Friday, February 27, 2015

Are you only happy on weekends?

Some people get to Friday and find themselves suddenly looking for a way to do something that makes them happy.  They go all week long, trudging through the week, with no happiness other than the upcoming weekend.  For some people, the happy times includes time with friends or family.  Others just want to kick off their shoes, sit back, and relax.  Then the weekend ends, and it is back to a Monday through Friday grind.

Don't let it be a grind!  As you head through this weekend, start planning ahead for next week.  Find your joy every single day of every single week!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The whites of his eyes!

Have you ever been so absolutely certain you were right about something that you were unable to see someone else's perspective?  This happens frequently with all of us, but even more with teenagers.  Think about a time you told something to a 13-year-old and witnessed a world record eye-rolling.  As the adult, you know that you are absolutely correct, but the teenager absolutely won't believe you!

Many times, you simply want this kid to hear you when you say, "I have been through this.  I know what I'm talking about.  Just change your mind and believe me."

Most of the time, the teen won't do it.  He not only wants to be correct, he refuses to even entertain the thought of being wrong.  This is where the adult gets to choose frustration or patience.  Which course of action will be taken with this one?

The kid wants to make his own decisions.  He wants to be correct.  He wants to own it.  Sometimes, it is hard to let him own it.  Especially if you know where he is going to end up.  So as he glares at the ceiling through the top of his skull and tells you what he is going to do, what will your response be:

"Are you serious?" {spoken with some level of sarcasm?}


"Let me know how it goes?" {spoken with absolutely NO sarcasm.}

Friday, February 20, 2015

Who worked the hardest?

The Austin Marathon ran last weekend and it reminded me of a conversation I had several years ago after finishing the race.  My friend and I were discussing the various combinations of natural talents with hard work.  He had been planted at the finish line for much of the race, watching everyone who crossed it before me.

He watched the winner cross the line in two hours and 14 minutes.  Between the winner and I, he watched about 1000 other people cross the line.

I joked that I definitely worked harder than the winner because I was on the course for 92 minutes longer!  Chris did not argue that my year-long training regiment to prepare for the race was indeed hard work.  He did argue that the winner had trained for YEARS to get to the point where he could win an international marathon!

So I changed my question...Who worked harder during the race?  Was it me, or the winner, or the guy who finished in seven hours?

I think Chris enjoyed the question!  He started to advocate for two of the sides.  He said that the winner pushed himself to his physical limit to win the race.  We also guessed that the seven hour finisher had to keep working for more than three times longer to finish.  He also joked that I was smack dab in the middle of them, so I shouldn't even be considered in this conversation!

Thinking about students, educators know that some kids pick up new learning more easily than others. Some kids find geometry easy to learn while struggling with reading comprehension.  When I think across the years of the students that I have taught, the differences are amazing, especially considering that all the kids in one class are expected to master the same learning standards.

As a teacher, it can be quite challenging to know when you are truly getting maximum efforts out of each student!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Homework perseverance with a smile!

It finally happened last night!  My own 8th grader had a challenging math problem that he refused to stop attacking!  At 9:00 p.m., I asked him if he was almost done with his homework.  He told me he was on the last problem.  He said he had been working on that one problem for 20 minutes.

But when he said it this time...I didn't hear frustration.  I heard anticipation!  I heard excitement!  He worked on it for another 30 minutes.  He tested and tried several solutions!  This kid will work for hours and hours to perfect a soccer move, but not a math problem.  I don't know what little intrinsic motivator caused him to persevere this time, but it was fantastic to see it!

After almost an hour, I really wanted to tell him to go to bed!  Instead, I said, "I love that you aren't giving up, but you are allowed to put that problem on hold so you can get a good night sleep!"  He just smiled and kept at it!

I am looking forward to hearing about his results tonight!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Success Breeds Success

My 6th grader loves oatmeal for breakfast.  When he asks for it, he usually gets it.  Making a quick batch of oatmeal doesn't take long at all and it feeds the whole family.  One particular morning, he didn't ask for oatmeal early enough.  When I told him to grab a quick bowl of cereal because I needed to leave, he asked, "Can I just make the oatmeal myself?"

My brain's warning flag went up!  This kid wants to cook on the gas stovetop with no adult in the house??? He will burn the house down! I don't want to be on the five o'clock news!  I can't take the chance!

Then I remembered...he cooks eggs for himself, he can make his own mac & cheese, and he hasn't caused a single fire yet.  As a matter of fact, he has caused one less kitchen fire than I have.

Instead of blurting out my initial gut reaction, I asked him, "Do you know how?"

He confidently explained the process to me and it took all of 20 seconds.  I smiled and said, "Go for it!  Don't burn the house down!"

When kids want to do things for themselves, we need to let them.  Too often, we choose to do things for them.  We do this for many reasons:
  • It is faster
  • It is just easier to do it
  • We don't want to take the time to work with them through the process
  • We don't want them to fail
  • It has become a habit to do pretty much every thing a kid asks
  • We deem any amount of risk as too much risk
I am happy to report that the fire department did not make a visit to my house!  More importantly, my 6th grader is getting confident in the kitchen.  He even cleans up after himself!  Was there a risk of fire?  Sure, but there is a risk every time I cook too.  Was the risk greater because he is 11 years old?  Sure, but not that much greater.  He wanted to be successful at this so I'm sure he gave it his utmost attention.  He wanted the responsibility of cooking with fire, and he was successful!  Failing forward is incredibly important for learning!  At the same time, success breeds success!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The best thing I've seen all week!

Yesterday, I sat in the front office of a local school during dismissal.  It was a very busy, yet well-organized process.  A student entered the office and asked to use the phone.  I watched intently as one of the staff members assisted him.  She was absolutely fantastic!  She knew the child by name and asked why he wasn't heading to practice.  The child told her that his dad told him not to go to practice because he needed to pick him up early.  The child was clearly frustrated because his dad wasn't in the parking lot and he was missing practice!

The woman slid the phone across the counter and watched him as he dialed.  The student tried to dial the number twice with no luck.  At this point, many adults would have said, "Here.  Let me dial it for you."  Instead, she gently asked, "Is it long distance?"

He nodded and tried to dial again.  She continued to stand back and let him try and try again.  After two or three more unsuccessful attempts, she calmly stated with a smile, "You might need to dial a one first."

He tried two more times. Still no success and he was getting frustrated.  By this time, very few adults would lend more guidance.  Most would take over and do it for him.  Some might actually say, "I can't believe you don't know how to dial a phone!"

Instead, she respectfully and politely tried to guide him through the dialing process.  With this last attempt, it still did not work for him, so she did ask him if he wanted her to dial it for him.  I love that she did not TELL him she would do it.  The choice was his.  

He accepted her offer and the call was made.  This fine educator never lost sight of the fact that this was a child learning how to do something.  She never lost her cool or placed an unreasonable expectation on him.  Sure, we think that all kids should be able to dial a phone number, but in reality, most of us simple tap a name on our cell phones to call anyone these days.  This child walked in frustrated, tried out an unpolished skill several times unsuccessfully, felt the love and guidance of a teacher, and walked out feeling better than when he entered the office!  I do not know her name but I was thoroughly impressed!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Puddle Jumper!

I love the rain.  I also love getting outside right after the rain!

One of my favorite things is watching a kid size up a jump across a rain puddle.  Toes on the edge, a little bend of the knees and a swing of the arms...and jump!  Then the smile!  The great thing about this risk-taking leap is that the smile comes whether those feet clear the water or they make a splash!

The goal, the plan, and the results take almost no time at all...and end with a smile!  The goal was chosen, the effort was made, and the smile came regardless of success!

What about a more long-term goal?  Wouldn't it be great to approach it with the same puddle-jumper attitude!!!

Thursday, February 5, 2015


When I think back to some of the most memorable students I have had over the years, I wonder how my descriptions of them placed limits on what I expected from them???

"Little Johnny never had help with his homework and he couldn't sit still for more than 3 minutes."

"Little Mary takes care of her younger brother and sister every night while her parents work."

"Crazy Karl???  That boy is out of control!"

So often, teachers describe their students to each other like this.  These descriptions are not meant as insults to the children.  They are typically just used to describe the child's situation.  It was true that little Johnny didn't get any help with his homework, even though he could have used a little bit of assistance most nights.  It was true that Little Mary's parents worked nights so she was in charge of her siblings.  And Karl?  He was just a fun boy who was always more interested in playing and laughing than anything else!

Today, it is my mission to see the unlimited potential in each child.  Looking back, I wonder if I unconsciously changed what I expected from Johnny, Mary, and Karl because of the way I described them?  As educators, how do we see beyond the hurdles that every child encounters, even when they may not be able to do?

Isn't it our job as educators to help children shed those labels?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Patient or Proactive?

I have a goal!  It is a big one and I have several active processes in place to help me achieve this goal.  I continue to do what is within my circle of control in order to find success.  There are also some dynamics of this goal that involve other people.  So sometimes, the ball is not on my side of the court and the situation asks me to wait on things to progress naturally.

This is when the principle of patience comes into play.  I am extremely excited about achieving my goal!  Honestly, I can't wait!  I feel like a kid at 6am on Christmas morning!  But I must be patient!

Sometimes it takes time to get what you want.  When you really want something to happen, it always seems to take too much time.  So the question becomes, a matter of two principles.  Should I be patient or should I be proactive?  Should I wait or should I work?

Sometimes, patience is proactive!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Bringing it home!

Last week, my sixth grade son opened his backpack and removed several straws and popsicle sticks held together with masking tape.  He excitedly jumped on the floor to re-create the catapult he made in science class.  The truth is, he is a tough customer when it comes to being entertained at school.  He regularly calls school "normal" and rarely says his days are good.  This day was quite different.

When I asked him to tell me about his catapult, he said he wanted to use what he learned to build a better one at home.  He went into the garage and gathered a few supplies.  He also found a giant box of popsicle sticks (Doesn't everyone have a box of these things sitting around the house?)

I watched him from afar because I didn't want to stifle his creativity.  I loved seeing his brain work through his fingers to make another, even better catapult.  I loved that his school assignment carried over to further exploration at home!  He stayed with it for quite awhile, testing and refining and testing and refining.  He was excited to show me his progress!

It was tough not to play the role of teacher at this point.  He needed me to be the excited parent!  And believe me, I was excited!

After a little more than a week, he has gone back to his interest in catapults and rubber-band propulsion several times.  I love that he has unknowingly become a little scientist and I love that he brought home this excitement from school!