The Importance of Feeling Valued

One of the consistent aspects of any positive climate and robust, supportive culture is the feeling of being valued. When you feel that you are valued there are other human-group feelings that accompany it: belonging, cooperation and collaboration, pride, all of which contribute back to the positive climate and culture of a building or organization.

The opposite is, of course, feeling dispensable or replaceable. This perception can be induced in a few ways:

Blatantly: “Do as instructed or we will find someone else who will.”
Message: It doesn’t matter if you agree with us or not, there are plenty of others just as qualified that can do what you do.
To change the narrative: “How can we help you be on board with what we are doing? What do you need from us?”

Implicitly: Ignoring individual strengths.
Message: By not recognizing what each individual brings to the table, we are implying that everyone brings the same thing and can be replaced with anyone else at any time.
To change the narrative: “I would like to support you in understanding your own individual value, and as a group, utilizing our individual strengths so we can be better as a whole. Our team would not have the same strengths without each individual that’s in this room.”

In the way we hire: “Offer them (the least amount that we can/change the benefits/adjust a benefit that we told them would be true). If they won’t take it we will just go on to find a candidate that will.”
Message: The devaluation of an individual in the hiring practices I’ve seen is a whole blog post in itself. From the moment a position is posted how you post that position, go through the hiring process, and offer the position says a great deal about how the organization runs and how it treats its people. If you devalue an employee from the get-go, they will likely not go into the position on a positive note. The same can be said for when an individual leaves. If a good person who resigns isn’t given the courtesy of being wished well and thanked for their hard work on their way out the door, regardless of the fact that they’re resigning, it says more about the organization than it does about the person leaving.
To change the narrative: Treat a new hire as though they are exactly the person you wanted for that position. Be excited that they are coming on board and spend more time celebrating their acceptance than calculating their cost.

I truly believe that we don’t get into the habit of devaluing people on purpose. I think that in running an organization (whether it’s at a district, school, or classroom level) we get so bogged down in the policy and procedure that we forget we are working with people who are human and have emotional needs. Regardless of if one believes that there should be so much emotion in the business of education, it’s difficult to ask educators at any level to go to work and care and love their students and then turn all emotion off when it comes to their own well-being and feeling valued. One of the strengths that educators as a whole bring to the table is the compassion and attention they pour into their jobs and asking them to turn that off causes a disconnect. 

Yet, there’s a personal responsibility as well

When it comes to climate and culture we all have a role in the way it looks in our organizations. Administration is not the only driver of climate and culture. Another aspect of being valued is understanding your value and exercising that knowledge. You can’t expect other people to value you if you do not embrace your value and presume that people will treat you with respect. Understanding your value is not boastful or conceited. You can understand what you bring to the table and still be humble and kind because people who have a good understanding of their strengths don’t need to be boastful, they just show their awesome in their actions, relentlessness, and accomplishments.

There many ways of understanding your value. There are strengths you bring in what you know and what you’ve learned. Content knowledge is helpful when expertise is needed on a topic in order to give a new initiative or project a deeper understanding. Having a deep understanding on a topic is definitely a value. And being in education, we all should get that knowledge is valuable.

There is another kind of strength that is valuable as well but takes time and deep reflection to develop, and that is the value you bring in the knowledge of yourself. Developing core beliefs, for example, is one way to understand what drives you and moderates your behavior. Discovering how you work within a team and the benefits you bring that other people might struggle with is another value. For example, I have discovered through working in teams that I excel at putting thoughts into action. Procedures, tasks, get it done attitude…that’s me. I am not and probably will never be the big idea person. That is why I work best when I collaborate. I can help others put their big ideas into action. Knowing this means that I am valuable to people when they don’t know how to move forward. Also, the ability to articulate my value to others in a way that is socially acceptable means that if I am in a situation where someone doesn’t know my strengths, they will be able to recognize them after we have worked together and I’m not expecting them to read my mind.

The feeling of being valued and the connected feelings of belonging and pride are not only ways to enhance climate and culture but also to keep educators engaged and supported. Being more intentional about the messages we send can change the way that educators feel regarding the organization and what they bring to the table. However, we all need to reflect and recognize our own value and know that we deserve the place at the table that we have earned.

Controlling the Way Social Media Makes Us Feel

Watch the video expansion on this blog post here.

One of the topics I speak about in my sessions and workshops on educator mental health is the effect that social media can have on the way we feel about ourselves. It’s not much different than what we tell our students: images on social media are the best versions of someone on that day coupled with filters and editing. “You shouldn’t compare your every day to their best day,” we say. Then the students walk away and we go back to scrolling through Twitter or Facebook and throw our own advice right out the window.

I would read through Twitter and feel like what I was doing paled in comparison to what everyone else was doing but I felt like I was working so hard. That person was putting out a new book. I haven’t put out a new book in a few months. That person just recorded a podcast. We haven’t recorded a podcast in awhile. I really want to write more articles like that person. Why am I not sitting down and writing more articles? Social media was becoming more and more of a burden to me instead of the place for growth that it had been for me a few years prior. However, my negative attitude flare-ups were happening because I was allowing it.

Last week, I posted this picture on Facebook:

I took two photos to get this one and I added a filter that hid some of my wrinkles around my eyes. And the responses I got from my sweet, kind, loving friends were these:

This post happens to be a picture but it could represent any kind of post where someone is celebrating or showing something off. It could be a gorgeous sunset over the beach that shows their on vacation. It could be the last ground-breaking podcast that they recorded. It could be that they just wrote a book, read an amazing book near the pool on a glorious summer day, wrote a blog post, spoke at some massive venue, got a new job that they’re excited about, or an image of their sporty new car. It could be all of the amazing things that happen every day to people that they post on social media that we idolize and wish we could be/do/have that. Then we feel bad because we don’t do all those things and we haven’t taken pictures like that lately. But, there is typically so much more going on behind the scenes that we don’t see. For example, behind this photo:

You probably don’t know that I try to take pictures from the shoulders up because I’m so embarrassed of my weight and I hate the way my arms look if the picture gets too low. I struggle with my weight every single day. With every comment that said I looked pretty, I countered it in my head with reasons why they’re mistaken.

You may not be able to see that I’m in my bedroom and it’s a complete disaster. It’s my catch-all room and there is never enough space. If you only saw that room, you’d swear I was a hoarder.

You might not know that I’m an hour away from bringing my eldest son for a major surgery on his knee that just ended his college football season before it began and I’m dealing with the physical and emotional strain that it’s causing on him. My hair is curled and my makeup is done because I was up early worrying and I didn’t know what else to do with myself.

It may not be evident to you that I am still reeling over an argument with my youngest daughter a few days before or that my younger son is leaving for college soon and I’m struggling with the change or that my decision to leave my job is affecting us financially and I have major guilt over it.

I didn’t listen to any podcasts last week. I scheduled to watch three webinars and missed all of them. And the worst of them all: I made promises that I didn’t keep.

Do you feel differently about the photo I posted now? There is so much more behind a post than just the post.

Remembering that each of us have a story that goes along with each social media post makes each of us more human in what seems like a very inhuman way to interact. The issues I am dealing with on an every day basis are hidden from all my friends replying to the photo I shared. For every person who posts that they read a new book or listened to a new podcast and you think, “Ugh, I haven’t had time to do those things” remember that it may have been the only thing they were able to fit in that entire week.

You are not less because of what someone else has accomplished.

I’ve heard people talk about getting off social media because they are tired of the filtered images, the celebrations, and the bragging, but I am a firm believer that people should be able to celebrate their accomplishments no matter how small they may seem to anyone else. That may be the biggest thing they’ve accomplished lately and we all need to celebrate that with them. If it makes us feel anything but pride and support, that is more about the way we are allowing social media to make us feel than it is about what the celebratory post is actually saying.

We have control over the way that social media makes us feel. Someone else celebrating an accomplishment shouldn’t make us feel guilty or inept. If we feel that way, that’s on us. When I started to understand that there are always stories behind every post and that I had control over the way that I allowed social media to make me feel, it was a game changer in how I felt about myself in relation to the posts I was reading. It wasn’t that everyone else was doing things that I needed to be doing more of, it was that the combination of all the posts that I read and saw were little goals that I may want to set for myself (or maybe not…we can’t do it all). We may not be able to control what others put on social media but we can certainly change the way we think and feel about it, and being able to guide our emotions in healthier directions is one of the best ways we can move forward in the way we think and the way we interact with both ourselves and with others.

Similar to when you were in high school and you and your friends all accidentally showed up wearing the same outfits, my friends Jen Casa-Todd (author of Social LEADia) and Tisha Richmond (author of Make Learning Magical) also recently posted about this similar topic. I highly recommend you read Jen’s tweet here and Tisha’s post here.

Four Types of Self-care

Watch the video review of the Four Types of Self-Care here.

Self-care is becoming as much of a buzzword as social-emotional learning, yet we are really in the beginning stages of this new “initiative” where we use the buzzwords but really don’t have a good grasp on what they mean or how to put them into practice. So currently, we look at each other in staff meetings and when we find someone who is particularly exhausted we ask them what they are doing to practice self-care. Inevitably, they look at us with exhausted eyes and mentally scan their days for proof of anything that may resemble their ability to take care of themselves. When they come up empty they make a joke about drinking wine or emphatically say, “I DO practice self-care” *cue guilty look* probably trying to convince themselves as much as anyone else.

There are a few aspects of self-care that make it difficult to practice. First, self-care can’t be done for you and when you’re most exhausted you’d do just about anything for someone else to be able to help. Unfortunately, self-care at its core is about bringing you back to feeling like you and you are the only one who can do that. It’s that fleeting feeling you get when you’ve settled into a moment and it feels like home. Nobody can do that for you. Second, it’s difficult working in a profession where our entire efficacy is wrapped up in how someone else is doing yet we need to move from focusing on them to focusing on us. Third, we don’t know what to do. This is especially the case if it has been a significant amount of time since we have taken time for ourselves. We forget. Literally, we have no idea what to do.

Self-care needs a proactive approach. Figuring out what works for you and practicing those activities will keep you healthy on a daily basis. Knowing what works before a very stressful time will help you fall into these routines when it may seem like too much work to think about self-care. Also, understanding the different kinds of self-care can help to create a holistic self-care routine that hits multiple areas. Below are the four areas that I’ve identified:

Emotional self-care includes things that help you feel balanced. This can be seeing a counselor (which is appropriate even when you’re not struggling), keeping a journal, spending time with friends who build you up and make you laugh, meditation, or focusing on the little things that bring you joy. It can also be practical activities like improving your organizational or budgeting skills which can help reduce stress. For this type of self-care, it’s important to reflect on what makes you happy. Sometimes we fall back on what other people tell us will make us happy instead of reflecting on what actually does.

Physical self-care is anything you do to support the way your body functions. The most common recommendations I hear for self-care are yoga or running. Exercise is so important and if you’ve never tried yoga or running, I highly recommend finding out if that is something that would work for you. However, there are so many other types of exercise and physical activities for self-care like walking the dog, dancing, swimming, horseback riding, gardening, hiking or water skiing for example. What type of activity you’re doing is less important than the way it makes you feel. I enjoy mowing the lawn with the push mower. It makes me feel accomplished and I enjoy the sound of the mower. While mowing the lawn might be work for others, for me the peace I have while I’m mowing is a type of self-care.

Physical self-care can also be taking care of your body in ways besides moving. Attending to dental needs, staying hydrated, eating healthy, and getting regular physicals are practical ways to attend to self-care.

If physical self-care is supporting your body and the way it functions, intellectual self-care is doing the same for your brain and thought processes. Examples of intellectual self-care are playing board games, reading a newspaper or the news online, doing a crossword, participating in a stimulating conversation with another person about something you find fascinating, or learning something new. When you feel like your mind is expanding and you are thinking deeper about a topic that you enjoy, that activity would probably fall under intellectual self-care.

I often think of spiritual self-care as the things I do that help me feel like I’m striving to be a better person. Usually, these are activities that center me and allow me reflection time to see my growth in any area over a period of time. I also think that self-care in this area can remind us of our purpose or guide us down the path to finding it. Some people may practice their religion as a part of spiritual self-care, but doing activities like taking a moment to feel gratitude, communing with nature, or volunteering for a cause you love can also fill your spiritual cup.

It helps to make lists of what definitely works for you and anything new you would like to try. When you’re feeling good try something new to see if you can add the activity to the “works for me” column. When you’re stressed, you’ll have the list of activities that you know will provide the self-care you need to get back on track. Some activities hit multiple areas of self-care. For example, if you’ve never been kayaking and you try it, you are supporting the way your body functions (physical), learning a new skill (intellectual), and if it makes you happy (emotional) it fulfills three types of self-care.

When we understand how to provide ourselves with what we need to be ourselves, we are more likely to do those things. Yet, there still has to be a high amount of intentionality to ensure we are fulfilling all areas. Creating lists and being prepared will help us continue the self-care when adversity strikes and we’re not sure how we’re going to fit it in. We must promise ourselves that we will take care of us, and it can no longer be acceptable that we are the first ones that we break our promises to. In any profession where other people are the focus, like education, we must be strong in order to provide the best care for the ones we work with.

Challenging Assumptions on EdTech Companies: Missing Connections Because of Bias

As a Tech Director, vendors and edtech companies drove me crazy. I’m not going to lie. The 50 emails I received a day for mailing lists that I never signed up for that began with, “I’ve left you several messages…” would nearly put me over the edge. As if I wasn’t trying to keep an entire technology ecosystem going, help raise students digitally, and be a good boss and only had time to satisfy their cold call or sales quota. Drove me crazy and forced me to turn my name tag around to hide my Director of Innovation and Technology title at any conference while walking through the expo hall. Can I scan you? No. No you may not.

Compounding this issue was the fact that so many edtech companies are started by people who never worked in education. Most people in EDU can pick out these people in less than a five minute conversation. It’s not to say these companies can’t be successful, but when they screw their face up into confusion and tell me that pedagogy sounds like a made up word it concerns me getting involved with people who have taken such little time to get to know their consumer base. If not for the business side then just because they should also care about kids.

Today I happened to be in the right place at the right time and was invited to a media session with the CEO of Instructure, the company who developed the Canvas LMS. I have been a huge fan of the platform for many years and have steered educators in that direction whenever they are looking for a more robust system than Google Classroom as I believe their software is second to none. Although I respect the platform they’ve built, because of my past history with edtech companies I was beyond skeptical about going into this meeting. I had not previously met Dan and I had my haunches up immediately expecting him to speak to investing and data and how they can drive revenue and oh yea, support learning, too. While the media asked him questions about investors and data, he consistently brought the conversation back around to learning…using words like competencies and standards and engagement and pedagogy in the correct context. He answered the business questions, but what lit him up was when he spoke about students and their learning. He smiled when he was asked a question that made him think through how their platform supported student learning in this way or that, and visibly became more excited discussing personalization and individualization. I was floored. And in the past where I had loved the tech, I realized that at InstructureCon this year, I adored the people behind the product. They ooze passion for education and both the CEO Dan and the rest of the crew has absolutely challenged every assumption I’ve been making about edtech companies. The Instructure people…they are our people. And I realized that there are so many more people standing just on the outside of education who are just as passionate as we are. There are more of us and we don’t need to navigate this alone.

I speak so often about assumptions and bias and how to overcome the ones you make and have, but sometimes I still need to gut check myself and make sure I’m practicing what I preach. I’ve grown. I can see the potential missed opportunities I may have had in the past from shunning the partners that we may have had in education. Partners like Instructure.

Althought this post was directly related to attending and participating in InstructureCon, I cannot mention educationally engaged companies without mentioning Classlink.

The CEO of Classlink, Berj Akian, is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. His employees will tell you, as I’ve been told by them multiple times, that the level of his philanthropy and giving back to his own employees is second to none. I have been told by an employee, “I would follow him anywhere”. Classlink’s product is amazing, but I believe what makes it one of the fastest growing edtech companies is the founder’s principals and commitment to students and their learning, and the same belief system is passed down, no expected, to be the foundation for the employees as well. Not only is the company an example of fantastic customer service and support, but the goals are clear: how can we do better for students and teachers.

When Your Core Beliefs Are Challenged

I’ve written many blog posts about my core beliefs and how I’ve developed them. The core beliefs I hold, the values of education in which I hold sacred, are one of the most transformational gifts I’ve given myself. Developing them took work and patience and I couldn’t have sat down and written them prior to really living them out and determining what they were through reflection. All of this hard work means I love and cherish my values. I know what I stand for.

However, if you work hard and you align your core beliefs to your actions and you are constantly double-checking and reflecting that they are still in tact, there will inevitably be someone who comes along and challenges them. It may be because their core beliefs and my core beliefs are just different. Or, it may be that they have not taken the time to develop them so they are flying by the seat of their pants. Either way, I can’t control their beliefs anymore than they can control mine.

Some challenge to your belief system is good. It forces you to take a step back and evaluate what you are doing and believing. I’ve had to ask myself:

Am I fighting this battle for the right reasons? Is it about the impact of this decision or is it about the person with whom the challenge is with?

Am I making this personal?

Are my beliefs really what I think they are? Do they need an adjustment? Am I fighting against this only because I am upholding my beliefs or am I listening to the issue and recognizing that possibly the right decision goes against my beliefs? After all, I am not the be all and end all of deciding what’s right and wrong.

Any time I’m forced into deep reflection is valuable even if the reason it’s done (adversity/challenge) is uncomfortable. However, I’ve also been in situations where the challenge and adversity was too great. Where the situation was so against my core beliefs that I needed to make a decision to either walk away or go against my beliefs. And if you really have taken the time to develop your beliefs and you hold them as some of what makes you you, it feels like ripping a piece of who you are out and handing it over to someone else. It’s seriously gut wrenching. And at that point, you have a choice. You change your beliefs – you go against your beliefs – or you leave. George Couros wrote a post about it awhile back that sums up how I feel about the latter situation: When it’s time to leave.

There can be a lasting impact on a person when the adversity is so great and your beliefs are heavily challenged. Because education’s backbone is relationships it makes the work inherently emotional. We need to love and nurture other people’s children. It’s incredibly difficult but rewarding work. And because we have so much emotion tied up in the work if there is adversity surrounding what we are trying to do, it can cause an internal struggle that is unlike many other professions. If there is a teacher who is just coming to work, doing their job, and going home, we call them disengaged. We wouldn’t say that same thing about a postal worker, for example. It’s difficult to not take adversity personal because the job itself is so personal. So, when adversity strikes, I’ve found it can have lasting effects on us in many ways. For example:

Demoralization: In the book Demoralized: Why teachers leave the profession they love and how can they stay, Santoro described demoralization as the outcome from conflict between the moral obligation that a teacher feels to make the world a better place for students when they enter the profession and anything that goes against that moral code. It could be school-based or decisions by the administration but it could also be politically driven. When it happens repeatedly and the feeling of morality in regards to the students is threatened, it can challenge the very reason that a teacher went into the profession to begin with. When I speak or do workshops on disengaged teachers, I partially define that as someone who forgot why they began teaching to begin with. Some of our disengaged teachers could fall into this category.

Imposter Syndrome: Psychology Today defines Imposter Syndrome as, “…a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.” When the beliefs that you’ve worked so hard to live are constantly challenged you begin to wonder if they were right to begin with. Eventually, the wonder turns into a conviction that you just know the right words to say but nothing you believe really works in real life with the real people that are constantly challenging you. Therefore, what you believe, what you say, and what you stand for feels fraudulent.

However, I’ve also learned that standing up for what you believe and sometimes even walking away when it’s really, really scary to do so can bring on its own kind of strength. And that, really, is the power of developing core beliefs to begin with. When everything is going well, they guide your decisions and action and help you understand that you are on the path you most believe is right. When adversity strikes they allow for the same guidance, but the strength needed to continue to live by those beliefs can be taxing. Sometimes, it would be so much easier just to cave to those around you. However, in the reflection of any situation, there is a calming confidence that happens when you realize you can look back and say, “I never did anything that I didn’t wholeheartedly believe was right.” And in the face of real adversity, it’s at that point where you begin to heal and move forward.

The One About Vulnerability, Change and Growth

When I was 18 and moving on to college, I was extremely uncomfortable in my own skin. It was brought on by years of being told I was worthless and stupid by one parent and abandonment issues by the other, and this discomfort kept me from doing just about anything that took me even more outside my comfort zone. Forget risk-taking, I was just trying to get through my day and figure out who I was. That was uncomfortable enough. I didn’t like going places alone. I wanted someone with me so I could imitate them if I didn’t know what to do. I never wanted to stick out or feel like I was different than anyone else around me.

I married when I was 20 and had my first child by the time I was 21. I have never lived alone. I went from my parent’s house to my college roommate to my husband. All of these experiences always left me with someone I could look at to get the answers. I wasn’t enabled in the way that I’d ask them to do it for me (because I never wanted to appear inept), but I was able to watch and learn and ask a question if I felt really brave. If I didn’t have the courage, I would go without until I figured it out myself. I have yet to determine if I understood at that age that it was fear holding me back or stubbornness and the desire to never look stupid or worthless. Probably a little of both.

When I really began presenting and traveling in education, talking about the things I knew how to do, it began to take me even more outside that zone. The first time I called an Uber by myself or got on a flight by myself was scary. Getting a rental vehicle, driving in unknown cities, constantly meeting people for the first time and wondering if my social cues were correct…all daunting. Then there was the first time I cried in an airport because my flight was cancelled and there were no cars to get home and I had nobody to talk me through that could help me take the steps I needed to move on. While it may seem silly to some, these were actual anxiety ridden moments for me. But, I made it through each one, and every time I did I took a moment to feel proud of myself and I eventually began to understand that the moment of anxiety lasts for just that: a moment, but the understanding that I can get through these challenges and become more comfortable with the uncomfortable was the greatest lesson. Understanding my fear. Putting her in a corner. Patting her on the head and telling her to pipe down.

I was in an interview recently where the candidate brazenly admitted that she was afraid of change so she has to be cognizant that when change is coming that she works very hard on moving herself forward. While some types people will think this is a weakness, I was silently chuckling as I have written blog posts about this very thing and my own struggles with change even though I have worked for so long with “Innovation” right in my title. As far as I was concerned, that was the moment I wanted to hire her. I would so much rather work with someone who is vulnerable and self-aware than someone who either truly feels like they are perfect or knows the right words to hide their weaknesses. For example, the people who say there’s always room to grow but then when a topic is mentioned, they’ve already “been there, done that” and have learned all they need to know. I’d take the one willing to admit their faults and how they’re trying to grow in a heartbeat. There’s no competition. Because I have been there and I understand that putting yourself in a place of high vulnerability and facing your fears puts you at a level of self-awareness and personal growth that being “born perfect” will never do.

This week I am in Washington DC with my youngest daughter. We were in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum yesterday and I was watching her walk around in awe at the huge, historic planes and thought how I would have never had the courage I would have needed to have this experience with her had I not taken those steps to move forward so long ago. Sometimes, when people talk about risk-taking, it’s not about the planning a jump off a cliff. Sometimes the risk-taking needs to be whatever it is you need to do to allow yourself the freedom to do the things that set you up for growth and having the tools to move forward. Sometimes it’s baby steps, like summoning your first Uber, that will eventually lead you to a larger reward. There is always a fine line between “I can’t” and “I won’t”. It’s easier to blame others for holding us back than recognizing and dealing with our own losses and fears. However, it’s so much more rewarding to do it anyway.

A Note To Graduating Parents and Teachers

Let’s face it, our kids’ graduation is just as taxing on us as it is on them. Probably more so because they most likely don’t yet understand that “end of an era” feeling. This time of the year is a strange mix of a million emotions for parents, students, and teachers: excitement because the end of the year is upon us and there is so much to do, craziness because everyone is busy, sadness because we (as adults) DO understand that it’s an end of an era, pride in everything the students have accomplished. There’s a lot of heart in these last few weeks. Tons of feels all around.

Two years ago when my eldest son graduated I cried two times. 1) When I first saw him in his cap and gown and 2) a little bit when we left him at college. In contrast, many of his friend’s moms were weeping balls of mess. We would get talking about the kids and I would smile and laugh and they would say, “how are you not crying?” At first I felt guilty. Was I seriously glad that one was leaving the house? But, then I realized that besides the fact that I would miss my son terribly as he went to school, this was what I raised him for. I worked really hard for 18 years to raise a human that would leave me and make a life of his own. That was my job as a mom; to raise a sweet, kind-hearted hard-worker that had a general idea of what he wanted to do with his life at 18. I did that. And while he’s now been gone for two years and I still miss him like crazy every day he’s at school, I’m also so proud of what he’s accomplished and I know that he is having amazing experiences that he’ll never forget.

A few days ago I was speaking to a teacher who had gone to the graduation of students she taught that had a serious impact on her and her teaching. She does not yet have children of her own so she claimed to have no comparison to a child’s graduation, yet described the myriad of feelings that accompany this time of year and not a single feeling she described was different than a parents’. She loved those kids. She was so proud of them. She cried like a banshee. So for the engaged, connected, loving teachers who have graduating students, I want you to know this:

This is your labor of love coming to fruition. All your hard work, the late nights developing lesson plans, the lunch periods you spent with struggling students, the arguments you thwarted and the high-fives and hugs you gave out…this is your outcome. Being the support in raising kids to graduate and move on with their lives – this was your job as a teacher. You provided them with loving security throughout their days and they are now their own versions of success, you did it. So go ahead and be sad that you’ll miss them. You helped raise amazing people with the potential to change the world. Go ahead and think that you’ll never have another class that will affect you as they did (you will). But send them off knowing that you did the best job you possibly could.

My younger son is graduating this year. I am going to miss the humor he brings to my days and the random teenage-boy hugs he gives his mom, but I do fully understand that I am sending him off to start the life that I have been hoping he’d have for the last 18 years. And, I am well-aware that I could not have done it without the help of his teachers, who may be in the audience on Wednesday, expecting to miss him almost as much as I will. So, to them, thanks for your help. We did well.

My Own “Life Rules” For Building Resilience

One of the characteristics that people pick out most often about me is my level of resilience. Some mix it up with tenacity and they do go hand-in-hand, but it really is just the ability to keep moving forward when things get difficult and I seem to get pushed backwards on whatever journey I’m walking. I don’t think that I was born with this level of resilience, but I was born with certain personality traits that made me more adaptable therefore building my resilience. For example, if I have a problem and I ask for help, I am truly open to what the other person is saying and will consider how I can use the information. I have always understood that part of being resilient is understanding that when I make a mistake I must adapt and be better, whatever that means for the current situation. Sometimes, I am able to figure this stuff out in my own head. Sometimes, I need other people to shift my lens for me.

I’ve lived my life by setting up rules for myself in my head – something that I usually only tell my best friends who understand how my particular kind of brain weirdness works and are willing to excuse it. For example, my rule for relationships is if someone makes me sad more than they make me happy, it may be time to reevaluate the energy I put into that connection. These rules are usually constructs of adversities I’ve gone through in my life. When something happens I create a rule to help guide me in the future. It’s both how I’ve built my level of resilience and how I continue to maintain it and move forward with my life. More of my life rules for resilience are:

Will this matter in a year?
Awhile back, I was sitting with a co-worker friend of mine who happened to be sitting in front of me when I decided to break down about some difficult personal issues that I had going on at the time. For anyone who knows me at all, I wear my heart completely on my sleeve and if there is something bothering me it’s a significant amount of effort for me to school my emotions. I received an upsetting message while we were working and I broke down and verbally vomited my situation onto her lap.

I remember her being supportive and placing our work aside and giving me the time to spew. I don’t remember the specifics of what she said until she said this: Will any of this matter in one year? Five years?

At the time, I thought back a year and fast forwarded to where I was. Nothing seemed the same. She even told me that sometimes when adversity strikes, she would begin counting back from 356 days and would eventually forget why she was counting before she hit 1. I really took to this line of thinking. Even if what happened mattered, I would surely begin healing before the year was up. Five years out and it was possible that even the worst adversity would be just a memory. My resilience helps me understand that with anything that happens I will move on. Time will help me heal and grow, and I will become okay with the person I become.

Grieve today, move on tomorrow
I have found that some people get caught in one or the other; they either only grieve or they only move on. Grief shouldn’t be reserved for major disasters. Sometimes, grief needs to be felt and recognized over little disappointments as well. Grieving the failure of a goal or relationship recognizes that it was important and that it didn’t work out the way you hoped. Moving on recognizes that it’s important to continue to live your life according to the trajectory that you hope to set after that failure.

My general rule for failure is grieve today, move on tomorrow (in cases where it’s not a major catastrophe, of course). While sometimes I feel like it’s the emotional equivalent to rubbing dirt on a bruise, it still gives me the permission to feel bad about what I was hoping would happen. I like the timeline of one day because timelines and structure make me feel safe. When I don’t have them, I create them. So, one day I allow myself to grieve, the following day I begin to pick myself and move forward.

Take control of what you have control over, let the rest go
Learning to decipher what you can and cannot control and letting go of what you can’t is part of building resilience. The more you practice being able to quickly categorize pieces of a situation into controllable and uncontrollable the quicker you will be able to act on the things you can. You don’t need to be a control freak to desperately cling to the choices you have the right to make when it seems like everything around you is a whirlwind. Also, sometimes moving forward and making the choices you can will encourage others around you to do the same. So, while you can’t control what they do, you may be able to influence their movement. When you realize what you do have control over, it will help you become more okay with situations that are difficult.

Learn to take time to respond
This realization has come to me a with maturity and the knowledge that when I can take control of an emotional reaction to an emotionally charged situation, I am both steering the conversation and giving myself back something to control. I have a crazy temper. When I was younger I was quick to strike back at people who would irritate me for whatever reason. I was nearly proud of my quick wit and ability to burn people speechless. As I became older, I realized that I needed time after that initial irritation to simmer before I would respond, and that whatever I wanted to argue was so much more effective when I could respond with less emotion and more strategy and intelligence instead.

Practicing this change built resilience in two ways. First, I may be, in any situation, the one person who responds rationally and in the end I am positive that I will be satisfied with the way I responded and have no regrets that I fired back something I would later have to apologize for. Second, by responding rationally, I have less of a chance of further angering the other person, therefore moving past the issue quicker and with less drama.

Building resilience helps to get past adversity in a healthier state. The quicker that you are able to understand a situation, deal with the feelings from it, and move forward, the quicker you are able to really recognize your purpose and meet your goals without getting sidetracked. Also, building resilience before a major life event by working on the little adversities that can happen everyday will help prepare you for something massive that seems like there would be no preparation. While it might seem like resilience is about “getting through”, it’s really about moving forward and becoming okay with the person you’ve become in the process.

What’s Your Reason to Stay?

Yesterday, I resigned my position as Director of Innovation and Technology for the school district I work for. Immediately, when I tell people that, they ask me the same question: Why are you leaving?

Even if they don’t ask me flat out, I hear the whispers.

Is she being pushed out? (no.)
Is she leaving to consult full-time? (no.)
She must be making a million on her books. (bahahahahahaha – no.)
She’s always talking about depression, maybe she’s losing it. (well, that may be true.)

The decision to leave wasn’t an easy one. It took me weeks of pros and cons lists, talking myself into staying by telling myself I would be an idiot to leave, eventually knowing that it needed to be the right call for me to move on. Rarely, does anyone ask me the one question that I wouldn’t have an issue answering: What made you want to stay?

The comfort of getting a “Good morning” from the tech department ladies without fail when I walked through the door.

Hearing my programmer offer a piece of candy to the students leaving my office that I just had in my office for a stern talking to after throwing their devices across the gym.

Being the people trusted to know secrets from students and providing a safe place for them to be themselves.

Proudly sitting in a mental health meeting and listening to teachers do something about the mental health issues in our district.

Collaborating with one of my favorite people in the world, our library media specialist, knowing that we would come up with an awesome idea and she would act like it was all mine even though I’d know that wasn’t true.

Listening to teachers pop in and out of our department for an opportunity to tell us good news, bad news, funny stories, or just get a piece of candy.

The conversations, the laughter, and the people; that’s what I’ll miss. I never took this job because I thought the technology would keep me engaged. I took this job because I was hopeful that I could create relationships that would make me double and triple-check my desire to leave and I did that. If you asked me what my reason would be to stay it would be the relationships that I worked so hard to create. The ones I’ll talk about long after I’m gone and funny stories I’ll tell my future co-workers about the amazing people I used to work with that almost convinced me to stay.

Decision Fatigue EDU

I just finished the book Micro-Resilience by Bonnie St. John. From the beginning just the title caught my attention and I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few weeks reflecting on her work. She explains that micro-resilience is how you get back to you after the small challenges that happen every day. Macro-resilience is the resilience that’s necessary when a major challenge takes place like a death in the family or sickness. At a time of the year when I really didn’t have time to be reading ANYTHING extra, this book caught my attention because I’ve been caught in situations where several irritations had happened in rapid-fire succession and I had no time to reflect and process before the next one happened leaving me feeling like I’m drowning. When I happened to end up in a session by Bonnie St. John, the book and concept of Micro-resilience spoke to me.

Sometimes I hear people refer to resilience as the way and how quickly you “bounce back” from something difficult that happens. I disagree with this. I don’t think that after a major challenge you can ever get back to where you were before. The goal of resilience is to be as good with the change or better, depending on the situation. You will be a different person and that’s ok. Resilience helps you be okay with it.

There were many concepts that resonated with me in the book, but one of them that resonated the most was decision fatigue which is something that has been shown in studies to create the situation where you are more likely to choose the easy choice because you’ve already made so many decisions that you are tired. For example, St. John cites research that showed that if you’re going to court it’s best to have your court time in the morning and after lunch break when the judges are rested and fed. As the day goes on and they listen to more cases, they are more likely to uphold the former conviction than they are to change it because they are tired and have made so many decisions.

In considering the concept of decision fatigue, I started to reflect on my interactions with people throughout a day. Someone rarely speaks to me without starting the conversation asking me a question that I need to seriously consider the answer. I know I’m not alone in this. Especially in education, so many of our conversations throughout the day begin with questions. By the time I get home, I don’t want anymore questions which is part of what makes me so crabby with my family. It’s more than just being tired. It’s being exhausted with making decisions.

Even with our kids in personalized learning and our educators in personalized professional learning, we are asking them to constantly make choices. I am not saying I am against personalized learning, not at all. But, I do think that we need to have an awareness of decision fatigue when we are asking people (little and big) to make choices over and over and understanding how exhausting it is.

I often tell a story of a student that I had in my Educational Technology course when I was teaching at a university. I was trying to model giving voice and choice in assessment by allowing for students to show their learning in a variety of ways. One of the students, a high-achieving college student, approached me after class and asked me to tell her what to do. She cried when I told her she could choose anything. At the time, I thought to myself holy cow, I’m sending this girl out in the world to teach students voice and choice and she can’t even do it herself. She doesn’t know how to choose.

I realize now that it could have been a poor assumption. What if she was just exhausted in a class that went from 6pm-9pm at night? How many times does decision fatigue play a major part in the decisions we make? How many times have I made a semi-major decision that was easier just because I was too exhausted to think any harder. How many times has this affected student learning? Relationships with other people? My department? My family?

St. John gives several simple recommendations for trying to cut down on decision fatigue. Two that resonated with me were because they were so simple:

Create To Do Lists
I think in general teachers love to-do lists. For me, there is nothing more satisfying than checking things off. However, from the standpoint of decision fatigue, to-do lists allow you to take stuff out of your head and create brainspace. You don’t need to remember everything you need to do because you are putting it down on paper. Put it in priority order and you have even less decisions to make as you work your way down the list.

Create Checklists
Checklists are different as they are things that need to be done all the time in the same way. This takes the effort out of remembering next steps. As a mom, I hung a five step checklist for my kids when they were little. There was a little laminated sheet attached to the bathroom mirror that had things like “Brush your teeth” and “Brush your hair”. While at the time I thought I was trying to make them more dependent, it also allowed me to just ask them, “Did you do the list?” instead of asking each thing on the list for four kids. These little practices can help with the decision fatigue.

One of the most important takeaways from the book is that the changes that we make to be more micro-resilient don’t need to be huge changes in our lives. They can be little things like checklists and to do lists, but the important thing is actually changing the way that we think about using them and their purpose. The micro-resilience idea reminds me of the idea of working smarter not harder except your living smarter not harder and building your resilience in the process.