All posts by Tall Poppy Teaching

About Tall Poppy Teaching

I choose to call my blog "Tall Poppy Teaching" because tall poppy syndrome describes a cultural phenomenon in which people who have achieved something beyond the typical are cut down, resented, or attacked. Tall poppies in a field are often cut off to ensure uniformity. The kids I serve fall under the "tall poppy" category and gifted education is often seen as elitist and unnecessary. But it is neither. I've chosen to work in a school that is designed for gifted and other out-of-the-box learners in the Rocky Mountain region, acting as a pseudo-admin in addition to doing a lot of other things that are being added to my job description daily. I get to innovate, problem-solve, and advocate for our tall poppies. When I'm not working, I enjoy spending time with my boyfriend and furs, experiencing wonderful food and drink in the shadow of a tall mountain, yoga, fly-fishing, and reading books about characters who can solve the world's problems in the span of a few hundred pages.

The bother with boundaries

After a while, the therapist queried, “You know it’s not your job to do all the things, right?”

The patient responded, “I realize that, however, some of the things will not get done unless someone does them, and the Someones who could be doing them aren’t stepping up because their boundaries say that those things shouldn’t be or aren’t their responsibility.”

For all the talk about the importance of boundary-setting as a part of self-care, there’s a question that continues to be overlooked.

Once you’ve set your boundaries around what you will and will not do, what happens to the things that you will not do?

Someone else has to do them.

Who is someone else?

What about their boundaries?

What about the things that still need to get done?

It’s an infinite loop.

Hard and fast boundaries don’t allow for the delegation of tasks to someone else…their boundaries don’t allow for new tasks to be added to their list.

Strict boundaries don’t allow for growth opportunities in areas of interest or in areas of skill.

Boundary-based refusal creates a bigger problem for the big picture when the things still need to get done and aren’t getting done because they all seem to fall beyond everyone’s boundaries.

Sometimes the things that need to get done aren’t things that can be ignored. Ignoring them creates more things…more complicated things…they’re like Tribbles.

Sometimes the things that need to get done are the things that need to be done by the person closest to the situation…not someone outside the situation. Involving someone outside the situation fractures trust.

And sometimes, the things that need to get done require follow-up and follow-through…and someone outside the situation isn’t the best person to do either one.

The excuse that a task is beyond one’s pay grade only really applies for tasks that require a specific set of skills or knowledge–and the assumption that neither one can be obtained through doing the task. (And that statement “beyond my pay grade” is incredibly insulting to both parties, tbh.)

The therapist asks, “Well, what IS your job?”

The patient* says, “To do the things that need to get done. I have a list…in multiple places…that keeps growing. Beyond that, I really don’t know.”

*often a gifted person of any age

Walls and Boxes

A colleague of mine once said that it was critical for students to write to the same prompt, do the same project (a diorama for you! and you! and you!), take notes the same way to capture the same information, and turn in the same work with only one right response.

Doing so, they said, would teach them what it looks like when work is done, what it means to have work that is done well, and how to evaluate their own work against a set standard – the criteria set forth by a teacher. I saw an article about this somewhere the other day and it noted too that this type of expectation is setting kids up for the real world of adulthood–to be good little worker bees who are able to do what they are asked to do when they are old enough to have a job.

I went along with my colleague’s thinking for a while. I was a newish teacher and wasn’t sure how to prove my hypothesis about why my gut was aching more and more as we moved from unit to unit.

I wanted to see what would happen if we gave kids the opportunity to show what they had learned using a variety of options, each with its own set of criteria but also incorporating a requirement for the same knowledge. One of the things this colleague had noted was that they felt that it was impossible for a teacher to evaluate student learning if everyone was turning in something different–all students had to show the same learning so all students should be doing exactly the same work and then should be evaluated against each other to get a good picture of how the class as a whole was learning. A teacher can’t do that if everyone turns in something different–it all has to be exactly the same.

Almost everything I’ve learned about teaching, I’ve learned from kids. Kids have told me what they need in the past 17 years. And they’ve told other educators for far longer than that. They need, especially in the elementary years, to have opportunities to show what they know in a way that they are confident and able to do it. Some need to tell me what they know in a conversation or a presentation. Others want to sing about it because they can remember things best that way. Some want to draw it out and explain it. Others want to put all of it and then some into a poster and add bling and lights to illustrate the most important parts (the things THEY feel are the most important) and others want to write about it–they want to write about the experiences of people, their thoughts about a particular event, or simply lay out a series of facts. And still others want to recreate something they read about or saw–with a dance or a series of hand movements or by actually making the thing so they can understand how it works.

Kids need choice. They need to choose what they do, how they do it, and all the bits and pieces that go into it. And they need to learn what to do when what they chose doesn’t work out.

A question that came up was how I’ll know if they learned everything if they’re only focusing on something THEY want to share.

I don’t want them to learn everything. There’s a place for regurgitation of facts but I want them to learn enough to be able to connect what they’re learning with other things. They’re capable of finding out when William the Conqueror invaded England. They can google the names of every US president in order or learn the song if it brings them joy, but I’d rather they understand and be able to explain how the awful thing one person did impacted events and other people later on…and be able to connect it all to current and future situations.

A million years ago, when I was little, we learned about Native American tribes in Mrs. Gerlach’s class. I remember using paper bags to make “leather” to create a tipi and writing stories using pictures on the sides using markers, and sugar cubes to create igloos, and learning a little bit about the ways Native Americans used everything in nature to live. It was fun, and I remember that I enjoyed it all very much.

Photo by Jola Kedra on Pexels.com

Here’s what I didn’t learn:

I didn’t learn why they settled where they did or why they didn’t choose to move when the weather was cold and awful or what we’d consider too hot.

I didn’t learn why the Trail of Tears happened or why Native Americans were moved from where they settled first by people who moved here to escape persecution in their home country. And I didn’t learn why people thought that was perfectly reasonable to do.

I didn’t learn how the Native American cultures were the same, or how they were different beyond where they might have lived or what they ate, and I didn’t learn anything about their individual cultures or how their cultural stories connect to stories in other cultures in and beyond the U.S.

And given that I went to a Catholic school, I didn’t learn how their beliefs about God were the same or different than the faith in which I was being brought up. I think that would have been pretty damn important given we were learning how to be good Catholics.

I did learn that my tipi needed to look the same as others right down to how my story looked in pictures and that my igloo had to be shaped just like the other ones. I learned to answer multiple choice questions and match vocabulary words to their definitions.

And now as a grown-up, I don’t remember anything about that content beyond how to make a damn fine piece of paper bag leather and the way that it felt in my hands when it was soft and pliable…and that sharpies work better to draw on it than Crayola markers.

Kids deserve to learn more than how to make paper bag leather tipis. They deserve to be able to explain why they thought it was important to focus on the fact that one Native American culture chose to stay on the Western Slope while others chose to park themselves on the plains. They deserve the opportunity to imagine a life a long time ago and connect to it, comparing the 25-room homes of one culture to the two-bedroom, one-bath house they live in. They deserve to see history, science, literature, and math not as a series of facts to be memorized and spit out when the test day comes but as experiences of real live people who made choices and decisions and had revelations that impact the lives of other real people.

They deserve to get to do the work that generates more “why” questions, more “how” questions, and more “what if” questions.

As educators, we need to look beyond the posters we bought on Amazon or from the teacher store hanging on the walls of our classroom and think beyond the boxes of curriculum that arrive on our tables in August. None of that is learning. Those are resources to help support it. And this is why Joe Schmoe off the street cannot be a teacher–a teacher…a good one…learns over time how to use those resources as something to supplement learning…not to drive it. There’s good stuff in it, to be sure–sometimes there are great questions or ideas that you can steal to make a springboard for kids into a great discussion or great exploration of thought that leads to more questions.

That is learning.

Ghosts in the Cheap Seats

I think I’ve written before about ghosts of bosses past. Those bosses who told you over and over again that you weren’t pulling your weight, not doing the right things, not giving the job everything you had, or weren’t invested enough in the work. Those bosses who, bit by bit, took away the privileges or responsibilities you’d earned the right to have because of your hard work, dedication, and expertise. Those bosses who ensured that you were no longer invited to the meeting, the get-together, or not given the memos that others were…left out of the loop.

Those people and their residual voices often live rent-free in our heads, sometimes for fleeting moments and sometimes for much longer. Evicting them is complicated.

I’m teaching full-time this year. And trying to do all the other things too–all the things I’ve been doing the last six years and was finally feeling reasonably confident about doing. I felt like I was in the loop. Funny, when I left the classroom I was about nine years in…and I finally felt reasonably confident in my job.

I got an email today about “new processes” and immediately felt the pain of left-out-ed-ness. Another thing I missed. When the hell did this new process start and why didn’t I know anything about it? How will the new process impact the kids we serve and our ability to make sure they’re actually SEEN and not just a set of scores? How could I have missed something so important? I have questions and no time to ask them that won’t make me look like I’m slacking…or just not able to do my job.

I can’t go to meetings during the school day because I am teaching so I’m out of the loop unless I happen to catch the one out of 9000 emails that happens to mention the thing I need to know. I have to be selective about email and constantly feel behind because there are only 24 hours in a day and emails aplenty for far more hours. I’ve already been chastised once because I was expected to attend a meeting (that could have been an email or a video greeting) with the comment along the lines of if you can’t make the meeting you damn well better find someone who is more capable of coming and doing the job.

More capable. More capable of being in more than one place at a time. More capable of doing my job..and all the jobs that fall beneath it..and all those that become mine because it’s the most logical place to file them. More capable of handling multiple roles at once without anyone feeling as though I’m not completely present–their needs are the most important in that moment. Nothing else exists. More capable of juggling 10 balls…and sixteen plates, four knives, and a Katana sword or two for good measure…while wearing roller skates in an ice skating rink and hula-hooping while dodging flying hockey pucks launched by the best NHL players on earth….and dodgeballs chucked at my head by the dodgeball team from Average Joe’s Gym live on ESPN The Ocho, complete with play-by-play commentary from Pepper Brooks and Cotton McKnight.

The ghosts in the cheap seats make me second guess every email, every on-the-fly response, every gut feeling, every piece of documentation, every hat change, every single decision. What seems logical to me may not be logical to those who matter. And when I’m not asked to a meeting, or have a task removed from my plate (even if the intent is good), or have to ask for help…the ghosts tell me that I’m not capable. Maybe I’m not cut out for this after all because I’m not managing it all well…without complete transparency, perfection, and with all of the i’s dotted and t’s crossed.

I know that this isn’t just a gifted thing. There are others out there doing exactly the same thing every day, trying to keep the balls in the air, the plates spinning, the positions filled. But sometimes, you do feel awfully alone and the weight of the work is heavy.

I know that my own intensities make the critics louder. My own perfectionism clouds the way I see everything, the way I plan, the way I present, the way I reflect. They all determine which critics are yelling from the cheap seats….and which I hear loudest in a given moment.

I am lucky to have good people around me though…to check on me and make sure I found what I needed, to bring coffee, hallway hugs, food, more tissues, and allergy medicine…to read me when I’m trying so hard to keep my book shut and hold it together…and to be able to see beyond the box for solutions…and to catch the ball, plate, or sword before it hits the ground.

Be these people for your gifted kids. Be the ones who check in, grant grace, offer solutions instead of punishment or consequences, shine a light outside of the box so they can see possibilities. And the ones to launch a dodgeball at their ghosts in the cheap seats.

Progress/Perfection

A friend gave me a shirt that says Teaching is Progress not Perfection.

One of the kids noticed it today, pointed it out, and intentionally grinned and said, “I like that.”

I have felt like I am floundering for several weeks. I know I can wing it in the classroom, but I don’t like having to do so for more than a little while. I am able to build fairly good relationships with kids easily–street cred goes a long way and kids are inherently good-hearted and grant grace in buckets.

This morning, I got up before God after sleeping like the dead from pure exhaustion and the panic set in quickly after I took the dog out.

Getting up at 430 in the morning should be plenty of time.

It’s not.

The realization that I had eleventy-billion things to do, no copy paper, little sense of direction, a long list of to-dos sorted and arranged in my head, no time to do any of them, emails to catch up on, and also had to people far before I felt ready to caused a Jessie Spano moment. (No, I didn’t sing or scrunch my socks above my high-tops…but I did make damn sure I took my supplements and anxiety meds.)

I don’t like feeling that way. I prefer, as a friend puts it, to “not embrace frantic.” Teammates have been fabulous, preparing slide decks as a jumping off point with critical things included, granting grace for missed meetings, and allowing me to disappear to get other things done in the few moments available.

So tonight I sat and reworked slides for tomorrow in a way that brings me a little normalcy, rethinking how the last two days have gone, what I’ve missed teaching, what I’ve done well, and what I’ve forgotten entirely.

I’m thankful for the gift of past experience–my kids taught me well. And this new batch is helping me remember and get into a groove that suits them too.

We’re creating a system for our work together, I said this morning. We’re creating systems that work for us in this space together so that we can function and learn and grow. No, our brains aren’t doing a lot of heavy lifting just yet but they will…once the foundation of our systems are in place.

A tree needs roots to grow…but it’s progress…not perfection that helps it grow strong.

Dam

2022 has been one hell of a year.

Really, everything since March 13, 2020 has been one hell of a time.

That’s when the grieving began. It’s been compounding exponentially ever since.

We grieve time lost. When everything just stopped…suddenly home was safest so we stayed there as much as we could. We lost time with loved ones, time to grow and change, time to find out who we are.

We grieve people lost to a virus no one knew or understood how to control. And those lost once some understanding was attained too.

We grieved seeing full faces, smiles, smirks, and hearing people speak clearly, unmuffled by layers of cotton and medical grade material. We still grieve missed milestones like kid-faces becoming young adult faces, schmutz appearing between noses and lips, grown-up teeth arriving, baby teeth lost, and braces coming and going. And we grieve missed facial expressions that would have conveyed what we really meant…not misinterpretations.

We grieve being able to do our jobs the way we knew how to do them–the way we’d always done them. The routines we had perfected…the systems that worked. Some of us were just coming into our own as educators; we had some stuff figured out and had plans for how to make other stuff better.

We grieve friendships fractured or ended altogether because of different beliefs, different politics, and different ways of wanting to see a crisis handled. We grieve family relationships that will be forever changed by words and actions over the past several years…

My heart is heavy (yes, again) because so much of the last several months (read: years) is hitting me like hail on a roof that desperately needs replacing with every question about what the plans are for this year.

There’s a teacher availability crisis if you hadn’t heard. More are leaving the profession than entering. All of the reasons are valid ones. Family needs change. Professional goals change. Pandemic stress won. Feeling unappreciated, overworked, and disrespected by people inside and outside of education is real. Seems every other article I read lately is either criticism of those who choose to stay to do this Big Work or criticism of those choosing to do something different. Either way, the article, opinion piece, or podcast is almost always about how educators failed the kids, the parents, and society as a whole because reasons and how administrators at every level failed everyone altogether. It takes a toll and makes you doubt what you believed you were called to do.

We’re short teachers this year, and it’s likely that both me and my director will be teaching in addition to doing our actual jobs with support from an army of brilliant humans who are willing to jump in and take over parts of our brains until the right people arrive. And I’m grieving my office-with-a-window job too. I had plans… It’s no one’s fault, of course. I’m not angry…just sad. Cloning is still not an option, unfortunately–though I hear they’re getting closer. Probably won’t be done and foolproof soon enough to be useful.

I have said I miss teaching. I do miss teaching. I miss kids and creating a learning community together. I miss learning alongside them and heading down rabbit holes because we can. I miss ah-ha moments and their increased confidence showing through when they help someone else with something that was hard for them a few weeks ago. I miss the moments shared among us, the goofy jokes, the trust built over time, growing their self-advocacy skills, and the street cred provided for me by older siblings. I am looking forward to the team-level collaboration, the ideas crafted together, and learning alongside kids, colleagues, and families though–that’s a piece of “teacher” life that looks very different in my office-with-a-window job.

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

Someone asked why I’m not “setting up my classroom.” I’m not setting up the classroom because it’s not needed yet–the people who will do the work to make it a home aren’t in yet–they don’t come for another couple of weeks and the tables and chairs are there already. I need pencils (the good expensive ones) and paper. Basic supplies. The kids will provide the decoration, the organization, and the community. It’s not my classroom. It’s theirs. There are certain things that I’ll need to stay sane–sharpies, sticky notes, coffee…and manilla envelopes for kid-work collection otherwise I’ll lose things. The kids will make it what it needs to be when they arrive.

While I hope to find a teacher to join that community of learners and go with them on their journey this year soon, I grieve letting go of them too. The last time I said goodbye to a group of kids it broke my heart…and at least one kid in the process.

Yes, there is grief right now, compartmentalized appropriately, and a cascade of tears waiting for one rock to move enough for the dam to break. Not sure how much longer it’ll hold, but for now it’s ok. The tall poppies are safe.

Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

Loss…and Life

My mother died.

She had lived a long life, which had grown increasingly lonely after my father died 30-ish years ago and she retired 10 years ago. The introvert was great with that one. The trouble was, I was no longer a child and was trying to make my own way in the world, creating my own life, sometimes to comments of “Why the hell do you want to do that?” Yet, she depended on me for a lot of things–making sure that her bills were paid, that she had what she needed and wanted, that her groceries were delivered and that they didn’t include odd things like taco shells or sardines with nothing else for culinary context. I was her connection to the world beyond the daily news. We were entangled, my friend said, her life and heart with mine.

Being an only child made things both better, I think, and more difficult at the same time. I didn’t have to fight with anyone except my own inner voice about whether or not I was doing the right thing for her. But I also had no one else to lean on. There was no one else to consult about anything. There was a constant need to balance her needs and wants with my own–can I go away to that conference or take a vacation and be unavailable or is it too risky? We had a good relationship, and I loved her dearly, and I will always be thankful for that.

I wondered out loud more than once, “How in the hell do people help support their parents and have lives of their own when they don’t live anywhere near one another?” Doctors, nurses, and social workers didn’t have answers, but they tried to act as a middle man to get me in contact with people who might be able to help. Those at assisted living facilities didn’t have any answers either, beyond “the family helps…the family pays for things.” That’s a pretty tough pill to swallow when you are the family and there is no money to pay for the things.

She died at the end of June, and I have been questioning whether or not I did the right things ever since. All the questions run through my head–did she give up because I went to work, because I went home, because I didn’t stay longer, because I didn’t take her home like she wanted me to. Was I right to listen to the doctors and nurses and hospice people? Should I have fought harder? Should I have sat at her bedside and not left to go home or to work? Friends have said that it’s not possible to screw this all up–you can’t bugger up death and the process of it.

I went into her house this weekend and sat and cried, surrounded by her memories, her things. So many of the things she kept have a story…but it all is her story, not mine.

I think it hit while I sat there sobbing amongst the suitcases that wouldn’t be allowed on any plane these days due to their weight when empty, the boxes of stuff, the dolls, toys, and books…I have no one to share her memories with. She told me stories of her parents, their parents, their lives in Norway, Czechoslovakia, Austria, North Dakota, and Minnesota. The farm, the boarding house, the paper mill… My parents’ lives together before I was born.

Those are her stories. Her memories. I have to create my own.

“Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~Howard Thurman

AAW

I listen to several podcasts, and one in particular references attitude-adjustment walks (AAWs) as a way to handle stress. Basically, it’s telling yourself that it’s ok to just get up, walk out, and go for a walk with no purpose other than to lose whatever icky mood, unhelpful internal monologue, rotten mojo, frustration, or overwhelm in order to reset and get back to doing the things that need doing.

The first time it was referenced, I thought to myself that it’s like sending kids on a “very critical errand” to another teacher’s classroom as far away as possible with a sticky note in a folder that reads “Please keep Joey for like 5 minutes–pretend to look for a book or a paper or have them show your resident Pokemon Trainer their favorite card…I don’t care, but just let them be with you for a bit so we both get a break.” Except it’s for adults…and self-imposed.

The last technical day of school was Friday. An AAW has been long overdue for me. This has been one hell of a school year, to put it bluntly. When we came back in the fall, I made the assumption (wrongly, btw) that we would just get back to somewhat normal while including social distancing, masks, and the few events we would have held outside as COVID cases allowed until COVID calmed down and we could get closer to mostly normal.

I was reminded that even the smallest things that we used to do as part of our routine took a lot more effort.

Are the kids far enough apart in line? in the classroom? in the bathroom? Oh God, how many did I send to the bathroom at once? Who else sent kids at the same time?

How can I have them work in teams when they can’t be near each other? Stand up-Hand up-Pair up requires a classroom three times this size and everyone wearing hula-hoops to ensure safe distancing.

What do you mean they’re playing Fortnite when they’re supposed to be using the computer to research the first clock?

You googled WHAT?

Discord? Are you serious?

How can I teach the kids to project their voices when they’re masked and I can barely hear them from 3 feet away?

Conflict doesn’t mean that you beat the ever-loving crap out of each other, kids…it just means you disagree about whether Star Wars (IV – VI, not those stupid prequels) is better than Star Trek (Picard, not Shatner).

Kids reminded me daily that two years of pandemic learning did no one any favors–not academically and not social-emotionally either. The public reminded me that our education system is flawed, inequitable, trying to meet the needs of everyone and failing. What would have been a typical ask of a teacher was a bridge too far now. For some, that ask was the last straw.

Kids requested that we use different names, different pronouns. Some advocated for friends and some pushed boundaries. Every. Day. Others kept their heads down and their mouths shut, uncomfortable with all of it. Some were uncomfortable and did not keep their mouths shut…but weren’t kind either. Some parents were on board with the requests, others weren’t, and some simply couldn’t wrap their heads around it all. Kids found their voices and brought issues and concerns to school that hadn’t even visited before this year much less taken a front-row seat in class.

Families struggled with modified, sudden quarantines, changing guidelines, and symptoms that could be allergies, a cold, the flu, or COVID, or just dust floating around.

Everyone struggled with kindness. All year long. All the people. And the last few weeks, it was one mass shooting after another it seems. (https://n.pr/3x0WYlZ) Kids and parents were once again unsure if school was safe–or the grocery store for that matter. And schools reevaluated everything all over again, including end-of-year activities–do we have continuation and graduation celebrations? field day? conferences?

And we wonder again, who is next? Which school? What level? Will it be random or in retaliation for bullying or a bad day? Will it be about race or gender identity? Will it be because their mother shushed the shooter when they were four? (IYKYK) Will it be about being pro-life vs. pro-choice (always an ironic thing…you say you’re pro-life yet you’re shooting at people with the intent to unalive them…) Or will it be about lost jobs, lost elections, lost relationships?

Many of us have stopped asking those who can make changes to make the damn changes. We know they won’t–their religion says that hate, racism, and murder are sins yet having the weapon-based means to harm others was somehow a right given by God. Heaven forbid a personal arsenal becomes a legal issue or the mental health of everyone becomes a priority. Some are back to “thoughts and prayers” because everything else requires accountability.

So yes, an AAW was in order today. I loaded my dog into the car and drove 20 minutes out of town to essentially the middle of not-quite-here and not-there-yet where a big open space exists in which my unemployed freeloader can run and sniff and generally be her goofy self and I can get sun..and quiet…and fresh, relatively non-smoke-from-fires filled air. Sometimes big open spaces are good for AAWs. Few people, lots of space, and greenish prairie until it stops where the mountains start.

I will take an AAW when I need to going forward. I won’t put it off. Holding on to all of this for so long hurts. Just like for kids, sometimes a change of scenery can make a difference in how we approach the world around us.

A few things…

A few things on my mind…in no particular order. If I put them here, perhaps they’ll stop taking up space in my head and let me sleep.

Appreciation doesn’t have to be demonstrated through a thing. Sometimes it’s the heartfelt words said or written in the moment that matter more than any “thing.” Don’t get me wrong, I love and appreciate the gifts of Raisin Bran and cold milk, Dr. Peppers left by fairies in the night, random sticky notes, and snacks. But sometimes that moment of a young one taking my hand to walk down the hall together or the kids who tell me I’m kinda like a mom or the colleague who takes a moment to let me know they noticed ME… Being seen is still better than any Hershey bar ever will be (well…most of the time anyway).

Coming back to your Why has to be a regular thing. Schedule it if you have to, but come back to it often. Burnout is a real thing…and so many of us put our hearts and souls into teaching, into our classrooms, into our school families and community, that we neglect ourselves and forget why we wanted to do this Big Work to start with…and who we are when we aren’t doing the Big Work. Because we are someone beyond it…

Growth and change are difficult. Promises and people get broken in the process. One can’t exist without the other. You can’t change without growing and you can’t grow without changing. I think of a friend’s tarantula *shudder* when she shed herself…she outgrew herself essentially and was even more beautiful (for a fuzzy spider) afterward for having let what she’d outgrown go. To remain always the same takes away some of that freshness and beauty… and it makes your skin uncomfortably tight…

I split and repotted my Mother-in-Law’s Tongue on the advice of a green-thumbed friend. She had existed in the same pot for as long as I can remember. But something wasn’t right. And now, even after just a day, both of them seem happier in their own pots, one in the bedroom and the other in the living room–each still away from the cat who thinks they’re a potted snack. Sometimes you have to separate from the things that you are familiar with in order to thrive.

When it feels like no one is hearing us, seeing us, or acknowledging that perhaps we have a point (or a purpose), taking a step back and just letting everything we can’t control go is the only way to stay sane. Also, moving tasks to the “backlog” to deal with later or just flat deleting them altogether after moving them from one day to the next for weeks and months is the best course of action. They might have been important at one time, and they might be again…but letting them go is okay too.

Monthly massages are necessary for adulting. Adding cupping, essential oils, or a steam tent are fabulous add-ons. I asked my massage therapist if I could just come every day and she said no–every week or so is best, and varying the type of massage is a good idea. Also, adding on the steam tent requires that you drink all the water in the land afterward. Trust me and plan ahead.

Watching your parent/s age is awful. CJ Cregg’s dad (or step-mother maybe) said in one episode of West Wing that Alzheimer’s was called “The Long Goodbye.” I think watching your parent grow old, slowly becoming more reliant on you while trying to remain stubbornly independent and at the same time letting things go like the dishes, or putting things away, or compulsively cleaning, is pretty damn bad…I can only imagine how awful it is adding Alzheimer’s or dementia to it.

For many of us, COVID stole people we love. Some passed away. We grieve their death, celebrate their lives, and grieve some more because we aren’t done yet. COVID also impacted relationships with people we care about. Some disappeared quickly, allowing politics or rhetoric to beat them to death. Some relationships disapparated over time, growing more and more faint like morning mist at sunrise. And then suddenly, they’re simply not there anymore. And some are there, faintly, but very much changed…trauma does that. It changes people and those we loved are different now…

Everyone is hurting in some way right now. And probably will be for a long time. Sure, we don’t have to wear masks to work or to shop, and we can go most places without much worry. This hurt though…it’s not going away. We can’t forget what people said and how they behaved because they were hurting too. We can’t forget the fear, the loss, the worry, the hypervigilance, always wondering what is coming next. And we can’t forget the pain of being separated from one another…pool noodles or more apart, faces covered (or not), and the unmistakable fear (or loathing) in the eyes of those around us.

I think that the ghost of my Lab mix has spoken to my Border Collie from the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. He’s let her know that “Ball is life” and fetch is the best game ever invented. She will get the ball (and it has to be THE ball…which could be any one of the eleventy billion balls in the house or at the dog park) and bring it to me, dropping it next to me, laying down and waiting for me to throw it…and letting out sharp little barks if I don’t throw fast enough. This is our routine…here at home, out back in the open grassy area, at the dog park… He taught her well…even from the great beyond.

Perhaps now that all of this is out of my head, I’ll sleep.

Senses

When kids are young, we talk to them about the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. We play games like “I Spy,” sing songs, dance, “Just eat three bites,” and read books like Pat the Bunny to give kids opportunities to experience each of their senses.`

There are more than five though. And it became incredibly evident that there were more than five when we lost them during the pandemic.

We lost a sense of community. We lost a sense of normalcy. We struggled to find a sense of safety, always wondering when which new variant was coming and how bad it would be.

I was speaking with a group of parents earlier and one noted that she uses the phrase “cautiously optimistic” so that nothing gets jinxed and we continue to head toward a sense of nearer-normal-ish.

You can’t fathom what you’ve lost until you really can’t have it. For me, a sense of community has been missing for some time. There is so much division in the world, so many areas of conflict, and so much fear around what might be next that any sense of community was a struggle to keep.

I had a group of six parents in a room today. A few I knew, a few I didn’t, and I was thrilled to see them with or without masks because they had this 30-minute block of time where they got to see other parents with whom they will share a school experience. Their children are entering kindergarten and the past few batches of kindergarten families have not been able to meet one another until schools started if at all. They weren’t able to sit and chat because each was safely in their own vehicle, windows rolled up tight, hoping that their little one wouldn’t bring home the latest version of ick. They couldn’t sit and chat because others were at home, supporting their child’s first year of school from behind a computer screen. I cannot imagine what that was like.

We’re finally to a point where we can be together in a room, see one another’s expressions, hear each other’s voices. We can talk about kids and their quirks, their hopes and dreams, and our struggles, our worries, and our hopes too. We can do it together in a space and create a sense of community, laughing at the goofy things our kids do, the latest topic of obsession, and the struggles of parenting kids…and gifted kids who are a whole ‘nother animal altogether.

And I am beyond happy about it. Community is everything when it comes to education. Without a sense of community, schools struggle. Kids can’t connect with one another, with teachers, with the greater school environment…and then they struggle to learn. Without a sense of community, families are alone on a raft in the middle of an ocean. They aren’t sure who to talk to, who has the answers to the questions they have.

I have always loved conference days, getting to meet parents, getting to talk about the amazing kids they are raising. It’s a chance to build community…

And today, I get to talk with families who will join us next year…and they get to help us rebuild our sense of community and bring us back home to our Why.

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

Capacitating

It’s a word. It really is. I promise.

It’s a verb that means to make someone capable of doing something.

Kids ask me all the time what my job really is. I used to tell them that my job was lots of things on a big, long, disorganized list. Now I tell them that a big part of my job is to capacitate the teachers I coach and the kids I support so that they learn and grow.

I enjoy it for the most part and am happiest when the person I’ve helped capacitate is better or happier because of it.

What is most frustrating is when there’s a wall up around the other person…and while they may lower the drawbridge now and then for a short time, it goes back up quickly to protect them from whatever they’re afraid of.

For some, it’s failure. For others, it’s disappointment or embarrassment. And for others, it’s because it’s more comfortable for the person to wall themselves in and throw rocks at the problem from inside. No one likes to be uncomfortable and face the baggage on the front step.

Failure is probably the easiest one to tackle, honestly. Fear of failure, especially in a gifted person, decreases the amount of risk they are willing to take when a similar opportunity presents itself. The key is to finding, creating, or pointing out lots of ways for the person to be successful. Starting small, with seemingly tiny wins, helps to build the willingness to try something a little out of their comfort zone.

Disappointment or embarrassment are a bit more complicated. I think that for these, it’s about setting criteria for success. What will it look like when something goes well? Does well = perfect? Does it have to equal perfect? What’s good enough going to look like? What’ll you do if you aren’t successful? How will you handle disappointment (because kids have no problem bringing that on without warning…) when something doesn’t go well?

Thinking about embarrassment, it’s important to determine what would be embarrassing about a particular situation.

Is it when one of the kids knows more than you and makes a point to let the other 24 kids in the class know they know more than you do on a particular topic? (This never happens when teaching gifted kids…nope…not ever in the history of teaching. /sarcasm off)

Is it when you aren’t prepared for questions or situations that come up during a lesson? (I’ll never forget, “Ms? What’s heaven?” Email to mom later: “uh..yeah so your child asked this question in class today and I dunno what your spiritual outlook is but I’m a recovering Catholic so I framed it in terms of the era in history we were discussing…I hope I didn’t mess up your kid too much.”)

Is it when you forget to put on makeup or wear pants that are uncomfortable or your school leader chooses the biggest wardrobe fail day in the history of ever to capture you teaching to share with colleagues? (No, I don’t have that top or pair of pants anymore, for the record.)

Disappointment and embarrassment aren’t feelings that you can set aside and not deal with, but they’re not insurmountable either. Bring on the humility, the reflective journaling, and the thoughtful debrief.

Being willing to be capacitated is a professional expectation in any position. An artist needs to accept inspiration when it shows up. Even Freida Kahlo’s work changed over time. So has Stephen King’s. A surgeon can’t improve unless she is willing to seek out new methods or new discoveries to help her grow. A pastor can’t meet the needs of their congregation unless they are willing to learn from others. Peyton Manning didn’t get to be Peyton Manning by saying how much more successful quarterbacks sucked. No. He reviewed tape after tape of other players, other teams, and himself to learn how to do his job better and anticipate what he’d be presented during a game. The best fly fishing angler on the planet has caught their fair share of sticks…and rocks…and catfish…and the plant life behind them. Someone helped them to learn to cast better, differently, and to use flies for a specific purpose rather than just because they’re pretty.

We grow as educators when leaders present us with opportunities to be capacitated. Little things like how to design a testing schedule. More universal things like how to keep records in ways that make sense. Creating forms or changes in a particular practice to streamline things. If you never get to try anything new (failure, disappointment, or embarrassment might be a thing), you get stuck…and stuck in education is never good.

When you drop your drawbridge, you might feel uncomfortable. You might feel awkward. But nothing grows without a little struggle. Embrace capacitation. And if you aren’t being capacitated, ask for it or find someone who will provide you those opportunities.