing, while Snake Lover perceived him (or her, which still baffles me how she would know the gender of said snake) as quite another thing.
It reminded me that often, our perception is based on the lens through which we see certain things. I was talking to a principal the other day. She said, “The district keeps changing things and adding new mandates, it is really hard to keep up. It is taking its toll on the morale of the teachers.” I agreed that this phenomenon is common place across the country. We talked about how some staff members tend to be able to roll with the punches and prevail, despite the “crazy” and others melted down to the point of incapacitation. What makes the difference, we pondered, between the personalities? Often, it is simply the lens through which we view life.
I just finished reading a Corwin publication called “Deliberate Optimism” by Silver, Berckemeyer, and Baenen. The authors talked about how some staff members simply have the capacity to reclaim joy in education. In the book, they quote Rafe Esquith (2014), “Optimism is the foundation of all good teaching. Optimism is the face of daunting reality is downright heroic----and that, in fact, is what good teachers practice all day long while others denigrate their contributions to society.”
Perhaps we need to remember how to reclaim the joy in every job we do. Our outlook alters the way we do our work. It also, clearly, alters how we view snakes on the path. Be safe out there.
Fostering dogs is such a rewarding experience. This last guy we had, Gadget, who got adopted today, had a very sweet and funny habit of not going any farther away from me than a few inches. Dave joked that when Gadget would come waddling up to me and nose me in the side, Gadget was asking “Yes m’lady, what can I do for you?” It was if he was saying, “I am so grateful to you for saving me, I will be by your side always”. Watching him leave with his new family today was bittersweet. He jumped in the car with the windows rolled down, and he stuck his head out and nosed me in the shoulder one last time before they drove away.
I heard H. Alan Day (brother to Sandra Day O’Connor and author of “The Horse Lover” as well as other books) speak the other day at a business meeting. He wanted to tell us his story of owning a wild horse sanctuary in South Dakota. While I enjoyed the horse story, I even more enjoyed the connections I could so easily make to relationships and communication.
Alan Day told us of how, despite not initially knowing a lot about horses or horse behavior, he set out on a mission to build relationships with them, one horse at a time. He said he quickly learned signs that the horse was ready to trust you. He said there were three signs that a wild horse might just be willing to trust you:
*one ear would be pointed forward and one ear turned back
*the horse would be making “chewing” motions with nothing in its mouth
*pawing the ground with one hoof while nickering
I thought it was interesting to hear that the signs of potential trust were so easily readable. Imagine if it were so simple for us as humans to know if someone was willing to trust us.
“Yes, the signs of trust in humans are easy to read: the big toe of the right foot will be pointed upward and the nose will twitch of its own accord.” But alas, things are not always so simplified, right? In fact, people who have trusted and been “burned” often speak of confusion, “I thought everything was okay between us. I had no idea there was mistrust”. What about the marriages that dissolve because of infidelity and the spouses who later say, “I had no clue”. Dave and I have a long-standing joke, “If you are a closet serial killer like ‘Dexter’, could you just wear a t-shirt that says so, so I don’t have to guess?” I have to believe, though, despite any joking, that I would see a sign and know if Dave and I had lost the trust between us.
But what about those work relationships? What about friendships? What about your own significant other? What are the signs of trust? How do you know for certain if you have built an unshaking modicum of trust? I believe, just as H. Alan Day did, it takes paying attention and caring enough about the other being to really take note of the signs.
Just for today, maybe we can focus on watching for the signs of trust between ourselves and the others around us. Whether others turn an ear towards us or drag their hoof in the dirt, we should be aware of how we impact others and how they impact us.
The cycle of dog behavior goes like this in our house. Gadget, our newest foster dog, sniffs L.N. (our middle girl). L.N. growls. Gadget whines. L.N. barks. Gadget looks at me as if to say, “I just wanted to play”. Dave and I get frustrated.
No more! We have introduced “the can” to this pattern. The theory of the can is that when you shake the can filled with rocks, the dogs don’t like the sound and they will stop what they are doing (chewing, barking, stealing an entire container of spinach dip from the kitchen counter---oh, wait, that is another blog for another day).
Prep for the can? Easy.
1. Grab an empty aluminum can.
2. Carefully cut off the top of the can.
3. Put enough rocks or pebbles in the can (1/2 full maybe?) that the can makes a really annoying noise when shaken
4. Tape or somehow cover the top of the can.
5. Ta-da! Ready to train your dog and annoy your spouse.
Honestly, it is a bit Pavlovian. After a couple of times of shaking the can (and Gadget looking at me with fear in his eyes that perhaps the can contains a trip to the vet or being shunned from his home), no one is growling, no one is whining. Life is silent again. The next time one of the dogs even thinks about whining or growling, all I have to do is lift up the can and I have immediate radio silence.
So, I got to thinking. What if there were such a can for us, as humans? Whenever we started to say something not quite appropriate or a bit sarcastic or snarky, some gentle hand would whip out the can of rocks and shake it in front of us in an effort to remind us that those words might be better left inside our heads.
Alas, I don’t have that can for humans yet.
Dave and I have been waiting three years for a check to be mailed to us from an estate in which we were named as beneficiaries. Finally, this spring, I received notice that all was completed and the check would soon be mailed. Just one more thing…could you verify once again (I’ve done this three times, already) your mailing address? And, oh yes, could you get a notary public to verify that you are sending us your correct mailing address? 'Ummmm….I’d like the check, please. Why in the WORLD would I send you an Incorrect mailing address?" I’m thinking that, not saying it, so the can of rocks doesn’t need to come out, YET.
I travel across town, get the form notarized, send it in, and…..nothing. For three weeks, nothing. I finally email the law office again, just to ask what the delay might be in getting the check sent to me. This is the reply I received:
“I was very concerned to discover you had not received your distribution as it was sent Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested on March 11, 2015. However, after reviewing the file, I see that I sent the distribution to the XXXXXX, Florida address. As of today, it has not been returned as undeliverable.”
No, no, no, that cannot be. You couldn’t possibly have sent it to the Florida address---we haven’t lived there for THREE YEARS!!! Not to mention, I just got finished mailing you (with a notary public stamp attached, no less!) the third verification of our Arizona address. (I’m still thinking this, not saying it. The can of rocks is still silent.)
But, sadly, even though I have written a bit about communication, I committed one of the big no-no mistakes in communication. I fired off an email without taking enough deep breaths. This, of course, is where the can would have truly come in handy.
I started the email with “Wow, really?” which is never a good thing. I made sure the law office was aware of my frustration. Did this get the check mailed to me any faster? Likely not. Yes, it is true that they made a big blunder by getting me to verify my address and not even mailing it to that address. But what good does it do me to rant and sarcastically make my point?
The good news is a check arrived at our correct address a couple of weeks later. The bad news is I didn’t have a can of rocks to remind me, as I remind folks all the time via communication books, articles, and workshops to think before your speak. The next good news is: I suspect I’ll have many more chances to practice good communication skills in the future, and you will, too.
Just for today, maybe we can focus on thinking before we speak or act, without needing a can of rocks to remind us not to growl.
As I have gotten older, I may have found myself standing in the kitchen questioning, “Now, why did I come in here?” My dear husband, Dave, says it is simply a sign of having too many things on my mind and not focusing. He might say that every once in a while when I try to play golf, too, but that is another blog…or two…or three.
Now that I think of it, this blog is going to sound like “True Confessions”, because in order to talk about knowing where to go, I must admit that I have a deep dark secret. I love to play video games. I have a passion for the ones in which I have to travel around the country or the island or the strange land in an effort to collect things or save people from the evil intruders. I suppose it gives me a sense of accomplishment (completing things and marking them off my list really feeds my obsessive-compulsive nature), but it is also a fun release from other responsibilities.
In the interest of full disclosure, I could reveal which game I’m currently playing in the hopes that some of you might have some amazing tips for me. But no, Dave, I am going to stay focused. My sad tale of woe is that this weekend, as I tried to traverse around my strange land, I kept finding myself at the base of mountain ranges with no way to navigate over them. I run, run, run to the east or to the west to see if there might be a mountain pass, but to no avail. I even found myself saying these words outloud, to no one in particular, “I don’t know where else to go! I’ve visited all the bells, killed all the honeybadgers, and cleared all the outposts. What am I supposed to do now?” I said that I made this plea to no one in particular, but sadly, Dave heard me and rolled his eyes and said, “Really?”
What I found out was that the key to not being lost or confused anymore was to go back to a home base, where I would find shelter, health, and people who cared enough about me to direct me on my way. All the demands I placed to the game system (“just tell me where to go!”) made no impact, but going back to a homebase and safe place did.
Interesting concept, right?
The same holds true, I believe for a school community, not to mention a supportive grade level or content area group. Professional communities provide a home base that can often bridge the gap between banging our heads against a wall and…well, not banging our heads against the wall and finding solace. What happens when we meet with those safe people is hopefully a bit of shared knowledge (in the case of my game, it’s “remember, you’re supposed to follow the next mission and not get too astray on your own” but in the case of successful grade level communities I’ve witnessed, it’s “I know you said you were struggling with a couple of new discussion strategies. I tried a couple of new ones I watched someone teach about and I can share with you how it went if you want.” YES!!! Please share with me! In professional communities of administrators, it might look like, “After collecting evidence on a teacher’s lesson, I keep falling into the same trap of wanting to write, ‘I like the way you…..’. How do you substitute that for words that are more objective?” And then the sharing takes place.
No more running to and fro, trying to get over a mountain by manhandling. Just return to homebase and maybe seek out the wisdom of others who might have traveled the same frustrating road. And, as an added bonus, when I did this in my game, I found a little mini helicopter that I could use to fly OVER the mountains. Ta-da!!!
Just for today, maybe we can focus on getting back to home base or a safe haven to share some knowledge and gain some wisdom.