Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Impossibility of Blogging the Truth

Blogging the truth is impossible for a school principal.  90% of the stuff I want to cover really can't be told publicly, because most of it someone else's story, and, perhaps more importantly, all the stories are somehow tied to a kid—and I won't write about kids in any way that could be negatively misunderstood or misconstrued.

I could fictionalize some of the stuff, I guess, but that doesn't really work, because, you know, people aren't stupid.

The passage of time helps; I could write about some of the things I experienced years ago.  The question becomes:  How far back is safe?  A decade?  Certainly a decade.  Right?

Actually...  Probably not.

I guess I'm trying to blog without controversy.  Which is a lot like trying to eliminate stress:  It sounds do-able enough, right up until you try it.

A close friend of mine got another job last week.  It's a really good job— his dream job.  He will be teaching and heading up a department at a prestigious university.  His days will soon take on a different pace, pressure, and pull.  It won't be better or worse, necessarily—just a different universe for a guy who's worked his entire career as a public school teacher and administrator.  I envy him.  He's starting over, and he can take what he's seen and help others learn from it openly and honestly. I'm jealous, in the good-jealous way; I am so happy for him I could pop.  I'm glad he gets to do this thing.  He deserves it more than any human being on earth, and I'm rooting for him with all of the luck-bones in my body.  Not that he needs it.

Thinking about his new job reminded me of my consolation prize about not being able to blog the real truth about being an educator.  Even when things happen for teachers and principals we can't write about (especially on a public blog, of all things), there is intense learning in all of them, and they deserve to be told to others as learning tools.  All of my "day-in-the-life stories" tend to percolate inside my brain, and I'll often ask myself:  "What happened here that holds value in making me a better principal?  Is there something others can learn from it?  How can the story be changed to honor privacy but still demonstrate an important learning point?"

That's why I tell versions of stories to my graduate students.  They come to class after a loooong day of teaching, all slumpy and dull-eyed.  Their backpacks and bags thump heavy on the floor next to their desks.  This time of year, it's dark and gray and slushy, too, which is squelches the positivity of... well, anyone.  Which is why I always open class with, "I have a reallllllllly good one for you today..."

They sit up.  They attend.  They relate—their arms raise with a question or a story of their own, or they explain a similar experience.  We spend a chunk of time breaking it all apart:  How was the situation handled?  Did things turn out well or was the whole thing bungled?  What could have changed its course?  Stories grab my students' attention and, conveniently, demonstrate the applicability to key points on my syllabus.

There is so. from stories.  So while I don't tell them here on this blog, they really are my best teaching tool.  With character names changed, and a few key detailed altered for privacy, I can give a story a brand new purpose and plan, multiplying its scope into supercharged real-life learning.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Cyclical Gratitude

Not long ago, I was overboard on frustration and irritation; everything grated on me, and I felt very off-balance.  I couldn’t quite get myself together.  I was stumbling— and I knew it.

That’s progress, by the way: Sometimes, when I’m in a bad place, I spend a great deal of energy hissing to myself, “I’m fine.  I’m fine.  I’m fine.”  Until I believe it, or it actually comes true, or life smothers the issue.  It's only later I realize how not fine I'd been.  

This time, knowing I was off-kilter, I made the conscious decision to just keep on keepin’ on.  Everything balances out, no?

I ran into an acquaintance at the grocery store, somewhere between the Oreos and the Cheez-its.  We did the “how-are-you” thing.  

When it was my turn to answer, I shrugged.  “It’s not an easy time of year,” I said.

“Oh, I know!”  She exclaimed.  “You know what you should do?” 


“No, seriously.  This really works,” she said.  “You should get a gratitude journal, and write in it every day. Just one thing.  Then, when you’re feeling down, read all the things you have to be grateful for.  It will fix you right up.”  

Let me tell you this: When things are challenging, and someone tells me to take a moment and feel gratitude, or—worse—to pull out my journal and count my blessings, I want to punch something. 

Gratitude doesn’t work like that.  Not for me, anyway.  I can’t flip a switch from genuine frustration or anxiety to—click!—instant, genuine gratitude for all the good things.  I can’t flush negative feelings easily, and I certainly can’t seamlessly float from unhappy places to happy places. 

Gratitude, for me, has to be built when everything doesn’t suck.  Recently, when taking a walk, there was a just-right-moment:  My mind was calm, my body felt good, the sunset was breath-stopping, my children were riding ahead on their bikes, and my husband said something super-funny—I had to stop walking so I could appropriately hoot. In that moment, it washed over me: I am so, so, so lucky. 

The feeling was extra-powerful because it was genuine, not just something I’d mustered up to replace something else.  And not because it was long or earth-shaking.  It was just real, is all.

Another thing I think about when I feel crappy:  O
ur school librarian sees every student in our school on a four-day rotation.  One of the things I appreciate most about his work is the genuine connection he makes with his students with simple conversation.  He doesn’t just say, “How was your day?”  He asks them what is happening, how they feel about it, and how they react to challenges.  He uses what they say to teach something important—not in a lecture-y way, but just asking the students to think about how their action and reaction contribute to their attitude.  A few weeks ago, I heard him talk about bad days.  “When things are hard, is it because you had a hard day—or because you had a hard five minutes?”  He wants them to identify the difference.  Because it's an important distinction.  If there are 17,000 minutes in a day, and only a fraction of those are icky, there’s certainly time to embrace the good that came to us in the other thousands of minutes.   

Gratitude is a cycle—it emerges, it fades, and it emerges again.  

I like to grab it when it’s there and, when it’s not, wait.  For me, it can’t be forced.  But time will bring it back around.  

Cyclical gratitude.  

If I feel it, and share it, then I feel it again.  It’s a nice promise that comes from universe, no? 

The Experience of Living

I don't watch much TV, but every now and then, especially in winter or on thick, thundery or snowy days, my kids and I get into a blanke...