Just Three Things

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Today I was searching for a document in Evernote and I stumbled across a list I created a few months ago. I took a few minutes and read the entire list. I smiled.

Every bullet point on the list identified something for which I am grateful. People, experiences, specific situations — a hodgepodge of happiness. It was created when I committed to recording three things for which I was grateful, for thirty days. I’m not sure why I stopped, because as I re-read the list, not only did I feel better, but I remembered how writing down those three things improved my daily outlook.

In his book, The Happiness Advantage (highly recommended), author Shawn Achor writes:

When you write down a list of “three good things” that happened that day, your brain will be forced to scan the last 24 hours for potential positives.

Cultivating the habit of searching for the positive in our lives can certainly improve our daily outlook. It won’t solve all of your problems, or make the struggles go away, but it will remind you that there are things in your life to be happy about.

I have decided to recommit to recording three items a day on my gratitude list. Join me. Give it a try and see if you aren’t a little happier. Just three things.

1. ______________

2. ______________

3. ______________

Don’t Quit on Kids

I'm not opposed to success, I just think we should accept it only if it is a by-product of our fidelity. If our primary concern is results, we will choose to work only with those who give us good ones. – Greg Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart

J. was one of my favorite students.

J. was a kid who dealt with circumstances that forced him to become an adult at a very young age. Plagued with instability in his family, he bounced from one place to another — at times, living homeless. Family issues were abundant. He endured pain, violence, indifference, and rejection at the hands of those with whom a child is supposed to place their trust. He was tough as nails.

At school, J. did an admirable job in spite of his circumstances. However, he was a student we would now label "chronically truant," and from time to time, he would have issues with a teacher — primarily due to his insistence on being addressed as an adult. Remember, this was a kid who in all other areas of his life was forced to assume the responsibilities of a grown-up. J. also had a great personality and sense of humor — once offering to drive when I went to pick him up for school (even though he was only 13) and pointing out that I was "getting a lot of gray hair" in the midst of a conversation about his need to display school appropriate behavior. While there were many things working against J. and his prospects for success, he possessed tremendous heart: a quiet strength, and determination to pursue something greater.

Today, I saw J. again for the first time in years. By all measures he is now an extremely successful young man — a high school graduate, with a good job, and giving back to others through community service. I could not be more proud of what J. has accomplished. During his high school years, J. found several adults willing to heavily invest in his future — people who brought stability to his life. They recognized the importance of walking alongside a kid who had encountered more than his fair share of trauma. J.'S determination to improve his circumstances, along with the advocacy of caring adults, lead to positive results. He brought resolve and resilience to the equation. His support network of provided encouragement and hope.

The opening quote in this post provides a powerful warning about the potential pitfalls of failing to support a truly public education. When it came to the probability of good test scores, a high class rating, or absence of behavioral issues, taking a chance on J. was not a good bet. It is highly likely he would have been a school choice casualty. But, because there were adults and educators in J.'S life that were more concerned with him as a person than his potential to bolster a school letter grade, he became a success story.

I am so proud of this young man, and I am incredibly thankful to the people who have chosen to invest their time and love in his life. In my humble opinion, J. and his support network are true heroes!

Don't quit on kids.

11 inspirational Quotes for Educators (and Social Good)

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I love reading and collecting quotes that challenge my thinking and lend a new perspective to how I approach my work and interactions with others.  Someone recently asked me about inspirational quotes I’ve encountered so I decided to turn the compilation into a quick blog post.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes about serving others. They are great for educators, but also applicable to almost any occupation, or just our daily approach to navigating life.

I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized. – Haim G. Ginott

I believe this popular quote by Haim Ginott is an extremely poignant statement about the power of our words and actions to influence others. His words paint a vivid image of the harm we can inflict, or the hope we can provide to others. 

Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.  – Desmond Tutu

We can always do something to make the world a better place. At my school, our third core value is that “doing little things can make a big difference.” We want our students to know that their positive actions (regardless of the perceived significance) make a matter.

Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

This Emerson quote is such a convicting statement. How often have we been disappointed when others have behaved in a manner that does not reconcile with their words? How often have we been guilty of the same? The way we choose to act — the way we treat others — overshadows our spoken word.

Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win. – Jonathan Kozol

Successfully navigating life often involves wisely choosing our battles. In some instances you must make a decision and stand with conviction. In other situations it is best not to engage at all. 

When the world says, “Give up,” hope whispers, “Try it one more time.” – Author Unknown

Hope is the lynchpin of life. This quote emphasizes our critical responsibility to foster hope in those we serve. Many of the skills we attribute to success — perseverance, critical thinking, empathy, etc. — require a renewable source of hope. They way we treat others can provide a life line.

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.  – Goethe

With this statement, Goethe makes a stand against the tyranny of the urgent. Time is our most finite resource and almost everyone can relate to the idea of being pulled in many directions. Understanding what is truly important, and investing our time in these things is a challenge, but a critical skill to develop.

We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget he is someone today.  – Stacia Tauscher

Live in the now! As an educator, I want my students to understand that they matter now. They do not need to wait to “grow up” in order to make a difference. As adults, this quote reminds us to be present in the moment because what we do today is important.

Kids who think they are going somewhere behave differently than kids who believe they are going nowhere. – Pedro Noguera

This is another quote about hope. As educators, we owe EVERY student the opportunity to understand their infinite value and have confidence that their life is meaningful. For some kids, a trusted adult at school may be the only place they hear “they are going somewhere.”

Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in. – Alan Alda

Assumptions are dangerous. My belief is that we must always assume the best in others, however, this is much easier said than done. Taking the time to step back from our interactions and contemplate situations from the perspective of others helps us keep our “windows” clean. 

The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world. – Dr. Paul Farmer

ALL humans are infinitely valuable. If we treat others in a manner that implies they are anything less, we are doing our world a disservice. We have a long way to go on this one.

You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship. You stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear. – Father Greg Boyle

Sometimes, you just have to be there for others — even when their actions or behaviors would beg a different response. It is not easy to “stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved,” but we need to recognize that these behaviors are often a cry for help. Sometimes others just need patience and empathy as they weather the storms of life.

Please — take a few moments to share a favorite quote about social good, service to others, or education in the comments. I would love to hear from you!

Free, but Priceless

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It is, perhaps, the most effective tool for positive change that we all possess. A limitless resource, yet we often ration as if it were a scarce commodity.Used at the right time, it has the power to be the difference between “I quit” and “I’ll keep trying.” The application of one or two words (or a simple gesture) can change the outlook of the next hour, an entire day, a week, or longer. It is a key element in the development of a growth mindset. It costs nothing but a few seconds.

Encouragement.

An underestimated, and underutilized, tool for social good. Be intentional about encouraging others. A few kind words, a compliment, or a timely smile can make all the difference — for both the receiver, and the giver.

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. – Aesop

Boundless Compassion

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If you have a passion for working with the poor and the marginalized — or if you just want to develop a better understanding of the trauma of poverty — you must read Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, by Father Greg Boyle. 

In his book, Father Boyle chronicles his years of work with Los Angeles gang members. The stories he tells are eye opening, heart breaking, and hope restoring. I’m not sure that I have ever read another book that has so strongly resonated with my feelings about the human condition and our obligation to care for one another. 

If you are intrigued, take twenty minutes to watch this TED talk by Father Boyle. You won’t be disappointed.  (Be aware: there is a bit of profanity in the video)

There are two quotes in particular that I believe are absolutely critical statements about how we can begin to heal a very broken world.

First, begin treating every human being with respect for their infinite value (See A Simple Plan to Improve the World).

There is an idea that just might be at the root of all that is wrong in the world and the idea is this: that there just might be lives out there that are less than other lives. How do we stand against that idea?

Second, take time to get to know others

The truth is, human beings can’t demonize people they know.

If we can have even a small degree of the impact Father Boyle has had in his community — to be a difference maker for even one person — we will be on our way to making our world a better place. There is wisdom in his words.

Advice from the Principal’s Desk: 10 Things Students Should Keep in Mind

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Even though many schools are in the middle (or even the beginning) of their summer break, in about two weeks my staff will welcome our students back for the 2017-18 school year.

The beginning of a school year can be a challenging time for students (as well as parents and teachers). The anticipation of something new is both exciting, and a bit overwhelming. Having been through junior high school more than my fair share of times (once as a student, once as a parent, and many times as a teacher and principal) I have a bit of unsolicited advice for students who will be making the transition to secondary school (middle, junior high, or high school) this year.

  1. Ask for help when you need it.

There will be many times in your experience as a student when you will need help. It might be an academic issue, a problem with a friend, or just a question about how the lunch line works. Please ask!

2. Don’t borrow trouble.

There are enough legitimate concerns and issues in a secondary student’s life — please don’t invent things to worry about. Use your imagination freely, but when it comes to problems, don’t let it run away with your mind.

3. Do your best, but don’t stress.

Your academic performance and behavior matter — even in junior high school (see number six). That being said, I have never received a phone call from a Harvard Dean — or any college for that matter — checking on a potential student’s grades or behavior during their time in junior high. You can make mistakes, experience failure, and still recover. Don’t go looking for trouble, but this isn’t a terrible time to experience a few set-backs. Parents: please make note of this.

4. Keep talking: to your parents, to your relatives, to an adult you trust.

You will never be too old to confide in a caring adult. If you are struggling, regardless of the magnitude of the issue, find someone you trust and talk it out. Even if you don’t have a care in the world, keep talking to adults you trust. Tell them about your day, talk about what you learned, share your passions — just keep communicating.

5. You will make mistakes. Learn from them.

At some point in your educational career you are going to make a mistake. It may be something minor, or it may be a major “crash and burn.” Own it. Learn from it. Move on. You will be okay.

6. Begin forming good habits.

Forming good habits is one of the most important skills you can develop in junior high and high school. Learn how to manage your time, how to problem solve, how to analyze issues, and how to advocate for yourself. You will carry your habits for years to come — be sure they are worth the effort.

7. Choose good friends.

Be sure your friends treat you, and others, with respect and dignity. If you are uncomfortable with their behaviors (or how you feel you must behave when they are around) choose new friends. Good friends can be the difference between a wonderful school experience and pure misery.

8. Recognize drama and run from it.

If you are in junior high or high school, there will be drama. Learn to distinguish between real issues (bullying, depression, true conflict, etc.) and behaviors that just stir up trouble. If it is drama, leave it alone. If you aren’t sure, refer to number four (talk to a trusted adult).

9. Only compare yourself to “yesterday’s” you.

You are one-of-a-kind and you have immeasurable value. Do yourself a favor and don’t compare yourself to anyone –except the person you were yesterday. Work hard to become a better person — not someone else.

10. Be kind. Always be kind.

In person. On social media. Over the phone. You will never regret being kind to everyone you meet. Just like you will have tough days, others will go through the same — or worse. Your words of encouragement, willingness to include, and empathy may mean the world to someone else. Be a difference maker. Always be kind!

I wrote this advice for students, but I believe the reason it is relevant is because it could just as easily apply to adults. I STILL struggle with a number of these points.

This isn’t just school advice — it is life advice. Always be willing to learn!

The Cavalry Is Not Coming

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As a leader (and a human) I am prone to feeling sorry for myself — too much work, too much stress, too much responsibility, not enough balance, not enough rest, and not enough recognition. I write these comments with a healthy measure of humility and shame. You see, I struggle with my ability to balance my work, home, and spiritual life. Like almost every person on earth, I face challenges and I recognize the many areas of my life that require significant improvement. I shudder to think about how much time I have wasted without taking action — waiting for the perfect moment, wallowing in self-pity, or waiting for someone to help me. But, the cavalry is not coming. I am responsible for my own happiness, for creating the life I want to live, for being the person I want to be. No one is going to ride to my rescue.

In his message, No Waiting for Daylight, author and pastor Erwin McManus stated that:

Desperation can look a lot like courage.

Isn’t that the truth? Sometimes we must arrive at a moment of absolute desperation before we muster the strength to take action — before we are brave enough to do something to improve our situation.

From the perspective of a leader, this might mean summoning the courage to make an unpopular decision that is the right one for the organization. It could be saying “no” to a request that does not align with an identified goal or mission. It may be demonstrating the resolve to have a challenging conversation with a customer, or colleague. In these situations, there is danger in “waiting for the cavalry.” I know. I have done it. I have waited to address a problem, hoping that circumstances would change. I have said “yes” to an additional responsibility that wasn’t in my best interest (or that of my school) because it seemed like less hassle than saying “no.” I have put off tough, but necessary, conversations because I didn’t want to deal with conflict. In all of these instances, I was hoping to be rescued. I was hoping fate, circumstances, or someone else’s empathy would save me from the problem. The truth is, that salvation rarely came if I failed to take the first step. In most cases, I either had to deal with the repercussions of my lack of action, or I had to become desperate enough to summon the courage to deal with the issue.

The same concept applies to our personal lives and happiness. There are a plethora of excuses we can make for not living our ideal life, but the bottom line is that our success or failure frequently hinges on our willingness and courage (or lack thereof) to take action. It is unlikely that I will suddenly be granted excellent physical health and athletic ability unless I commit to exercise and eating right. Feeling sorry for myself won’t generate the support needed to foster happiness, but showing gratitude and taking action to develop a positive mindset will make a difference. The key is that we must to have the courage to do something.

This certainly does not mean that in leadership, or in life, we are left to our own devices. In fact, our success at any endeavor hinges on our ability to understand what we can, and can’t, control and accepting help when we need it. In addition, it behooves us to seek out opportunities to “be the cavalry” for others — providing encouragement and assistance. This strategy has a way of coming full circle so that help arrives when we are in need. Good leaders are constantly on the look-out for opportunities to assist (not necessarily save) others, and they recognize when they need to accept help for their own good, and that of the organization.

Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway. – John Wayne

If we want to make positive changes in our schools, our organizations, or our lives, we can’t wait for others. We must summon the courage and resolve it takes to “saddle-up” and take the first steps on our own.