Back to School: Tips for Success (Part Two)

IMG_1281In this special episode you’ll learn and hear:

  • a unique way to connect authentically with families during your first week in the classroom
  • a great way for students to get to know each other and the staff within your school
  • an awesome hands-on activity to start your first day off right
  • and a list of resources and tangible ways to develop growth mindset within your students during the first month, and throughout the year.
  • You’ll also learn a strategy so successful that three educators mentioned variations of it…love it! Finally, you’ll learn a handful of tips for starting the year off right.

When I put a call out to some of my friends and colleagues to learn the actionable ways they create a culture of belonging within their classrooms, I was blown away by the responses I received. I will be incorporating many of these strategies and lesson ideas within my own practice.

Thanks for listening! Feel free to share and review my podcast on iTunes…it helps other educators find it.

 

Back to School~Tips for Success

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Whether you’re a well-seasoned teacher or fresh in the field, it’s always great to gain insight into tried, tested, and true tips for success in the classroom. In this episode, you’ll come away with some great ways to prepare yourself and your classroom environment for a successful year, before the kids even set foot in the classroom. Hope you enjoy part one of this back-to-school series.

I am so excited to launch these new episodes because they are loaded with back to school strategies that you can implement right away to ensure you have a successful year with your students. I put a call out to some of my colleagues and was overwhelmed by the wealth of experience, creativity, and generosity.

This first episode focuses on preparing yourself and your learning environment in such a way that you not only optimize learning, but that you feel calm and happy as you prepare for the upcoming year.

  • You’ll hear from 4 experienced teachers about 4 strategies that’ll help you show up authentically for your students
  • the hidden curriculum every teacher should be focusing on this year
  • a proven tactic for increasing self-regulation on Monday mornings
  • key questions to ask yourself as you set up your physical space.

I have already planned to incorporate these tips within my own practice, I hope you find it useful for you, too!

Thanks for listening! If you liked the episode, please feel free to leave a review on iTunes!

Paintbrushes, Lizard-Brain and My First Faux Pas

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With a paintbrush gripped by my little inexperienced fingers, I’ll never forget the way his voice drove the chills over my skin in unrelenting waves. I froze like prey before a victorious predator, time stood still, my heart exploded out of my chest. I was barely breathing.

Pointing an accusatory finger at me with furious grimace, he bellowed, “What is wrong with you? Get out of my sight and clean yourself up! Don’t even think of coming back unless it’s gone!” As I gazed around the ancient stone-built room in stunned silence, my classmates stood before me staring, barely attempting to conceal their smirks, and pointing as a snickers and snorts of laughter erupted around me.

I must have been about 3 ½ years old when I had my first shaming experience at school. As one of my earliest recollections of childhood, it was a memory that had a huge influence on the way I showed up in my formative years.

Born in France, I attended a tiny two-room school house that catered to children preschool to high-school age, within the stone walls of the little village in which I resided with my family. The headmaster happened to be my classroom teacher; he was not what you’d call a kind man. Shaming and ridicule were often tools he employed to ensure that we complied and remained obedient.

Lost in my thoughts and in the process of creativity, I had been earnestly creating a masterpiece that day. Delighted at the opportunity for creative expression, I had been so wrapped in the pure joy of mixing the colours that I hadn’t even noticed the dollop of bright blue paint that had found its way onto the front of my stark white blouse.

Quick to call attention to anyone falling outside the tight confines of acceptable conduct, one of the older boys had raced excitedly to point out my faux pas to our militant leader.

The dull green walls in the bathroom closed in on me, as I scrubbed furiously to rid the blouse of the stain. Shame sat in my belly, a heavy lump weighing me down as I finally ambled back to the classroom with a crushed spirit, the lower-half of my shirt a sopping mess. Thank goodness the day is almost over, I remember thinking to myself.

When my parents came to pick me up that day, hordes of children ran alongside me, eagerly anticipating the joy of reminding me, once again, how I had failed that day.

We are all neurobiologically hardwired for belonging. When we become the outcast, when we get called out for doing something the wrong way, or when we find ourselves at a crossroads between standing within our integrity versus trying to fit in, it feels like death. So, we spend most of our lives trying to reduce any possibility of finding ourselves alone and exposed. In my case, striving for perfection has been a cross to bear for most of my life. Striving for perfection felt like the promise of protection-the guarantee that I would never experience being the outcast again.

But, the paradox of perfectionism is that it fundamentally separates us from others. Striving for perfection draws us away from true belonging, the ability to be who we are without apology. The ability to stand within our integrity. The ability to say, “this is who I am.”

It turns out that evolutionarily, when we do find ourselves standing alone, the reward circuitry in our brain screams at us to smarten up and find our way back to the tribe. To fit in at all costs.

This mechanism was once very useful to us, because not belonging to our tribe would quite rightly result in death. In the caveman days, being an outcast meant you no longer had the protection of the tribe. The chances of you dying were actually pretty high.

Even though the drive to fit in doesn’t truly serve us any longer, it’s still a very real part of our fight, flight, or freeze response. As parents, educators, and employers, we owe it to one another to respond compassionately in light of mistakes.

 

When You Lose Your Work…

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I’d like to wager that

every.

single.

person.

has likely experienced the bone-chill that accompanies the realization that the one thing into which you’ve been diligently pouring your blood, sweat, and tears…has vanished.

Forever.

Sometimes, all it takes is a single, fateful moment to undo hours, days, weeks, months, or even years of work, to delete precious and irreplaceable memories, or for achingly important items to go missing.

For example:

  • The near-complete set of report card comments you spend days crafting…poof.
  • Your computer crashes and important documents…gone.
  • The passport you need to board the plane back home… still sitting on the small round coffee table adjacent to the room service menu.
  • The one-of-a-kind baby photos you’ve been meaning to transfer from your phone to your computer…only a distant memory after a clumsy juggling act at your front door.

You get the picture…well, actually not any more.

Too soon?

In moments like those, my breath catches and my chest tightens, skin bristling with kinetic potential fueled by adrenaline. Frozen in time, I can sense the ever-quickening shallowness of my inhalations.

Have you ever mindfully noticed how your body reacts when it’s in panic mode?

It’s fascinatingly similar in likeness to your body being remotely occupied like a desktop computer by some tech assistant from a faraway land, who speaks an unrecognizable language, and keeps instructing you to do things you feel incapable of doing.

In other words, it’s easy to feel completely out of control.

In rapid succession, within the space of one week, three fairly-devastating events took place, delivering me to the very brink of my patience, and if I’m really honest, my sanity.

1. Just yesterday, while in the process of attempting to relocate and move my classroom resources after an extended parenthood leave, it dawned on me that due to a communication error more than 75% of my boxes had completely disappeared. Permanently. (Deep, deep freakin’ breath.)

2. Last week, after having had one of the most incredibly rewarding, gold-mine podcast interviews with a very VIP guest, my computer glitched, the software we were using to stage and record the call crashed unexpectedly and with it went the full hour-and-a-half interview. (Cue panicked hyperventilation.)

3. And, finally, yesterday morning, no sooner had the coffee touched my sleep-deprived lips, did I hear: “Moooooommmmmmyyy!”  To my horror, I discovered one of my blessed angels with ball-point-pen in hand and devious grin on face. There, laying face-up on our couch was the defaced page of Daniel Pink’s freshly-minted library-edition book I had meaning to dig into. (ARGH!!! Seriously, people?) The irony was not lost on me when upon closer inspection, the joyous scribbling had been contained to the opening page of the book, a quote:

 “Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” -Miles Davis

 

Was it a sign? Perhaps. With the intention of purchasing the book, I ripped the page out with purpose, and taped the quote to my fridge. Thank you, Miles Davis for the timely reminder of what truly matters in this world.

Although I may have lost some really important, seemingly irreplaceable items in short succession, the really important things in life will always remain intact.

These moments provide opportunities for deep practice in patience, letting go of our attachment to things, forgiveness (of self and others), adaptability, or at the very least, resisting the temptation to unleash unrelenting fury on the world.

Nestled within the struggle of ‘opportunities’ is the ability to rebuild a foundation that is even stronger than before.

Epilogue:

  1. Due to the generous nature of my podcast guest (and some reconfiguring of technical equipment), I was able to reschedule and rerecord the interview. I’d like to say that it was even better than the first.
  2. Those lost boxes enable me to enter a more minimalist approach to teaching, one I had always been meaning to adopt, anyway. No day like the present, I guess.
  3. In a way, I’m grateful for the quote. It was worth the $30 to be reminded to stay present in the now. It’s all we really ever have.

 

The Letter Every Teacher Should Write in June

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The Letter Every Teacher Should Write in June

Five years ago at the end of each school-year in the busy month of June, I started the practice of writing a letter to myself.  Like a ritual, I would seal the letter and place it in the left-hand drawer of my desk on the last day of school.  At the end of September, during the beginning of the following school year, a time when the lighthearted novelty of freshly sharpened pencils, crisp and clean notebooks, and excitement to ignite passion in the hearts of our students seems to melt like a brightly-coloured rainbow popsicle on a hot sunny day into thick greyish soup of overwhelm, lack of sleep, and a thorough sense of imposter syndrome, I would allow myself to pry open the letter. I would read each word slowly, with intention, allowing the message to sink into my skeptical spirit… reminding it that, yes, these students would get to where they needed to go. I just had to meet them where they were.

Patience. Time. Faith.

That was all I needed to keep in my mind over the coming months in order to stay afloat.

Throughout most of my career, I have had the pleasure of teaching Grade One, one of the most incredibly rewarding age-groups to teach because of the nature of exponential, near-explosive growth and learning that occurs in such a short period of time.

Like little jumping jellybeans, pint-size bodies file into the classroom in September,

eyes and hearts wide-open to the possibility of learning,

passionate about their beliefs,

sure-footed about their perspectives of the world,

filled with a desire be their authentic selves,

some students filled with trepidation,

others eager to show off their strengths,

certain children combative and oppositional,

other kids quiet and observing,

most are not yet able to

read,

write,

or do math.

There’s truly nothing like it!

It’s exhilarating.

It’s also incredibly exhausting.

But most of all, teaching Grade One (or any grade) can seem insurmountable in September.

The magic of the learning and deep growth that occurs within the soul of each child seems impossible to the rational teacher’s mind at the beginning of the year.

And so, the letter served to remind my “September-Self” that according to my “June-Self”…it would all work out.

No matter how long you’ve been teaching, the beginning of the year can seem tough. Why not take a moment now, in June, to reflect on how far your students have come, you have come together on your journey?

I urge you to jot it down on paper, pop it into an envelope and open that gift of insight and wisdom in September. It’ll alleviate some stress and create a sense of certainty for the future.

I guarantee, it’s the kindest thing you can do for yourself.

 

How These Well-Intentioned Compliments can Contribute to Devastating Inner Struggle

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“You’re so strong!”

“You’re so smart!”

“You’re so nice!”

How many times have we uttered these phrases, with the intention of bestowing our greatest admiration upon the receiver in front of us, whether a child, a colleague, a family member or a friend?

The truth is, when you’re told that you’re a certain way over and over, your identity can become inextricably linked to a particular set of traits or qualities.

What’s so bad about that?

Don’t we all want to exude a sense of effortless positive traits and be known for it?

What could honestly be so negative about reinforcing those characteristics in our loved ones?

Aren’t we being a little overly sensitive and PC?

When someone’s identity is so wrapped up in celebrated traits like emotional strength, kindness, intelligence, or happiness, it can be devastating and surprizing for that person (and others) when, for some reason, he or she can’t keep it up any longer.

The “strong” person shows vulnerability and cries.

The “smart” person gets a mediocre mark on a test.

The “nice” person shows anger.

Fixed or Growth Mindset?

Preoccupied by the desire to prove himself/herself, she might spend a great deal of energy trying to uphold the ideal of who he/she thinks she/he should be. As Dr.Carole Dweck asserts in her book Mindset, “I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves— in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?”

Just Keep Swimming

Like a duck in water, he might find himself paddling furiously underwater to keep the illusion of strength, control, discipline, or intelligence alive, when inside he is feeling anything but in control. Sooner or later, his energy wears thinner and thinner with every paddle. It becomes too hard to show up the way he wants-too exhausting. Suddenly, the fragile nature of his ego is exposed. He finds himself acting in ways that deviate from the traits with which he most identifies, which can feel confusing. The stakes feel really high. Above all, the desire to cling to certainty can become overwhelming. Hello, identity crisis.

Veterans and PTSD

Take, for example, the war veteran who has been necessarily conditioned throughout most of his or her career to be emotionally strong, overcome fear, and show up selflessly for others. These skills and traits are what a serviceperson requires in order to survive some of the horrors and trails associated with war. That being said, the after-effects associated with adverse conflict-related trauma can be devastating. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “it is estimated that up to 10% of war zone veterans—including war service veterans and peacekeeping forces—will go on to experience post-traumatic stress disorder.”What’s more, the conditioning that a serviceperson has undergone throughout his/her training often precludes him/her from demonstrating the vulnerability required to seek medical attention and support. There’s often a stigma attached to PTSD. It feels impossible to admit that he/she is struggling because his/her identity as a strong, capable, helper is so deeply entrenched in who they are.

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High-achievers = Higher expectations

Quite often in classrooms and schools across the globe, it can be easy to get caught-up in the capitalist-industrial pressure to keep improving, keep exceeding expectations. It’s pretty common for teachers to be more surprized by average to mediocre results from our high-achievers than by failure by the lower-achieving students in our classes.

We expect our high-achievers to continue high-level products, to continually be improving, but we don’t always make space for them to show up in an average or mediocre way. Quite often, childhood prodigies or high-achievers will do anything they can to avoid failure because the expectations on their achievement is so high. Perfectionism can set in, which can cause really intelligent, capable kids to seek certainty and comfort over risk-taking and creativity. According to Dr. Adam Grant (Originals), “Child prodigies usually pursue conforming achievement, following the well-worn paths to Carnegie Hall, the science Olympics, and chess championships. They succeed by expertly following the rules rather than making their own.”

Now, I am by no means suggesting that we should all start lowering the bar for some of these high-performers but do want to bring attention to the fact that sometimes these kids will strike out. They’ll produce lower quality work, once in a while. They might have a couple of bad ideas, but it doesn’t make them any less intelligent. They shouldn’t be shamed or ridiculed or pressured to do better every single time. They should be encouraged to ask interesting questions, pursue creative exploits, and to express themselves fully so that they may become originals in their own right.

Separate Traits from the Person

When we can separate the person from traits or qualities (positive and negative), we can allow for the normalization of a wide range of emotions and traits within a person, as opposed to a fixed perspective of who they are. It can be helpful to think of the power of growth mindset, which Dweck has described as “the passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well…This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

It is possible to free ourselves from the expectations of who we’re supposed to be and allow ourselves to sit within the essence of who we are, without judgement and with great admiration for ourselves and the journey that got us to where we are today.

Some practical replacements for common reinforcements:

            Instead of….                               Say….

You’re so strong!             ~                 You handled that with a lot of strength!

You’re so smart!        ~.                You solved that problem really well!

You’re so lucky!                  ~                  Way to be prepared for that opportunity!

You’re so pretty!                   ~                  That’s a lovely shirt. How do you feel in it?

You’re so organized!                 ~          You’ve thought of every detail. You must be feeling prepared.

https://cmha.bc.ca/documents/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-2/

Dr. Adam Grant (Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World)

Dr. Carole Dweck (Mindset)

 

Making Change, Drip-by-Drip: Child Soldiers, a Brave Citizen, and Goats

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Sometimes, we have it in our heads that in order to make impactful, positive change, we need to have some tangible finished product with a huge grand opening.

This is mostly a fallacy. It rarely exists. Big changes take time. It’s messy.

This concept of go big or go home, all or nothing makes it hard for us to want to get started in the first place. We put pressure on ourselves to have it all figured out. We think we need a roadmap with a clear destination. We think we’ve failed if the roadmap or direction eludes us.

Impact is almost always born out of a longer incubation period, where ideas, groundwork, and many failed attempts bring one closer to the goal of making a meaningful difference.

The thing I’ve realized is that the drip-by-drip, slow-and-steady approach seems to be the best way to get there, wherever “there” is.

Follow the string, pursue that thing that quickens your pulse, listen to the voice inside that tells you: this is where you need to go, be, see.

Sometimes, that voice is just barely audible. A whisper. But bit by bit, as you give it more space in your mind, it becomes amplified.

Trust it. Listen to it.

Don’t ask for it to make you money right away.

Don’t ask for it to be neat and tidy and rational. It probably won’t be.

As Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backward.”

So, start at the beginning and trust that your intuition will take you where you need to go.

___________________

I just had the pleasure of talking to Dr. Scilla Elworthy (a three-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, global peace negotiator, and author) for the podcast I am recording, who told me the story of Henri Bora Ladyi, who has been called “Africa’s Schindler.” All he knew was that he wanted to prevent his horrendous experience as a child soldier from repeating itself. He knew that he couldn’t stop the practice of mobilizing children from war from happening, but he knew he could make a big difference for a few children.

Across the world, 250,000 children are estimated to be involved in armed conflict. An ex- child soldier, himself, Henri, listened to the call after having escaped, and risked his life to rescue child soldiers in the Congo. He became an ad-hoc mediator and negotiator, making it his mission to continue to save child soldiers.

At one point, Henri was contacted by militia commanders, with whom he had built a sense of trust. They had too many mouths to feed. Hoping to establish an exchange for supplies they offered to demobilize some of the child soldiers in return for goats. As a result, Henri was able to negotiate an exchange rate of 10 animals for 40 children. With the help of UK charity Peace Direct, he was able to free 100 children.

Now, Henri makes it his mission to continue going back into the bush to trade goats, at a price of $5, for a child he can bring back to their family.

Henri didn’t have a clear roadmap in his head. No one gave him license to do what he did. He was guided by the urgency to take action. He had ingenuity and an innovative mindset. He risked his livelihood for the lives of others and has made an incredible difference to the lives of hundreds of people as a result.

To learn more about Peace Direct and fund projects like Henri’s, check out their website: peacedirect.org 

 

Sources:

www.scillaelworthy.com

www.peace direct.org

Photo From: www.foreignpolicyblogs.com (Neil Thompson)

 

 

 

Frazzled Much? 5 Mindfulness Strategies you can use Starting Today!

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Frazzled much?

I don’t know about you, but this merry-go ‘round we’re all riding seems to have gone into overdrive and my fingers are desperately grasping to keep my hat firmly planted upon my head.

We all have a plethora of things to do.

  • Lunches to pack.
  • End-of-the-school-year presentations to watch.
  • Deadlines to meet.
  • Gardens to weed.
  • Miscommunications to rectify.
  • Social events to plan and attend.
  • House to clean.
  • Diplomatic report cards to compose.
  • Work dedications to meet.
  • Broken hearts to mend.
  • Networking.
  • Cars to maintain.
  • Emails to craft.
  • Exuberant exclamations inviting mirrored responses.
  • Phone calls to make.
  • Recycling to sort.
  • Hands and knees playtime.
  • Appointments to schedule.
  • Social media vacuum.
  • Crisis. Crisis. More crisis…stretching me into a spindly version of myself.

So, I find myself, desperate to create sacred space of respite, breathing room.

To create an untouchable sense of peace within my soul.

Ironically, while Social-Emotional Learning (which encourages teaching mindfulness practice) is at the forefront of our explicit classroom teaching, it’s common to see teachers overwhelmed, overworked, and super stressed. It’s ironic that the very thing we’re meant to be teaching our children and students to do, we’re not incorporating into our own lives. Wouldn’t we be more effective in teaching mindful practice if we practiced it regularly, ourselves?

But how? And when? How does mindfulness not get shoved to the bottom (or top) of our list as yet another line item to action?

So, within the goal of simplicity in mind, I’ve curated a small handful (because we all know overabundant choices breed paralysis and overwhelm) of my favourite mindfulness strategies. You can integrate them into you own life. You can encourage your students or children to do the same. It feels pretty good to press “pause” on this busy life of ours.

Some are super short in length and can be done while you’re waiting in the grocery line-up.

Some are delicious and more lengthy opportunities for reflection.

Here we go…

Mindfulness Strategy ONE:  5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Grounding Technique

This activity is about grounding yourself in the present by tapping into your 5 senses. Whenever I feel stressed or overwhelmed, I find this strategy so useful, calming, and unassuming. No one even needs to know you’re doing it. And it really works to calm a racing mind. I first learned this strategy from the amazing Life-coach and Counsellor Julie Evans (check out her striking new website).

Here’s how you do it:

Start with a deep breath.

5 – LOOK: Look around for 5 things that you can see and name them.

4 – FEEL: Check into your body and think of 4 things that you can feel.

3 – LISTEN: Take a few seconds and allow yourself to listen for and identify 3 sounds.

2 – SMELL: Good, bad, and ugly…allow yourself to find two distinct smells that root you into the present. If it’s hard to do, move around or try and remember and name your two favourite smells.

1 – TASTE: Say one thing you can taste. It may be the toothpaste from brushing your teeth, or a mint from after lunch. If you can’t taste anything, then say your favorite thing to taste.

Take another deep belly breath to end.

Mindfulness Strategy Two: Text Three Good Things:

Thank you, Counsellor, Educator and Change-Maker, Lisa Baylis of AWE (Awaken the Wellbeing of Educators) for this incredible new strategy. We were recording an interview for my upcoming podcast (launching in September 2018) recently when she shared this ingenious strategy. This one is so simple and easy, and it came as a delightful new way to connect with friends, family, and colleagues while building my gratitude practice. Two birds, one stone, right?

Find a friend, colleague, or family member. Decide for 21-days (or as long as you can manage) to text one another three good things that happened at the end of each day. I love the accountability of this daily practice. The benefits are multi-fold: you connect with someone daily, you train your brain to search for the good in every day, and neuroscience has proven that the practice of gratitude in your life raises your overall happiness and wellbeing. Can’t argue with science!

Mindfulness Strategy Three: Meditative Counting

I learned this super easy and quick calming strategy through the Headspace App. It’s one of the first exercises one learns on his/her meditation journey and it’s the perfect ticket for training yourself to stay with your breath.

Start by sitting comfortably, eyes opened or closed.

Take note of your surroundings, becoming aware of the origin of your breath. Where do you feel the rising and falling? Without wanting to change the tempo of your breath, notice the shallowness or depth of your inhales and exhales.

When you feel ready, start counting each inhale up to a count of 10.

Then, start back at 0 again and count to 10 again.

Repeat this cycle 7-10 times until you feel calm and centred.

This sounds so easy, but it’s a trickier than it seems.

I’ve found that being disciplined enough to restart the count once I reach 10 keeps my mind from running away on me. In other words, the practice of staying with my breath and counting gives my brain a break from the laundry list of things to do.

I would highly recommend the Headspace App. Andy Puddicombe hosts a number of wonderful guided meditations on a variety of different themes including, Anxiety, Happiness, Performance, Gratitude, Motivation, Relationships and many more.

Mindfulness Strategy Four: Get Out in Nature

Just this morning, nature beckoned and invited us to delight in her wonders. While hydrating some of the neglected herbs on our deck, my little family noticed that a tiny salamander had made the watering can its home. My children shrieked with glee as the little guy ran across our deck and hopped into their splash pool, swimming a few laps nonchalantly as we looked on. We decided to spend the next half-hour making a comfortable home for him in our garden. We asked ourselves, what might he need to be safe, comfortable, and happy? We fashioned a tiny bathing pool for him under the protective foliage

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of our roses and perennials. My kids were tripping over themselves to create a sanctuary for our new friend. It was such a lovely reminder of the connection, inspiration, and replenishment that nature brings us.

So, take a walk, watch the birds, just sit with a cup of tea outside for a few minutes and soak it all up.

Mindfulness Strategy Five: Guided Gratitude Practice

This is a guided meditation or reflection that I recorded that takes about 3 minutes and fills you with a sense gratitude, purpose, and the ability to resolve inner conflict. Initially inspired by Tony Robbins, it’s a good way to start your day if you’re feeling a little disconnected from yourself and your purpose because of all of the ‘busy’ in your life.

I sincerely hope that you manage to find a moment of replenishment and soul nourishment today. You can’t give if your cup’s not full.

 

Much love,

Morgane

 

The 25 Beliefs I Once Held to be True…but Don’t Anymore

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Like everyone else I know, I have a million-and-one things I should be doing instead of writing this post right now, but that tiny fleeting voice of inspiration came knocking and tugged on my shirtsleeve. So, while the kids were napping, I did what any self-respecting mom on a ‘nap-break’ with mountains of laundry, tons of research to do, gazillions of emails to respond to, and a disaster of a house to clean…I indulged the urge to sit down with a pen and paper. I gave inspiration an inch…then, as the saying goes…time literally evaporated.

My loved ones all know my passion for lists, but this one’s a little different than the usual to-do or goal-setting lists. The following is a compilation of some of the beliefs I once held to be true…the ones I now whole-heartedly reject.

Maybe you’ll agree with me, but more interestingly, perhaps you’ll disagree. Let me know!

Regardless, I felt compelled to examine, tease-out, and share some of the strongly held beliefs I once had to illustrate that it’s very possible to change one’s mind.

Here is goes…in no particular order:

  1. Mind-games and posturing are the only road to true love. Vulnerability is for suckers.
  2. Effective parenting results from manufacturing adversity so that one’s children will toughen-up for the real world. I once heard someone say that they seek to disappoint their children every single day for this reason!
  3. Perfection is the antidote to criticism-the notion that if one achieves perfection in terms of work performance, grades in school, physically, in our relationships (parents, children, friends, spouses) that we will receive immunity from the pain and hurt that our experiences have the capacity to unleash upon us (*And by-the-way, perfection is not only a total fallacy, but it’s a dangerous and seductive illusion founded in fear.)
  4. Grief is a finite process with an end date. (*Nope. It’s more like an ocean whose waves are sometimes gentle and lapping, and other times have the immense capacity to pull you right under.  Grief is unpredictable. The kindness and bravest thing we can do for others and ourselves is to hold space for grief and sit along those in grief as they navigate its choppy waters.)
  5. Achieving your goals = happiness
  6. Beauty is objective.
  7. Parenting is easy, if you’re doing it right. (Ha! Riggghht…)
  8. The only way to navigate this world and make it out alive is to construct and dawn a thick coat of armour so strong that neither joy nor pain shall penetrate one’s tender heart.
  9. Successful, obedient students exemplify successful teaching.
  10. Being courageous is not for me.
  11. I am alone in my experiences.
  12. Asking for help is a sign of weakness.
  13. Being “good” is the only road to worthiness.
  14. Admitting to experiencing sadness, anger, loneliness, and jealousy means that there’s something wrong with you.
  15. The only way to be spiritual is to go to church.
  16. Creativity lies inherently within the individual. You either are or you aren’t. The genius resides within the artist.
  17. Everything in life is random.
  18. We must ask our passions to provide for us, financially.
  19. Forgiveness is impossible because it means condoning.
  20. Seeking and acquiring approval from others is the only way to win at life. *In the words of Seth Godin, seeking to please everyone makes you a “walking generality” instead of a “meaningful specific.”
  21. Everyone deserves a second chance. *No they don’t! Maya Angelou once said, “When somebody shows you who they are, believe them the first time!”
  22. My worthiness of love and belonging is directly dependent on my ability to earn it. It’s about hustling. *Nope. Nope. Nope! You are born worthy of love and belonging. The minute you start believing that, the more you can get down to the important, purposeful work you were meant to do!
  23. People’s personalities are fixed.
  24. I cannot write the ending to my story.
  25. Achieving and striving toward audacious goals is for other people.

Asking For Help: 7 Actionable Ways to Encourage Help-Seeking at Your Work and School

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Asking for Help: 7 Actionable Ways to Encourage Help-Seeking at Your Work and School

“Help is one of those four-letter-words that is curiously difficult to say when it’s in the form of a request. Most people tell me that it’s not easy for them to ask for help. Offering to be of help, on the other hand, comes much easier to people. Helpers, after all, are not the vulnerable ones.”                                                        -Caroline Myss

Just recently, I asked someone I know for help. The act of it left me feeling a bit exposed. In asking for support, the two of us had immediately entered an unofficial contract of positional hierarchy.

This person had the authority; I did not.

This individual had the power; I did not.

This person was above and I was below.

Both of us subconsciously agreed upon our relative positions of power based on the narratives in which we subscribed.

The feeling had an uncanny resemblance to some of my past experiences at school.

By asking for help, I had momentarily removed the armour I normally wear to protect my fragile heart from pain and hurt, invited myself to become vulnerable, and had placed my pride in my helper’s hands.

Truth be told, our interaction didn’t go so well.

Instead of acknowledging the delicate responsibility that comes with assuming the powerful role of ‘helper,’ this individual took advantage of his position and wielded it clumsily, upsetting our subtle balance and betraying my vulnerability.

Like an anemone attached to the walls of a shallow ocean tide pool, poked and prodded by the oblivious and excitable children’s fingers, I recoiled and closed-up tightly.

And, it took a while for me to open up again.

Nowhere is this dynamic more common and widespread than in the classroom and many workplace cultures.

Any number of us have felt betrayed in moments of authentic vulnerability by those we love, those who lead us, and those who have taught us. I’m sure you can think back to a time someone absentmindedly or willfully employed their power to make you feel small.

It turns out approximately 85% of the people Dr. Brené Brown interviewed for her research could recall a shaming occurrence at school that was so demoralising that it made lasting, damaging impact on their perceptions of themselves as learners. She explains: “Through about fifth grade, shame is literally the threat of being unlovable. It is trauma because they are dependent. Shame is a threat to survival.”

Take a moment and observe the damaging power of the following school-based interaction, as described by Dr. Brené Brown:

“Susie is sitting in her classroom as her teacher is passing out papers. The teacher says, ‘I have one paper left. Who didn’t get a paper?’ Silence from the class. And, with more emphasis the teacher says, ‘I SAID, I have one paper left. Who didn’t get a paper?’ Susie slowly raises her hand. The teacher comes over and says, ‘I’m not surprised. Class are you surprised? Here Susie, I’ll help you out.” And, then the teacher proceeds to write on her paper where the student’s name would go: STUPID.”

Perhaps this example may feel a little extreme, by today’s standards, but I think she provides a solid example. The way teachers (or any leaders, for that matter) interact with students can have a detrimental or positive impact. It all comes down to the dependency built into the student-teacher power dynamics. Students, after all, tend to find themselves at the base of the power hierarchy. Since teachers are usually in a position of authority, it’s imperative that we tread carefully knowing that our response to a vulnerable student can have the power to confirm a damaging narrative running through his/her head. Our reaction to a struggling student has the power to belittle, shame, and reinforce his/her unworthiness. The result can be catastrophic.

On the flip side, however, teachers possess the ability to create healing and inspiring impressions on our vulnerable students. We can provide encouragement, effectively enabling a student to reject the negative thought patterns that reinforce the illusion that they’re stupid or unworthy.

It is, therefore, imperative that anyone in a defined position of influence examine his/her interactions within the context of offering and asking for help. If you’re in a position of power, as a teacher or employer, isn’t it better to generously assume that your student/employee is truly trying his/her best instead of assuming the worst?

No, they’re likely not stupid.

No, they’re likely not deliberately screwing-up.

No, they’re likely not trying out to render your day more challenging.

Yes, it’s very possible that you may have explained the very same concept a number of times, many different ways.

Can it be frustrating? Sure.

But, through leading with compassionate patience, making the most generous assumptions as you interact with those around you, it’s possible to bring the very best out of your employees, students, and children. You can foster a safe environment that values growth mindset, second chances, and asking for help. In turn, people will be more productive, more creative, and more self-assured.

Whether you’re a boss, principal, parent, teacher, spouse, or CEO of a company, I encourage you to become aware of the power you wield, being mindful of the lasting influence you may have on those you lead.

Here are 7 actionable ways that you can create an environment of respectful trust, where asking for help is encouraged and honoured:

1. The Reciprocity Ring

Dr. Adam Grant, author of Givers and Takers and Originals, encourages companies and organizations to cultivate ‘Giver’ cultures by practicing the reciprocity ring:

A group of approximately 8 people and invite everyone to go around and make a request for what they need help with.  Then, challenge the group to act like Givers and fulfill each person’s request for help.

The Harvard Business Review has reported that many businesses have become more profitable and efficient as a result of this practice, either directly (problems being solved) or indirectly (removing the stigma of asking for help). Dr. Nathan Podsakoff analyzed 38 studies of organizational behavior tracked over more than 3500 business units across industries. There is a strong connection between “helping behaviors and desirable business outcomes” including: “high rates of giving predicted profitability, productivity and customer satisfaction, as well as lower turnover.”

The Reciprocity Ring encourages the group to adopt help-seeking-practices as part of its cultural norms.

2. Employ the 4 Pillars of Courage

Dr. Brené Brown suggests that we should teach courage through the development of the following 4 pillars: vulnerability, clarity of values (think a household/workplace/classroom manifesto), trust, and resiliency skills (the ability to get back up when we fall down). When we feel courageous, we are more likely to ask for the help we need because we’re not afraid of how we may be perceived as weak. Instead, we come to the realization that “vulnerability is the greatest measure of courage.”

3. Lead the Way

If the teacher, parent, CEO, principal starts by giving without the need for recompense, it’s likely that others will do the same. That kind of environment encourages a give and take attitude, where it becomes the norm to collaborate and ask for help. Generosity is not a scarce resource. More is more.

4. Inspire Clarity

Encourage your students, employees, and children to become clear and concise in their requests for help. The clearer the ask, the easier it is to deliver.

5. When there’s a problem, ask yourself who has the most power here?

According to Dr. Julia B. Colwell, “true relationship evolution happens when power dynamics are unearthed, explored, and changed.” When you get real about power inequalities, it becomes easier to solve problems and diffuse interactional conflicts.

6. Bolster your Leaders

Zingerman’s, (a company based out of Michigan) has developed a purposeful culture of helping. Every time a new managing partner is inducted, attendees of the induction event are asked, one by one, to express how he/she will contribute to the success of the new partner. This public dedication to the new leader enables him/her to more easily ask for help, leaning on the team behind them. This strategy could easily be adapted to the workplace, school, or community to encourage employee and student engagement.

How could children, students, teachers, employees contribute to making their leaders and organizations more successful?

7. Process over Product

Reinforce the importance of process over solutions and products. Everyone knows that the best learning occurs through the process of trial and error, and yet, it’s so common for us to measure student and employee success upon the finished products they create. The inquiry-based model of learning values and is founded in the understanding that teamwork, process, and learning through failure is integral to actualizing an idea, achieving a goal, and learning a new skill.

 

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