Hot or smart? Introverted or Extraverted?

In the interest of better understanding ourselves and others (children, families, and colleagues)…
For the sake of the students we teach who absorb our messages and who come to us with brains of all types …
Here are two though provoking articles shared with me by colleagues:

From Andrea (a mother and kindergarten teacher who is both hot and smart but values the latter over the former): How To Talk To Little Girls

From Maddie (a deliciously introverted artist coated in a talented English teacher shell):
Revenge The Introvert

Fear & Spanish Sausage in the Chilean Andes

chilean sausage

I have written at least eight different blog posts in my head reflecting on my recent experience skiing in the Chilean Andes, but this one today honors the beauty of how adventure – and the challenges and triumphs resulting from it – can connect to your everyday professional and personal life.

As I met with a colleague this morning we discussed hopes and anxieties for the year ahead. It quickly became an interesting discussion on the role of fear, which can either paralyze & consume you or fuel your change and growth. We discussed whether or not communicating about nervousness and fears was worthwhile or counterproductive. Similarly, we moved into a discussion about support and professional growth and how to accept both compliments and constructive feedback with grace and confidence. In both these conversations I found myself having one of those classic light bulb “A-HA!” style moments and sharing anecdotes from my recent skiing experience with PowderQuest.

Fear – Work With & Through It

It was not until halfway through my trip that my trip-mates and guides knew that I had never been off-piste skiing before. I was not actively trying to hide this information, but neither did I volunteer it. I stood at the top of varying levels of backcountry chutes and bowls with fear pounding in my chest. And I held that alone. I don’t think that made me brave. It made me isolated. It wasn’t until a particularly long and harrowing day that I finally said “I have never done this before, I am terrified.” It was only then that the women on the trip were able to more fully be the amazing women they are in support of me. It was only then that Ingrid Backstrom & Leah Evans could really put their expertise and coaching talent to maximal use. I was able to get the help I needed to become a better, braver skier because I wasn’t trying to hide what was going on inside. In our professional and personal lives I think we tend to connote fear with cowardice. Fear is neither brave nor cowardly. Fear is a rationale response to risk, to uncertainty, to the new. Whether you are standing at the cusp of a narrow snow-covered chute flanked by rocks or on the cusp of a new job, a changing relationship, or something else big or small….I am more certain then ever that if you find the right people to share your fear with that you will find yourself capable of more than you imagined.

Spanish Sausage – Love It & Yourself

Midway through our trip, Leah & Ingrid turned to our group of beautiful, smart, talented, and successful skier chicks who were ripping up the slopes and made the following pronouncement:

 “Here’s the deal. For the rest of the day if you say anything negative about your skiing or yourself you have to stop at the entrance to the lift, raise your hands in the air, do a dance, and yell ‘ME GUSTA LA LONGANIZA CHILENA!”

Meaning, “I LOVE CHILEAN SAUSAGE!” This certainly gave the lift operators a good chuckle. Many of us had to do this, sometimes multiple times, and even our superstar guides Ingrid & Leah were not exempt…going to show the pervasive problem we (and I think particularly women) have with two things:

  1. Accepting compliments without using self-deprecation or criticism to deflect them. Instead of saying an authentic “Thank you” we instead resort to the “Yes, but….” Or “Except for when…” We assume that compliments are just the sweet tasting, disingenuous preface to what someone else really means which is the criticism that is sure to follow (or secretly lurking within them).
  2. Absorbing feedback as a growth opportunity rather than a devaluation of our skills, talents, or self-worth. We are the first to say “Nobody is perfect, and I certainly am not” and so susceptible to crumbling inwardly upon receiving suggestions for improvement.

Sure, some people will compliment you in order to wound you. Some people will give feedback that is not constructive and leaves you feeling scraped out inside. But we all know how to differentiate between THOSE people and the allies and supporters around us who mean what they say.

So….whether on a ski slope, in your office, or at home….WHAT IF?

What if we chose to live with our fear instead fighting the impossible fight to live without it?

What if we chose to let fear propel us to new heights alongside those who can champion us along the way?

What if we chose to accept gratitude and compliments with a smile and earnest thanks?

What if we chose to hear feedback with an open mind and heart rather than disappointment and self-criticism?

What could we then be capable of – independently and together?

What is “healthy”, anyway?

I have been thinking a lot lately about how early it happens that girls acquire a perception of their own worth. Children – both boys and girls – are bombarded by messages from the media, remarks from women in their lives about their own self-images (“Oh, no thank you! Just a salad a for me. That _____ will go straight to my hips.”), and by young adults that they look up to and model their lives after (the 95lb, 5’5″ fourteen year old who says on the bus to school “Ugh. I feel so fat today.”) Since young children are still, in so many ways, very much children…it can be easy to think that they aren’t absorbing these things like sponges. We assume that girls are not acquiring an unachievable vision of what they should look like, and that boys are not inheriting the same vision for themselves and for the women these girls will grow up to be.

Kate Thompson in The Huffington Post recently published an article (read it here)  on this very topic. One of the most striking excerpts:

“In this beautifully written and very moving article Passing on Body Hatred by Kasey Edwards, we can see how the cycle so often begins in childhood. After her mother had shared her feelings of negative body image with her as a child, she said, in an open letter to her mother: “I cursed you for feeling so unattractive, insecure and unworthy; because, as my first and most influential role model, you taught me to believe the same thing about myself.” ….Women are the mothers, wives, daughters, doctors, scientists and thinkers of the future. Our greatest contribution to the world is not about how we look but who we are and what we do.”

In a similar vein, an old friend of mine recently wrote a piece describing her own struggle with body-image and beauty in the high-powered world of Hollywood . I am grateful that there are strong, independent female role-models like Tara Rasmus out there in the “real world” who can write pieces like this and remind young women (indeed, all of us) that the media portrayal of femininity is artificial and empty. As educators we need to remember that we send subtle, yet palpable, messages to the young children in our classrooms everyday. In how we accept compliments, care for ourselves, speak about body-image, model healthy-eating…we too bear a heavy responsibility in creating a culture for boys and girls that values healthy choices in which that word “healthy” is known for more than lettuce, self-denial, or compulsive exercising. I am far more inclined to champion this view of healthy that Tara referred to in her article:

“Sexy is inherent in a healthy appreciation for food, in having the energy to romp with your beloved, pick up your baby, cook dinner for your friends, go for a run, or simply take a gentle walk to the market. Sexy is in feeling sated, having options, and feeling alive.” – Sophie Dahl

The Rainbow Won’t Wait

Photo by Maddie McManus

Photo by Maddie McManus

I think these words are useful to keep at the forefront of our minds as we head into the homestretch together:

“The work can wait while you show the child the rainbow, but the rainbow won’t wait while you do the work. ” -Patricia Clafford

Whether it is actually a rainbow, or whether the rainbow here represents a millipede, a dropped hot dog, an untied shoelace, the need for a hug, or a conversation to help sort out a challenge…….these teachable moments and memory-making experiences are fleeting and yet can make deep impact. It’s easy to miss them in the last chaotic weeks of school. Stay tuned. To each other and to children. The rainbows are worth pausing and absorbing…because the work will be there when we return.

It’s not you. It’s February.

Winter doldrums anyone? It’s not you, it’s February. The wack-a-doo month with too few days that feels too long and can’t make up its mind about what season it’s in and acts like every day is Monday. Blame it on February.

That said, I ran across Pat Bassett’s article in the most recent issue of Independent School called “Twenty-five Factors Great Teachers Have in Common”. It’s terrific…and short. Perfect for February.

  • Teachers, here is my only demand as you read it: Read it like a mirror (reflecting back to you the hallmarks of your great-teacher-ness) NOT a to-do list (of things you are expected to do better).
  • GreatTeachers2Non-teachers, here is my only demand if you read it: Thank a teacher. As Pat Bassett says, “Great teachers don’t need encomiums of praise.” They do, however, appreciate it. Especially in February.

If February has its hold on you too strongly to take a moment to read it…The image is one I created of the verbs that start the qualities of great teachers from Bassett’s article – I find these verbs exemplify not just great teachers, but great people. If all you do is hold onto ONE of these, perhaps it can turn a grey-sky case of the Februaries into a blue-sky bit of bounce in your step…for you and the children in our lives.

Counting on Change in 3rd Grade

Paris, Mirai, & Raquel

Paris, Mirai, & Raquel

Two weeks ago third graders spent nearly three hours counting all the coins they collected from their change drive during the week of January 14-18. The classroom floor was strewn with pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters as students worked in groups to count, record, and compute the amount of money they collected. As a result of their tireless perseverance in sorting and calculating coins children walked away with a deep appreciation for just how impressive their final total was, coming in at $1,351.52.

All the money raised will go towards purchasing books for the school in Mablomong, South Africa that Tuxedo Park resident Sue Heywood and the organization CarryYou are connected with. Third graders will each select a different loved picture book for our connection in South Africa to purchase. They will be able to send letters and illustrations to their peers in Mablomong about themselves and their reasons for selecting each book. The remainder of the money will be used to purchase a variety of books in English, Afrikaans, and other local tribal languages to fill out the collection at the school.

Third graders are featured in a local paper (The Photo News) highlighting their project and what they believed they learned from the experience. I encourage you all to read as their insights into themselves and the world are profound.

Justin, Megan, Courtney, & Serdar

Justin, Megan, Courtney, & Serdar

As their teacher, watching this project grow and develop from the seeds of their inspiration, I have marveled at what children can think, create, and do when given a safe environment, a thoughtful framework (though admittedly one I was making up as I went), and appropriate freedom. I have watched them grow in the incredibly crucial skills of collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, communication, & cultural competency as they worked together to solve problems, construct plans, implement them, and remain focused on their purpose. We had the opportunity to talk about topics of leadership & followership, children’s rights, multiple intelligences, and the diversity of talents and skills in our classroom community. We talked daily about the importance of making decisions around and remaining anchored by their “why”, their reason for pursuing this coin drive in the first place. When I initially asked the question back in December: “WHY do we want to collect money to buy children at this school in South Africa books?”

Student responses generated this collaborative “mission statement”:

 “People deserve an education. It is a child’s right to learn. In order to learn, people need books. We have so much and should share what we have. This gives children everywhere a better chance at a better life.”

Their relentless belief that these words mattered, and their perseverance in keeping their mission at the center through conflicts, presentations, planning, creating, and collecting is what ensured the success of their endeavor. From the beginning of this project the interest, framework, and implementation was student driven and as

a result they have acquired skills that will not fade (like the memorization of state capitals) because they were skills that were needed, honed, tested, and found necessary and useful. They know the challenges, triumphs, and hallmarks of good leaders and good followers (both of which are necessary for team dreams to become reality). They have greater appreciation for the diversity of what each member of their community brings to the table. They have the skills to resolve conflicts when they arise (as they inevitably do) in collaborative ventures. They have a deeper, richer global awareness and sense of citizenship in a world beyond themselves. Most invaluably: they have a stronger belief that they can make an impact…and the courage to act and make it real. They know now, in a way they did not before, that they can count on themselves and each other to be a source of the kind of change that lasts longer than pennies.

Cassie, Sam, & Eva

Cassie, Sam, & Eva