Forget the Hat. Choose Gratitude.

A mother and her young son were walking along the ocean shore. Suddenly, a tidal wave swooped over them and carried the boy out to sea.

The mother fell to her knees pleading with God. “Please return my son,” she prayed. “Please, please, please, please return my son. I beg you!”

A moment later another tidal wave crashed upon the shore, depositing the young boy at his mother’s feet. He had nary a scratch upon him.

The mother inspected her son, then looked back towards heaven. She shouted, “He had a hat!”

Too often people worry so much about the things they don’t have that they forget to be grateful for the things they do.

We do it as students, as teachers, as administrators, as parents, and as spouses. The problem is, when we spend time wishing different ways our lives could be better, the pretty-darn-good lives we have pass us by.

Gratitude is a choice. It means making a conscious effort to be thankful for the myriad blessings in our lives.

Health. Family. Friends. Homes. Jobs. Food. Clothing. Etc. Etc. Etc.

We all fall in the trap of ingratitude from time to time. I am as guilty of this as anyone.

Instead of being thankful our son mowed the lawn, we criticize him for missing a spot. Instead of being grateful for having the opportunity to attend free public schools, we complain about too much homework. Instead of being happy for having a job as a teacher, we grumble about having to do parking lot duty.

We need to model for our students the “attitude of gratitude.” We need to look for the good in everything. We need to be grateful for what we have. We need to stop whining. We need to be thankful the wave returned our child and remember that the lost hat just isn’t that important.

One of my favorite reads on this topic is Shawn Achor’s “The Happiness Advantage.” You would be doing yourself a favor by watching this video and then reading his book: http://youtu.be/GXy__kBVq1M

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The Power of California Meeting Ohio in New York

Jose Gonzalez, from San Diego.

Today my son Isaac learned his room assignment for his freshman year at Syracuse University. For the next nine months he will be sharing a room with a boy he’s never met.

A boy named Jose Gonzalez.

From San Diego.

California.

And I couldn’t be happier.

College is about so much more than taking classes and getting a degree. It’s about life experience, about being exposed–sometimes by choice, sometimes by chance–to stuff and people that you never would in your typical existence.

My guess is that Isaac Clark of Wadsworth, Ohio and Jose Gonzalez of San Diego are going to find they are different in many ways.

And my guess is that they will find they have much more in common than they ever would have expected.

As I wrote in a blog back in April, we are social beings. Some opportunities only come through personal interaction with others. While we can meet people from all over the world online, nothing replaces sitting with them, sharing a meal with them, engaging in discussions with them.

Few places—other than a college campus—bring people together from 50 states and multiple countries (students come from more than 125 countries at Syracuse).

This diversity creates opportunities to learn about one another’s culture, and to experience that culture. An understanding of another’s culture is more in depth when you actually spend time with that person, rather than merely interacting in an online environment. It’s the difference between reading a menu and eating from the buffet.

Yes, people can work together and study together online without being together physically. But I would argue that the convenience of the technology does not make up for the depth lost in the interactions.

Nothing can replace the power of being together, in physical space, with other people. Technology has the ability to flatten the world, but when it is all said and done, people are meant to be together.

Come May, Isaac and Jose may be the best of friends. Or, they may never want to see each other again. But they will be richer for sharing space and experiences with each other.

Knowing that takes some of the sting out of writing those tuition checks.

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Leaders Don’t Do Threats, They Do the Right Thing

It happens more often than you would think.

From time to time, parents or community members or sometimes even staff have something they want or need, and they will attempt to get it not through reasonable discussion, but through implicit or explicit threats.

Maybe these folks want something for their child: a changed grade or more playing time or transportation privileges or a detention cancelled. They may want something for themselves: a new assignment, a granted leave, a waived fee, access to unavailable facilities.

The threats may be covert. “I’ve always supported your levy” means they might not next time. An emailed complaint CCed to a board member or supervisor means if you don’t give me what I want you will be in trouble.

The threats may be overt. Sometimes they threaten litigation. Sometimes they threaten to never support a future levy if their wishes aren’t granted. Almost always they remind you that they are tax payers and pay your salary.

Here’s the thing they don’t think about: they don’t WANT a school leader who gives into threats. Why? Because if a school leader gives into their threat, isn’t he just as likely to give in to a threat from somebody else?

And, quite frankly, sometimes people ask for the exact opposite thing. For example, it’s not uncommon when students have conflict at school that one parent will demand the other student be suspended, while the other parent will demand their child not be disciplined, with both parents threatening never to support the school again if they don’t get what they want.

So, you don’t want school leaders who give in to threats. Instead, you want school leaders who listen to concerns, who consider all sides of the issue carefully, and who make the best decision they can based on the best information they have gathered.

Sometimes decisions must be black and white. But most often, good school leaders are expected to have the ability to make reasonable decisions in complex situations. Clearly not every decision will make every interested party happy.

But when you really think about it, you would really rather have a leader who sometimes disagrees with you than one who concedes every time he’s threatened with adverse consequences.

And for those school leaders who are faced with various threats from time to time, my advice is this: criticism will come no matter what decision you make, so you might as well just ignore the politicking and do the right thing.

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If You Can’t Find a Turtle, Be the Turtle

I spent the ten best summers of my life at CYO Camp Christopher in Bath, Ohio. I was a counselor, a bus driver and the Day Camp Director. Today I was reminded of a story from my days as a camp director.

We had themes for each week of the summer, and we would program activities around each theme. For Western Week we would always have a “gold rush,” during which we would paint small rocks gold and hide them around the camp for campers to find.

During Music Week we would have the Day Camp Jug Band, where all of us counselors would bring some kind of instrument from home, whether we could play or not, and put on a concert for the campers.

I could give 1,000 more examples, but you get the point.

So, during Animal Week each year each group of campers was supposed to catch a turtle sometime during the week. On Friday, the groups would paint their turtles and we would have the Great Camp Christopher Turtle Race Championships. (Don’t worry…we used water soluble paint and released the turtles afterwards).

One year, counselor Mike’s group couldn’t find a turtle. (Mike is in the picture below, furthest left in the second row, standing in front of a much younger me).

So, after searching and searching and searching without success all week for a turtle, Mike came up with a great solution: HE would be the turtle.

Mike let his campers paint his back, and Mike entered the ring to race the real turtles. And today, 15 years later, a camper remembered it fondly enough to remind me of it on Facebook.

What is Mike doing today? Of course, he’s a teacher.

My friends, camp is for the campers, and school is for the students. If you are lucky enough to have a job as a camp counselor or a teacher or anything else that gets to work with kids, make sure you do everything in your power to give them awesome memories 15 years later.

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Advice for Beginning Teachers: Don’t Ignore the Signs

ImageI was driving home from the Cleveland Indians game last night when I passed a sign on the highway stating that the left lane was closed two miles ahead. I moved to the center lane, and a car pulled up beside me.

A little further, another sign: LEFT LANE CLOSED, 1 MILE AHEAD.

The car was still driving next to me.

A little further, another sign: LEFT LANE CLOSED, ½ MILE AHEAD.

The car was STILL driving next to me.

A little further, another sign: LEFT LANE CLOSED ¼ MILE AHEAD.

The car was STILL driving next to me!

You know what happened next, because it either happens to you all the time or you do it to others all the time. The left lane started ending, and the car that had been driving next to me for the past two miles cut me off, sending me into a tizzy shouting about how there had been signs warning him for TWO MILES and how could anyone be SO STUPID to IGNORE THE SIGNS and how could he HAVE A LICENSE IN THE FIRST PLACE?!?!?!?

It’s enough to drive you crazy, isn’t it? I mean, seriously, there were signs for two miles—plenty of warning—and the car still didn’t do anything about it until it was too late.

We do the same things in schools sometimes, don’t we? Maybe we have a student who doesn’t turn in an assignment. Maybe he fails a quiz or two. Misses another assignment. Comes tardy to class. Fails a test. And before you know it, the end of the grading period is here, the student is getting a solid F, and we have not made a single effort to contact parents to alert them that there may be a problem.

Oh sure, we may have submitted grades on our web based grading system. But is that really enough? Would we go to a doctor that made us read our own chart?

In my twenty-one years of education, I can tell you exactly how many times I’ve had a complaint from a parent that I communicate too much: ZERO.

With today’s technology, there is never an excuse not to have strong communication with parents: email, Twitter, web pages, and all the other ways that I don’t even know about.

But I still contend that the single most underused piece of technology in classrooms today is the telephone. There is something about real human interaction that technology can’t replace. Don’t believe me? Ever have a spouse or child in the armed forces? Ever send a child off to camp or college?

Next to actually sitting in a room with a parent of a student, nothing replaces the value of contact via the telephone. It’s a tool that is simple, available and free. As a new generation of tech savvy teachers get ready to embark on their new careers this fall, I encourage them to embrace new technology and make it part of their daily work.

But, don’t forget the old technology. The invention of the elevator didn’t make the stairs any less effective.