Monday, May 28, 2018

In Memory Of...

It is Memorial Day. 2018. 

And this date, every year, carries with it so many bridge moments. 

50 years ago, in 1968, our congress established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May and the day become an official national holiday in 1971. Memorial Day is about the celebration of those died serving in our armed forces. It is a day of decoration, celebration, and memory. For me it is a way we honor the bridge between my parents WWII generation and ours by honoring their service and time, and life. 

In memory of… 

Because of the timing of Memorial Day in late May, it also signals the end to another professional season. The hope of the 2017-2018 school year is almost over and the realization of that hope walks across many of our graduation stages (another one of those bridges) in the next few weeks, to enter into another era of life. And there comes a day when you reflect back on those many seasons that always end about this time, and you struggle to remember each of those classes and students. 

In memory of…

As educators, Memorial Day serves as a bridge we cross as we let go. Letting go of this class, these kiddos, those students, and all of the effort, time, sweat, urging, energy, joy and difficulty of our complex interactions with the community in which we teach. This school year for sure was packed with so many moments. So many challenges, so many victories too. 

In memory of… 

There is and should be no shame in the break of summer that is about to follow. Heroes need their rest too. And make no mistake about it; if you have chosen our profession, then you are a hero for sure. Your work, your passion, matters. And, if this is your final professional season, then this celebration is for you too. Your impact will fade, but your memory will last with those left to carry on the work. 

In memory of…

For Memorial Day is also a bridge to a time for reflection and personal growth. In the summer months that follow, it will be a time, to ensure Memorial Day 2019 will also be a fertile memory of ebbs and flows with the next class of students sure to follow. You prepare now, for the future that follows, and then becomes part of the memories for the next cycle of your professional life. 

In memory of… 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Finding Your Spirit In This Season!

 In our profession we are in mid-season. Halfway through the school year. And yet, 2017 is seven days from closing down. We are, on a break, and the spirit of the New Year sits waiting.

For some, 2017 cannot end soon enough. For others 2018 is coming too soon. And, here we sit, in the “spirit of the season” with all of the gains and losses that 2017 represents.

The word spirit is derived directly from the Latin spiritus or “breath”. As in the breath of life. This December has been one of losing breath and gaining breath for our family. A spirit of sadness and a spirit of joy.

On Friday morning December 1st, our dog passed away. She was 12.5 years old and an incredible blend of comfort, fur ball, and fun. Her name was Kutya, an inside joke and tribute to the 8 years my wife spent in the Peace Corp and the place our youngest daughter was born. Kutya (pronounced “Cute Cha”) means dog in Hungarian.

She was the kind of dog that just drew you into her spirit and orbit. Even non-dog lovers loved her. And if you were a dog lover, look out! No matter who you were, you felt compelled to just lie down next to her, and rub her fur for a while. She gave you more comfort that you could possible give back. 

She wasn’t all angel though. She had this way of eating the drywall off of an entire corner of a room when she was young. And she of course was seriously in love with any dirty sock and shoe. They did not last long if they were within her reach.

She slept by my side of the bed for as long as I can remember, and every morning when my feet hit the floor, she was there. She almost always helped me make my morning coffee and would sit by my side during those early morning moments of my quiet time before the crazy whirl of the day would begin. I eventually had to share her of course. She became the bed companion of our youngest daughter, and her best daily moments were in my wife’s office, sleeping in the sun, under her desk.

She began her life in the winters of Illinois and we had a long driveway. I did not want to get the paper each morning with it so cold outside. About two weeks after our morning lessons, at age 6 months she would go to the end of the driveway on her own, get the paper in her small mouth (in the beginning the paper was way bigger than her) and drag it into our house. Eventually she grew up and the act of the paper became a morning ritual with a big treat dangling at the end the kitchen table.

We eventually moved to California and her weird sense of humor would reveal itself in other ways. She was stealth dog. One minute she would be somewhere else in the house, and the next minute, with no advanced warning, there she was at the base of your feet. And you had no idea how she got there.

We would use a yoga mat to stretch after a workout, and she would sit on half of the mat, while you are lying down doing your stretching and just look at you as if to say, move over, this is my mat too!

We took a family picture at the holiday a few years ago. Of course, in the picture she is sticking out her tongue – and that is something she never did. Never. This was her way of breathing her spirit into life with you.

My wife, Susan and I have known deep grief in our lives. We are not foreign to its feelings or immune from its hurt. And this one hurt. As we held her in our collective arms and she just had nothing left to give us, our tears and the depth of our pain surprised us both. Intellectually we new 13 years ago, this day would come. Emotionally you cannot prepare for it. So, there is this big hole in our hearts. Her spirit and comfort is not easily replaced. That unconditional surrender to love that was in her breath, her spirit is now gone. 

And then, on December 19th, 2017 along comes Abigail Rose. Our first grandchild and the child of our oldest daughter. Taking her first breath as her spirit filled the room. In a flash of a moment she fulfills the promise of the spirits, the souls, we lost.  She represents a spirit of generations to come. Yes she does.

As does every child we are privileged to teach. 

Who are the spirits in your season, this season? Treasure them in 2018. and may we know the best of your spirit too. 

Happy Holidays to All!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Beauty Of The Days Gone By!

Mid-July and summer is here! 107 degrees as I write this blog entry.

We are, what we call in our profession of education: Between Seasons.

The 2016-2017 school season is in the rear view mirror. Packed away. All of its joy and its exhaustion. And the 2017-2018 season looms ahead.

We use this summer time to breathe, to reflect and to ask, how can we do better next season? We use the summer time to recover and repair, so that this next season of our professional life can become another good one.

We also use this time to learn and to grow.

To that end, more than 7000 professional educators- teachers and administrators used some well-deserved “off-season” time to attend our June PLC events. 7000! Caring professionals just like you, using the summer to examine current practice and planning now for an even better 2017-2018 season.

And, as I often talk about in HEART! many of you are also using the summer for some good old fashioned Quadrant II, taking care of yourself time.

Thank you by the way to all of you that are making HEART! part of your summer   reading and reflecting time. Good friend and colleague Jon Yost just last week sent me a picture from the beach, in a beach chair, sun tan lotion on, and there he is reading HEART! with the book open as he reflects on his personal leadership journey!

Or just recently the Parkview Elementary staff in Lombard, Illinois sent me this picture of their summer staff reflections with HEART!, via twitter. Thank you for letting me know! What Principal Roberta Wallerstedt and her staff could not have known is that for the 1st seven years of my life (1951-1958) I grew up a stone’s throw from their school. I lived on South Westmore Avenue.

That is a lot of summers ago.

So, that takes me to the point of this blog. The Beauty of the Days Gone By.

My 2017 summer so far has been a blend of recreation and work. And it was in one of those “using a summer day to get caught up with work” moments at home, that a song on Spotify grabbed my attention. The kind of emotional grab that makes you stop every thing you are doing and listen for a minute.

To sit and consider the path you are walking.

I immediately went to itunes and bought the song, listening to it 4 or 5 times in a row. I discovered the song is not considered one of this musician’s top 31 hits. I thought, “Really, it just made my top 10!”

In the 3rd set of the lyrics the singer/songwriter sings:

 So, I made time to “feel” my school seasons of days gone by. For me, 45 of them. Yes, 45 seasons spent in rural, urban and suburban schools. For you it may be 1, 15, or 26…but no matter, they are not seasons you can recover.

And, they may not have all been great. Maybe there is a “days gone by season” for you that doesn't lift your spirits for the work of our profession. But I hope this summer you can at least connect to the best of those days, as a reminder of why you are in it for this next season coming up.

It is good to be between seasons, I believe. How else are we to recover and renew? Our students are counting on us to be our best in this next season.

Back to the singer/songwriter, later in the song he sings:

It was at that moment, I realized why this song of the summer of 2017 had stopped me in my tracks. Had grabbed my emotional attention. Because in this past year, this past season, I (and others) have lost Jerry, and Jean and Rick. 

And I had lost the beauty of my days with them. Right there, in my kitchen, at that moment, I raised an imaginary glass to my personal and professional friends Jerry Cummins and Rick DuFour, and to my Gram – Jean.

The beauty of the days gone by

You have lost some too. No matter your age, or your wisdom, your hardship or your victories, there is in all of the “stuff of life” a beauty in the days we have known – even as we look ahead to the next season.

The song finishes with these emotional set of words:

 To contemplate my own true self

Who am I because of the beauty and the grace and the life of Jerry and Jean and Rick? Who really is your true self you will bring to your students in this next season? 

What indeed will be the beauty of your days gone by when it is the summer of 2018? A year from now?

Keep me young as I grow old
Keep me young as I grow old

The other day, I went for a 6 mile run. I wore my hat backward the entire run. And yes, some of my friends and family made fun of me a bit. Not appropriate for a 66 year old guy. So, why do it? Partly because I am an educator. In our profession, we grow older, but the kids stay the same age.

Keep me young...

Partly because it was a habit of my youth. It takes me back to playing little league baseball with my friends and our coach Mr. Giacomo, yelling at me to pay more attention to the game and turn my hat around!

Even now, my hats are always a little torn and tattered and smelly, just like in my youth.

This summer, the smells of good BBQ, or new cut hay in the fields, the sweet sound and smell of the rain in a summer storm, and the late evening air – these smells and more remind me of the best the summer season has to offer us – as we find relief from our time and work and effort in the days gone by from our past school season, and renew our strength and our resilience for the professional season that is to come.

Keep me young as I grow old.

 May you find you sights and your sounds and your smells of this summer season enjoyable to you and your family and find the beauty in them and in the people that matter most to you.

As you take a renewing break between seasons, may it prepare your emotional, mental, and physical will for the professional season that looms ahead!  

May you find, like the Van Morrison song, the Beauty in the Days Gone By your personal practice to  stay young even as you grow older

Your 2017-2018 season and the students just ahead are counting on it!

Happy Summer!  

Friday, May 12, 2017

Looking For Boxes!

It is May 12th, 2017. Your 2016-2017 season is almost over. Another season in your career as a teacher. Done.

It is a time where you can see and feel the finish line, and yet you are also and almost exhausted. But you will get there. You always do.

Each season is like one marathon followed by another, and then another. Each of them unique. Maybe this school year you started out strong in August, but by October, the forces of life knocked you down, or made you angry, or frustrated you out of your skin.

Maybe, those forces of life – both personal and professional didn't knock you down until a bit later in the year like it did for my wife Susan and I when we lost the community of life with both her Mom, and our friend Rick DuFour in January and early February.  

Maybe 2016-2017 was just your best year ever! So much joy in your work! And you are trying to figure out how to hold on to these moments, these kids, these colleagues, and these parents… yet, like everything in our profession, transitions are part of moving on when you become an educator.

You will have to let them go.

In 2017-2018, it will be new students, new parents, maybe a new Principal, or a new school for you, or maybe even a different job within the profession you love- teaching. In most cases it means that somewhere in the next month you will need some boxes. Maybe you are looking for those boxes now as you pack things up and get ready for the transition to summer and the next season that lies ahead.  

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld explains it like this:

To me, if life boils down to one significant thing, it is movement.  To live is to keep moving.

Unfortunately, this means that for the rest of our lives, we are going to be looking for boxes. 

When you are moving or leaving, your whole world is boxes.  All you think about are boxes.  Where are the boxes?  You just wander down the street going in and out of stores looking for boxes.  It is all you can think about. 

You could be at a retirement party, and everyone around you is sad/crying, and you are looking for more boxes. That’s a nice box. Anyone know where that guy got that box? When he’s done with it, do you think I can use it? When you retire, then what? Well, you will either unpack, repack, or store the boxes.

Before too long this school season will be strangely reduced to fading memories, one season blending into another. They are not always easy to tell apart. Maybe those memories are in storage somewhere. Maybe they are in the box in your car. Maybe you will repack that box before next season begins.

And yet, there will be defining moments in those boxes. I remember distinctly the summer of 1986. July 24th (A Thursday). It was the day I turned in my keys, said goodbye to my summer school students, my girls on the Basketball team as summer camps ended, and to my room. Room 210. It was a room full of my teaching memories, and…

My boxes were packed.

In two short weeks I would shift my professional life to become a teacher and leader at Stevenson. But for the moment I was held captive by my 6 years at West Chicago. They had been filled with joy and laughter, and sadness and tough times. I had loved teaching in that school and teaching my students from that very dichotomous community. I was 28 when I arrived. And 34 when I left. Six of the best energy years of my life, right? 

Fast forward 30 years, and those seasons fade in your memory. There is one box left from those six years. It sits in a cupboard of our garage. I think you just remember those years the way you choose to. I remember them as a time of strength and fighting for what was right. Of knocking on doors and insisting students attend school. I wanted to offer life lessons for success far beyond my classroom walls.

And then this past week, I received a wonderful end of the school season gift: An email from a 1980-1981 student of mine. He jogged my memory, reminding me of how difficult of a student he had been, and how strangely enough my class was one of his favorite memories of those difficult days a long time ago.

His name was immediately recognizable to me. I also taught his sister. It works that way with families, as their children grow up. He connected some dots of names and moments, and they flooded back for me pretty quickly.

To say the least, he did not need or really use the content of my math class to achieve his successful career. But he did remind me that he took away a feeling of hope. The feeling he had of a teacher that refused to give up, or give in. I told him, that his note, or more specifically the sentiments expressed, was so much of the reason I decided to join this profession.

As this season ends and you reflect on your work, engagement and effort, know that above all else you are a hope provider: You provide direction, your demonstrate faith, and you give guidance toward student growth and learning.

Great teaching does not just sound exhausting. It is.

So my advice: Re-charge this summer! Prepare for the next marathon of a school season that looms ahead! Who knows, the next one may be even better than the one drawing to a close this month.  

Make and cultivate a few very close friends. Stay in touch with people. Give of yourself. Read widely. (What is on your summer list?) Exercise regularly. Fight the rut of routine. Leave time for leisure. Have more fun. Take up a hobby that gets you outdoors. Eat less. Laugh more. Encourage at least one person every day. Plant a garden. Loosen up your intensity.

Start today.

And for those of you packing up your boxes for the last time? Keep them somewhere close. They are your seasons. And they made a difference. Thanks for giving yourself to such a great profession. 

Your students, are packing their boxes too. May those memories be great ones indeed.