Make Someone’s Day

I did the unthinkable tonight: I actually answered the landline in our house and talked to a telemarketer who called during dinner. (Don’t ask me why we still have a landline)

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Maybe I was in the mood to answer some questions or more likely I felt like giving some relief to a harried telemarketer who was undoubtedly receiving significant abuse during this vicious election cycle, but I agreed to answer her questions as long as I could ask her one question for each question she asked me.

She chuckled, and perhaps out of boredom, curiosity, or just a desire to actually record some responses, agreed to the bargain.

The following is our exchange:

Question 1

Her question: What is your opinion of Hillary Clinton? Favorable, somewhat favorable, neutral, somewhat negative, or negative? [response deleted]

My question: Where are you calling from, and is it dinnertime there as well? “Central Florida, and I have no idea where you are.” (Not a great start)

Question 2

Her question: What is your opinion of Donald Trump? Favorable, somewhat favorable, neutral, somewhat negative, or negative? [response deleted]

My question: How did you get into this political poll calling business? “There was an ad on Craigslist.” (Still breaking through the ice at this point)

Question 3

Her question: If the election was today, who would you vote for? Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or Gary Johnson? [response deleted]

My question: What is your view of the American public from your conversations on the phone? “Really scary.” (Now we’re getting somewhere)

Question 4

Her question: How likely are you to vote in the election? Likely, somewhat likely, don’t know, somewhat unlikely, or unlikely? “Likely”

My question: If you could wish for one thing for the American public, after your experience calling people for their opinions every day, what would it be? “I’d like people to be happier.”

That’s a fair answer.  And, in fact, I couldn’t agree more.  Regardless of who they’re voting for, whether they have a landline, or if they’re willing to answer a political poll, everyone deserves to be happier.

So, what could the two of us do to fix a national problem?  One, an educator trying to figure out how to make education relevant on a daily basis, and the other a telemarketer who was simply trying to pay the bills by calling people during dinner.

We decided that the two of us could make people happier one at a time, starting with one person each.  So, before ending the call, we both agreed that we each would commit to making one person’s day happier tomorrow.

The hard thing about this promise is that if I don’t make good on it, I have no idea how to call her back to apologize.  Somewhere out there in central Florida is a woman who just might try to go out of her way to make someone happier tomorrow, and who should be expecting one other person in the country to make good on their end of the bargain.  Maybe this is the best kind of deal: one that I should be making anyhow, and one that I can’t back out from.

Feel free to join me in trying to make someone’s day happier … it sounds like everyone around us could use it.

-Jason Curtis

Greater Than

This week is Open House at our high school. As a teacher who has mainly seniors, I’m part of a conversation that I tend to believe is different than some other grades.  For many parents, this is their final Open House for a child who is moving on, moving out, growing up.  I’ve had, over the years, lots of parents who get emotional as they explain to me that “this is it”.  This is the end.

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Think ‘Greater Than’.  Though I’m not in the position I just mentioned, it’s my only advice.

While it’s true children grow older, relationships change, distance is natural, it’s also true that growth is challenging, relationships are fragile, distance is trying.  If you’re a parent reading this, experiencing this, please know: you did your job.  Wherever you are in your work with your child, your student, your player– you did your job.  At the moment they leave, more than you might guess, they are likely prepared.  So the relationship that started so closely, with such connection and actual physical closeness to one another, now grows and becomes greater than it ever was before.  Think greater than, not lesser than.  Think greater than, not equal to.  Think greater than.  I’m an English teacher and I can even understand the value of such a mathematical concept. Distance will continue, in all its ways, but the distance and change strengthens the bond, the closeness, the trust, the love.  The distance, as it gets greater than before, might very well lessen the dependency, but it isn’t a parent’s place to lean too heavily into the life of a child who needs to grow, fail, feel, and become more of who they are meant to be in their own life.

I know this Thursday I’ll hear from a few parents as they reflect on the change occurring in their life, but I know, too, that to lessen their worry I might suggest that the future relationship is greater than they think.  Think Greater Than…

-Tom Mooney

Signs Aren’t Enough

There’s been a lot of discussion about a high school in Arkansas that posted the following sign on their front door:

signs

It was covered in August in a Washington Post article and revisited again in a very popular blog post this week by Tim Elmore, one of my favorite leadership thinkers.  The coverage and comments are largely supportive of the school’s stance, reflecting popular opinion that schools need to help helicopter parents reform their coddling ways.

I appreciate the sentiment.  There are times that we parents move so quickly on behalf of our children that they are unable to problem-solve, advocate for themselves, or even risk and recover from failure.  I also believe that schools have a responsibility to help parents and families learn this lesson, even if we need to challenge them.

It’s the delivery method I’m not excited about.

We are educators: we teach, coach, mentor, challenge, engage, care, support and inspire all within a relationship we have created with our students and parents.  Nobody has a relationship with a sign.

A sign doesn’t recognize when a family is struggling or a student needs additional support, while an outstanding coach notices when an athlete isn’t ready to be pushed that day, and understands performance might be affected by personal challenges off the court.

A sign is unyielding, repeating the same message over and over, while a great teacher adjusts the lesson plan when the class needs something different, and understands when a talented student isn’t fully stretching their abilities or a struggling student needs a different teaching method.

A sign takes all the blame (“Hey, didn’t you read the sign?”) while a committed educator knows that to personally challenge a student or a parent takes guts and love, and it’s only in that personal risk that our families come to know how committed we are to them.

We create all sorts of “signs” in the form of school policies, team rules, and classroom expectations.  It’s necessary to have common expectations, but at the end of the day our primary calling is to educate, not simply be rule enforcers.

No teacher believes that students can fully learn simply by completing a worksheet, no coach believes that a player will maximize their abilities by reading a drill book, and no educator should believe that school culture will be healthy because of the signs we post.

I hope that my students, athletes and parents are willing to be challenged because they know that I care for them and want what is best for their families.  The only way they’ll know it is if I have the bravery to stand in front of them and deliver that challenge in person, even at the risk of personal rejection.

By putting ourselves at the front door, our students will come to know that the most important lessons are taught in person, by a person, and that what is right is always worth standing up for.

-Jason Curtis

Hope and a Five Dollar Bill

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Students often approach me at school to turn in lost cash: “Hey Mr. Curtis, I found this $5 bill on the hallway floor.”

Visiting adults always chuckle when this happens, as if a teenager is too silly to recognize that a) finding cash on the floor is universally accepted as a fortuitous windfall and b) it’s obviously impossible to reunite someone with their lost bill.

What’s interesting, and frankly inspiring, is that these students actually believe that the money will get back to the rightful owner.  More often than not, they’re right – someone comes into the office looking for the money they lost.  And if we never find the rightful owner it will go to a student who needs money for lunch … so it all works out in the end.

How many times do teachers or coaches head home at the end of a long day and wonder if they really made a difference?  Early in my teaching career I found gardening to be a good hobby because my wife likes flowers, and after an hour of digging I could point to a hole in the ground as a substantial accomplishment and validation of effort.  It was a satisfying counter to the abstract reward of making a difference in someone’s life, especially on those days when I worried that the difference that I made would be included in somebody’s biography as a chapter about a terrible teacher.

At the end of a frustrating day we worry that we wasted our time, wasted our skills, wasted our experience, or wasted our creativity on creating a lesson that went sideways.

But what if educators decided that those things we thought were “ours” were actually just items that we found?  We didn’t do anything special to earn the gift of today, and we aren’t owners, but rather stewards of the experience, skills and creativity we’ve been able to accumulate over time.

What good would all that experience, skill and creativity be if they were never given away?

The gift of today, the gift of our talents and experience, is all just a $5 bill we’ve stumbled across on the floor.  We can either stuff it in our pocket, or give it over to others with hopeful optimism.

Go ahead and give it away … it’ll all work out in the end.

-Jason Curtis

Go

go

This is a challenge issued to teachers: Go.  Go to the event.  The concert.  The show.  The meet.  The match.  The game.  The thing that everyone goes to, and especially the thing that nobody goes to.  Go.  It matters.  Your attendance matters.  It matters to them, and I think it will matter to you.  There’s a lot going on, I know.  And sometimes because there is so much going on, we go to nothing.  But again, it matters.

“Going,” first of all, demands knowing what your students do.  Are they in the orchestra, or on the cross-country team, or in the fall play?  Find out.  And then “going” takes the effort to show up.  Sure, I know there are your own kids to chase after and paper grading to procrastinate and planning to be done.  I know.  But we all know that when we signed up for this teaching-gig it was about much more than papers and books and lesson plans.  It was and still is about the kids.  The kids who spend countless hours working their craft.  The kids who have put in all of the invisible work at odd hours in front of crowds of empty seats.  Go. It matters.  It will matter to them.

And it will matter to us.  We, the teachers, get to see the quiet-ish kid on the right-side of the room showcasing talent and passion that might not show itself in between the bells.  That’s a sight worth seeing.

I think we should go.  And I think our colleagues should go too; invite them along.  Start a movement and see what happens when we go to the game, the contest, the show and connect with the reason why we’re here in the first place, the kids.

-Dan Schall

Lost in Translation

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Class ended just the other day.  As students walked out, one lingered, wanting to talk.  As the last of his classmates exited, the student came to me.  Back to him in a minute.  A day before, a foreign exchange student had been introduced to our class; she spoke little to no English and didn’t understand much of anything said.  I worked through instructions in broken Spanish, embarrassed as I tried to recollect basic words to help her along.  I was doing everything but speaking loudly in an effort to help her.  It was trying, mainly for her.  We worked through some understanding, I Googled the word ‘fate’, found destino, and all moved along from there.  She was sweet and understanding through it all- patient and smiling as I tried my best but managed only to insult the spirit of my high school Spanish teacher all these years later.  Now, back to the other student.  He stood there fairly nervous, it seemed; I’d only known him for three classes so far. It started.

“Uh, hey, um, Mr. Mooney”

“Yeah?”

“The uh, the girl over there, in class, the new girl… does she, uh, speak English?”

“Well she is a foreign exchange student. I think she can speak very limited amounts- but her receptive language is challenging; she can’t really understand it yet.”

“Oh”

“Why?”

“Um, I want to ask her out to Homecoming, but that might be hard.”

“Yeah”

“What’s her name?”

“Sandra”

“But she doesn’t understand English?”

“No.”

“Got any ideas?”

“Not many.”

“Oh, okay. I’ll try to think of something.”

Homecoming? It was the third day of school and I’d known the one student for three days and the foreign exchange student for one.  Again, this isn’t the sorta thing you outline in a college textbook—generally it’s best to remain respectful of student’s personal lives and maintain a professional and appropriate distance and boundary.  But that’s sometimes the thing you don’t expect.  That’s just what happens when you’re dealing with youth.  Short of giving him a remedial Spanish textbook, I was hard-pressed to know what my role was.  I wish them nothing but the best.

-Tom Mooney

When Your Child Is Trying Out

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Dear Sam,

Today is the last day of your middle school football tryouts. I hope you make the team.

I hope you make the team because of all the things that being part of a team can teach you – but also for the things you can contribute to a team.

If you make the team…

  • I hope you love it – the sport, your teammates, your coaches, the competition, and your school. When I see people who love what they do, it brings me great joy and it becomes contagious.
  • I hope you display great courage. It takes courage to do what is right, to stand up for yourself and more importantly, for others. Being on a team gives us countless chances to display courage. I know you are prepared.
  • I hope you give your best effort regardless of the situation. I think that is the right way to do anything.
  • I hope you are thankful for the opportunity that you have to play a game with your friends. I hope you are thankful to the coaches, officials, your opponents, and anybody else who makes this possible.

If you don’t make the team…

  • I hope you accept the decision of the coaches with class even though you might be disappointed.
  • I hope you are still grateful for the chance that you had to try out. Not everybody has those opportunities.
  • I hope you learn about some ways you can improve and then work to get better for next year. We are all disappointed at times in our lives but the important thing is how you respond to disappointment.
  • I hope you go to the games and support your friends, your classmates, and your school.

I can’t wait to hear how you did. Regardless of the outcome, I love you.

Love,

Dad

-Mike Schall

Don’t Skip the Closing Ceremonies

Closing Ceremonies

I’ll admit it: I love the Olympics, and especially the Opening Ceremonies.  It’s the cultural education, the clumsily scripted announcer explanations of dance and visual art describing the origins of the universe and other slightly less important historical events, and performances by folks who are apparently a really big deal in other parts of the world.  It’s the opportunity to pull out the globe for family members who have no idea how to find Kyrgyzstan, Fiji, or Canada.  It’s the eternal optimism of clean competition, underdog stories, and world peace.  It’s the incredible NBC production … wait, sorry, we have to pause for a commercial (it’s been a full 60 seconds of uninterrupted Opening Ceremony coverage).

And while parting is such sweet sorrow, I also love the closing ceremonies.  Whether it’s the awkward cultural handoff (apparently Tokyo is nothing like Rio … who knew?), the performances by stars who are a really big deal but not quite big enough to rate a spot in the opening ceremonies (still don’t know who they are), or the dramatic finality of extinguishing the Olympic flame (like getting voted off “Survivor” island), the closing ceremonies provide almost as much fun as the opening ceremonies did a fortnight ago.

But not everyone agrees.

Michael Phelps was a no-show for the 2016 Olympic Closing Ceremonies.  So was Usain Bolt, Gabby Douglas, and Venus Williams.  Luckily Simone Biles decided to stick around, otherwise there wouldn’t have been anyone selfie-worthy to chase other than Great Britain’s team shoes.

While everyone has lives to get back to (when does the professional heptathlete league start up again?), and the Olympic Village food options might be getting thin, or you’re just worn out from partying with Australian swimmers, I wonder why anyone would choose to miss this closing ceremony.

We’ve all had to make that decision about an end of season event (barbecue, awards ceremony, trophy-handout at Round Table Pizza).  Maybe it wasn’t as dramatic as going to a quadrennial event in an exotic locale, but it was still a closing ceremony.

And sometimes, we decided to skip it. (Full disclosure: I’ve skipped a few)

For parents and athletes: maybe the season didn’t go as well as you’d hoped.  Maybe the relationship with the coach was strained, playing time didn’t go your way, the team didn’t have the success you hoped, or you’re just plain tired after driving to so many practices and tournaments. (Full disclosure: I’ve felt all of these things at one time or another)

For coaches: it can be easy to skip or avoid scheduling a closing event.  Maybe there are a couple of tough parents, you’re worried about not fully recognizing the efforts of all the players, you don’t like speaking in front of crowds, or maybe you’re just plain tired after organizing so many practices and tournaments. (Full disclosure: I’ve felt all of these things at one time or another)

I’d like to challenge all of us, coaches, athletes and families, to commit to hosting and attending the “closing ceremony,” giving us a chance to do three important things:

  • To recognize the effort. There isn’t always time to thank a team parent, a student manager, or the quiet efforts of a member of the team during the season.  This is the time to give that thanks to those who aren’t always recognized, and to highlight what we really value: selflessness, bravery, effort, and a generous spirit.
  • To express gratitude. Regardless of the process or outcome, everyone gave something to the season.  They showed up and gave effort, and they did it so that we could have a season.  Whether or not we liked how it happened, it needs to be recognized and thanked because gratitude is a choice, not a reflex.  Aunt Milly may send me unwanted socks every Christmas, but she still deserves a thank you note.  Going to an event with the sole purpose of sharing gratitude is remarkably fulfilling and hopeful.
  • To be selfless. Every reason to avoid the closing event centers on our own needs and feelings.  It’s like deciding to go to a wedding only if there is a decent buffet, and a funeral only if other people will see you there.  The closing event isn’t about us, it’s about others.  It’s a chance to put others before ourselves.  To be there for the parent whose child doesn’t get the accolades, to be there for the teammate that doesn’t have another sport or season in front of them, or to be there for the coach that nobody else is willing to appreciate.  Seeing Simone Biles smile in hundreds of selfies without fatigue or annoyance makes you understand the immense importance of showing up for others.

See you at the end of the season … and … thank you for everything.

-Jason Curtis

Watching Your Child Play

Play Ball

Down 2-1. The heart beats faster. 2 outs. Palms get sweaty. Runners on 2nd and 3rd. Muscles tense. Bottom of the 6th. Grip tightens. My son Andrew was up to bat in this exact situation in his Rec League Baseball game just last night. The beating heart, sweaty palms, tense muscles, and tight grip were mine. Andrew – he was fine.

It’s difficult watching your child play or perform, sing a song or do a dance. It’s difficult because we all want to see our children do well. However, it is in the tough moments, challenging situations, and difficult losses that your child is given the experiences that are so important to helping them learn, grow, and mature. IF we allow it to happen.

Here are a few things to remember – that I have to remind myself – when watching your child play:

  1. It is your child’s experience. Your career is over. Better yet, their performance is not a reflection of your parenting ability. Their response to the many lessons that sports offer to them, however may be a reflection of your work at home.
  2. They are going to strike out, serve a ball into the net, miss the wide open goal. They are also most likely going to get a key hit, make a great save, and score at some point in their careers. Be more concerned with their reaction to the failure or success than the actual act.
  3. They don’t need or want your instruction. Your seven last minute batting tips while junior is on his way to the plate will be forgotten just like the socks on the floor and the lunchbox on the counter. Your genuine attempt to help your child is actually causing more harm than good. Take a seat and let them play.
  4. When the game is over, put your arm around your child and walk back to the car.

In a fantastic article about the dreaded car ride home, John O’Sullivan of Changing the Game Project wrote, “Many children indicated to me that parental actions and conversations after games made them feel as though their value and worth in their parents’ eyes was tied to their athletic performance, and the wins and losses of their team.”

I have personally made it a practice after games to ask my kids what the best part was. Then I tell them I love them. Not because I saw them play. Not because they played well. Not because they won. Simply because they are mine. I never want my love for my children to appear to them connected to their performance on the field or on the court.

By the way, Andrew walked. They lost. I walked back to the car with my arm around him. I asked him what the best part was – he said how exciting it was to be at bat in the last inning. We went home and had ice cream.

-Mike Schall

p.s. On this topic, I highly recommend the new book by Dr. Jerry Lynch. Dr. Lynch has worked closely with Steve Kerr, the Head Coach of the Golden State Warriors. He also speaks with the Changing The Game Project. His new book, titled Let Them Play, can be purchased through this LINK.

The Way I See It

Kids These Days

I think if you’re a teacher, you’re asked about how students are these days.  Any parent reading this might recall a moment recently when that was the question they asked.

kid opening door

I’m asked about how students are these days.  I’m asked that question, actually, a lot.  I think answering that question helps a parent know what to expect, or to do, or say, or something.  So, here’s what I see.

I see students looking far too tired to get through a school day; so you might want to know it’s still okay to expect your kid to sleep at night.  I see students who still seem unsure of who they are and how they’re being accepted; you might want to ask your child how they’ve been feeling lately.  I see kids who eat by themselves in a cafeteria full of students or, worse yet, sit alone at a locker eating lunch, maybe you could check and see if everything in the world of friends is going well in your child’s life.  I see kids and hear kids still doing things and saying things that, in a crowded hallway, lack a filter of appropriateness, and no one wants that to be their kid.  I see students who sit without raising a hand, not wanting to be noticed it seems, but we all know each kid has ideas of value.

But you know what… I also see the kid who comes to class and greets not only me but others in the room.  I see the kid who holds a door for that awkwardly long period of time as another student nods with appreciation, rushing through the space.  I see students smile and nod as a student shares an idea that challenges the norm.  I see students with common friends, day after day, smiling and sharing the same old jokes.  I see students who work quietly to make something perfect. I see students who come to class with athletic bags and finish class work while considering their schedule for work that evening.  I see students volunteering for charities, for fundraisers, for anything.  Maybe I’ve seen your child as one of those kids.

You can still help your kid be the person you want others to see… and they are seen, trust me.

-Tom Mooney