Saturday, November 19, 2016

Questions to Ask

A few months ago, I wrote this post—about how reflection only works if we put ourselves in front of a mirror and take a really close look at ourselves, without letting blame get in the way.

I heard from some teachers and school leaders who asked for specific questions they could consider when looking in that mirror. 

Here’s a start.

When thinking about successes:

How did the momentum begin?

What was your role?

What was the antecedent to success?  In other words, where did it all begin?  

What are next steps?

When wondering what areas need improvement in your work:

Look at the people you work with.  Do they seem negative, frustrated, or unable to move forward?  Why might that be?

Are people talking to you—repeatedly—about a particular need or concern?

What makes you fill with dread?  What are you avoiding because solutions are murky or difficult? 

When thinking about traits you’d like to foster in yourself and others:

Make a list of your favorite character traits.  Install them into this sentence (I use "loyal" as a character trait in my example, because I looooooooove loyalty):

What does (loyalty) mean?  To whom are you (loyal)?  Who do you feel is (loyal) to you?  Why?  

What kind of people surround you?  Are they people who make you a better and bigger person--or an ineffective, marginalized one?   

When you are struggling in your job, and aren’t sure why:

What are you loving right now?  What is "filling you up"?
What is making you uncomfortable?

Are there ways that you—or others around you—could work more efficiently? 

Are you balancing your work with your life?  Are you doing the things you need to do to keep you healthy? 

What commitments have you made?  Are they the right commitments for you, for now, for the people you love?  Are you honoring them?

These are just a few questions to get you started on trying to figure out what is working and what isn’t.  It’s not easy being a teacher and a school principal, especially these days.  Pointed, focused  reflection on how we’re doing can help us keep balanced and tuned into our own success and challenges. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

I Didn't Expect Today

This godawful election is finally over, and like a lot of people, I didn't expect it to end as it did.

And I really didn't expect how quickly I would need to deal with my own feelings about it—my shock, my dismay, my acceptance, my grief—so I could help others deal with theirs.

It's my job, and I was honored to do it, today, of all days.  This day.  But I didn't expect it, so I wasn't ready, and I probably wasn't very good at it.

What took me aback?

I didn't expect to hold teachers while they wept.

I didn't expect to force the words, "You must get yourself together.  Because you must be your best, regular, uninjured self when you receive your students."

I didn't expect to tell them, "You must prepare yourself.  For children who are repeating what their parents say.  For it being their truth.  You must prepare for conflict and confusion in conversations."

I didn't expect to be angry.

I didn't expect that a night of restless, limited sleep, divided by bleary-eyed iPhone news updates, would leave me so ill-equipped for the emotional upheaval in myself and those around me.

I didn't expect a low-grade headache and stomachache all day.  That my eyes would fill with tears unexpectedly, quickly, and without warning.

I didn't plan to have no words to describe my swirling emotions.  There isn't a word that gathers it up, all together: fear + shock + dismay + betrayal + disgust + loss of hope + insistence upon hope.  Is there?

But I do insist upon hope.  I do.

And I believe things happen for a reason.

So there is reason in this.  Maybe not rationality, or logic, or anything that resembles predictability--but there must be a reason for all of today's unexpectedness.  And I will seek to find it, and seek to understand, and seek to accept.  And hope.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Modern Poetry and Quotes

My sophomore year of college, I reluctantly enrolled in “Modern Poetry.”  It was required for all English majors.  Obviously.  It was also the only class I had dreaded:  I’d always found poetry—the kind written by real poets—to be hazy and nebulous, and had never been able to penetrate what seemed a special, secret language found in poetry.

When the class started, I learned the poetry we would study wasn’t “modern” at all, but rather a study of very un-modern poetry.  The most “modern” poet on the syllabus was sixty years dead. 

Okay, then, I thought.  Whatever. 

The point, I discovered, was to show us the progression of poetry over time, and how it influenced poets who were writing in more modern times.

So: We started with Beowulf, then made a multi-century jump to John Keats, then spent time with Ralph Waldo Emerson, then Walt Whitman, Emily Dickenson, and W.B. Yeats.

Studying these greats, I finally understood.  These poets!  So, so good!  Some of their one-liners were breathtaking, in the literal sense:  I would read a line, stop, breathe, not breathe, think, and re-read.  These lines, written some 200 years earlier, spoke to me.  Me.  A scrappy but lost college girl who was trying to manage college and a looming life. 

I now recognize that I connected so thoroughly with these poets because of their simple way to encapsulate something real, something true, and something universal that everyone can understand.  In fact, I now identify my connection with these poets as the beginning of my ongoing love affair with quotes.

Many—most?—people love quotes.  They speak to us.  They are simple, one-line zingers that capture a collective reality, something we’ve all felt or can understand. We hear a quote, and we think, Yes!  We think, Someone understands.  We think, See?  I’m not alone. 

Let’s go back to the original masters, the ones that spoke to me so many years ago from the pages of a Modern Poetry textbook. 


Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.

Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.

And say my glory was I had such friends.

Emily Dickenson: 

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul - and sings the tunes without the words - and never stops at all.

If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.

Forever is composed of nows.


To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.

Right?  Those words?  Those thoughts?  How something said a century ago can still apply to us, today, here, now? 

I imagine these expert poets, penning these truths so long ago, with charcoal and ink-dipped pen.  And still, here, today, they speak to us with their essential truths.  We still share them, pin them, post them, and Tweet them.  And most of all, in this modern world of ours, we learn from them.  

Teaching, Time, and Water in a Sieve

"Time flies."  The nurse shook her head and locked eyes with the infant I held in my arms.  She was finalizing paperwork to discha...