Saturday, April 26, 2014

Doggy Bag

Ever get your hand caught in the cookie jar? What about the poopy bag?

I did. And, I didn’t handle it well.

The other day I was walking my dog. She went, and I picked it up. Problem was there was a hole in the bag. I didn’t notice where the hole was until it was too late. The bag began to leak. I begin to walk quickly in the direction of my house. I begin to get coated. Life gets worse.

My dog, all 65 pounds of her stops, dead in her tracks. She needs to go, again. By this time my hands and arms are beginning to resemble the poop bag. She repeats the process. For those keeping score at home, Bella is two for two.

I don’t even have a bag for the first one, much less the second one, which is on my neighbor’s lawn. I decide retreating is the better part of valor. I wait until she’s done, get my hustle on, and figure I’ll clean up, get another bag, and get her other parting gift. Only my neighbor doesn’t know my plan, he just sees me scurrying away.

“Sir, Sir,” I hear from behind me. I turn. I am literally coated from hands to elbows in Labradoodle poop.

“Your dog went on my lawn,” says an older man, pointing to the spot where Bella did her business. He’s well-dressed, and quite proper looking. Think Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) sponsored by Polo.

“I see it,” I snap. “I have no room in the bag. I’m coming back.”

“Okay,” he says, staring at me. And, that is where it should’ve ended. But, because of my emotional - mental state right then, it didn’t.

“Is there anything else,” I say, turning fully toward him. We’re about 100 feet away. I lift up my hands and elbows so he can see them. “Or are we good?”

My question isn’t really a question. It’s not even a statement. I’ve just overreacted and unloaded on a neighbor. Who. Did. Nothing. Wrong.

But, my mind isn’t there. See, my Dad is in the hospital. He’s had four bypass surgeries in the last 19 years. He’s not getting enough blood to his heart. The arteries are fully working, it’s just not enough. There’s a lot of plaque around the heart. He’s got two options, stent, or some other crazy procedure I can’t understand. But the man who asked me to be a good neighbor doesn’t know that. He just knows what he sees.

He looks at me, stunned. He wasn’t expecting that response. Because, there was no reason for me to go there. None. And, he’s unsure how we got there. I showed no outward signs that something was wrong (minus the poop coating).

So, he does the right thing. He models graciousness and courtesy: “No problem,” he says, smiling. “Have a good day.”

Me, now I’m doubly angry, because I overreacted and am ashamed of my reaction, and, I still have arms dipped in poop chocolate. I need to make this right, I think. But first, I need to wash my hands.

How often do we form judgements about our students, their families, our teaching peers, or our administration, based on just the information we see? We see a child who calls out, acts out, doesn’t hand in homework, has trouble staying seated, fidgets, argues in a group, and we make a final decision without all the pieces in place. Have we checked to see if: they had breakfast, slept, were told by their parents that they’re moving or divorcing (or both), feel like they have no friends, don’t understand the content, have prior bad experiences in education, or come from a family who mistrusts school? Any, a combination, or all of them, can play a role in the output of a child. But, if we look at an incomplete picture and make a complete judgement, how does that help the child? Doesn’t it just give them the wrong message about us and about education in general, because we’ve made a generalization that many not apply?

We tell ourselves as educators that we need to drop our baggage at the door prior to entering the building. The students need it, and we deserve to give them our best. Remember “exhibit A” (me): we don’t always model appropriate behavior. The motivations behind our poor actions may have no correlation whatsoever to what actually occurred. Who makes a scene covered in poop? This guy, who’s dad is in the hospital, and has bigger issues on his mind than his neighbor’s lawn.

So, the next time we’re ready to make a snap decision as educators, realize that even though we’re older, mature, trained, and passionate about what we do, we’re still human. As adults, we do things we later regret. We handle things poorly. And, children, their families, our peers make these mistakes too. At some point, with enough reflection, adults can figure out why they reacted as they did, and then choose how to move forward. Children don’t have the coping skills or metacognitive skills to understand why they make the decisions they do. Developmentally, their frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until their mid-20’s.

Heck, I could tell you some of the decisions I made in my mid-20’s.

But, I’d prefer not to.

Now, my Dad will be okay. He’s been transferred to another hospital. The surgery will be performed by a doctor who’s last name is biblical. According to those in the field, this man can part platelets. My Dad will have his stent put in, he’ll go home in a few days, and we’ll all move forward.

But for me, I have to move backwards, down the street to my neighbor. I have some apologizing to do.

The Obsessive Educator

A hot buzzword in education is the term ‘connected educator.’ For the past year, I’ve gone to unconferences, EdCamps, and had countless Twitter interactions. We always talk about what a ‘connected educator’ is.

Well, what about an ‘obsessive educator’?

It’s important to recognize this type of educator, too, as they are a strand of the ‘connected educator’. An obsessive educator is eternally hungry for teaching and learning knowledge. So hungry, that they’re never full. They’ll attend Saturday free conferences the weekend before Thanksgiving because they want to learn something, be inspired, meet others like them, and go home with their passion ablaze. Snow on a Saturday in Philadelphia? No problem for the obsessive educator. The pros way outweigh the cons. The obsessive educator burns the candle at both ends, only because there isn’t a third end.

The default setting for an obsessive educator is to communicate. Once an obsessive educator learns something new, they need to try it out immediately. And, then share out: not to brag or show off, but to deconstruct what just happened -- so more learning can occur. They want to break down why something worked, why something didn’t, or what they can do better.

They also want to help others get better. Making an investment in someone else by sharing new knowledge makes the obsessive educator happy. They know at some unknown future point, their investment will pay a dividend because a student will learn. And, that’s in their job description..

The obsessive educator is a teacher first, next, and always. And with teaching, there will be times when their peers don’t comprehend the material. They won’t see its relevance. Why do that? Who has time? Everything is already good the way it is, the obsessive educator hears. However, the obsessive educator sees a different picture than others hear. They don’t see the forest or the trees. Their vision is longer term, and it’s beautiful: a place where we are all connected and an obsession with learning becomes the norm.

But, they understand that their obsession is not the norm now. They understand that not everyone gets stoked when Tom Whitby and Todd Whitaker follow them on the same day. They understand that by taking pictures of the educational badges from the conferences they’ve attended that people they love, respect, and even marry may call them “Nerd Camp.” Because, the obsessive educator believes they get it -- the rest of the world will just catch up soon.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Shiny, Happy People

It was the middle of a long week and there was no end in sight. My priority list seemed neverending. I grumbled as I walked into school. I was tired, and I didn’t care who knew it. My vibe was not a good one. And, it was the wrong one.

The first day I welcomed in a new group of students and told their parents not to worry, that their children would be fine under my care, my life stopped being about serving myself and began about serving others. This job stopped being about me a long time ago, and I’d forgotten about that.

I felt like road kill. And, that’s okay. It’s human to be tired. It’s not okay in our field to let it affect us, because that impacts not just us, but the students we serve, the families who entrust us to keep their children in the forefront of each decision we make, and our teammates who feed off our energy.

That’s why outside of this day, whenever a student or a co-worker had asked me how I was doing, I’ve always told them some combination of: “I’m awesome,” “I’m great,” or, “Never had a bad day.” Because everyone benefits from hearing that. Maybe it lifts us up, maybe it serves as a model for keeping a positive attitude.

Or, maybe my students, parents, or peers walk away and think I’m nuts. But, if they’re tired, not feeling well, or life has dealt them a bad hand that day, I’ve at least given them something else to think about: that guy must be nuts. How is he always in a good mood?

In reality, I’m not always in a good mood. I have arthritis, which can make some mornings tougher than others to loosen up and get moving. I have two boys, a three-year-old, and a 19 month-old. Neither has mastered sleeping overnight. However, I have the potential to wake up and put others in a good mood each day, and that’s a powerful thing. How many people can change someone’s day with a handshake, a smile, a nod of the head, raised eyebrows, or a silly face. Who was I to take away someone’s potential positive mindset because I had a long to do list!? That’s a misuse of power, and, that makes me sad, which is worse than being tired.

As I walked into my classroom, I reflected on how I felt, acknowledged it, and put it aside. Because, my day was now about investing in others: making each person I came in contact with feel significant, that they belonged to something, and the environment they came to each day was fun. This was no place for a sleepy party pooper.

I checked my coffee and diet soda to make sure I was armed for the day, turned on the tunes, and sat at my desk. It was time to review my plans, look at my morning message, and create another positive experience for those I would come in contact with that day.

We may not always feel like shiny, happy people. But, we do need to put that out there for our students, their families, and our peers. They deserve nothing less than our best. We can always nap later.