10

The Last Post: Walk

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Lately many people seem to be trading New Year resolutions for their one word. This one word becomes an affirmation for the year ahead. My word for 2015 is walk. Not only do I want to team with my son to help him walk again if that’s possible, but I want to walk through the challenges ahead for our family with as much grace as I can offer the world.

When I’m sleep deprived and worried it’s easy to be frustrated and a little snappy (or snippy). It’s harder to stay quiet and set up a bath with chamomile bubbles. It’s easy to let my mind hop on a gerbil wheel of “What ifs” and harder to stop my catastrophic thinking avalanche and sit for ten minutes in silence. I hope to walk toward things this year that will bring me back into balance and toward my Better Heather.

Walk. My husband and I walk on Sunday mornings. We started by walking seven miles when we had some major life decisions to talk through. We needed those hours to really process the complexity of what was going on for us. I loved Seth Godin’s Blog about walking.

When I lived in the hospital for weeks, I got accustomed to taking my life five minutes at a time. I’d say to myself, “Heather, we don’t know what’s going to happen in an hour, but can you do the next five minutes? Yes, you can.” Now that we are home, we’ve transitioned to be able to do an hour or even a day at a time. I still know that when life calls on me to do so, I can walk through it five minutes at a time.

So Happy New Year to you. May you walk your path this coming year in the way only you can. You probably noticed that a bunch of posts came out at once today. I sorted through my draft files and wrapped up pieces that had been waiting there for you. I had many questions about whether I should keep the Coach to Coach blog as “wait and see” or finish my project that was just going to last a year. I’ve got enough “wait and see” in my life right now. We all like closure. The truth is my creative energy and advocacy is flowing in a different way right now. I’m honored to get the opportunity to support my son and my family through our healing process and that’s the true path I’m walking right now.

Thank you for all you’ve gifted me as readers. I’ve met new friends, traveled to places I only knew by map and received ideas and resources galore. Please enjoy and share the Coach to Coach archives. Ultimately, I’m grateful for your company–maybe we’ll walk again sometime.

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Ps’ and T’s of Coaching: Plan to Forget Toolbox

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This may seem like another paradoxical statement: plan so you can forget, but it’s so true. There are so many things we juggle as educators that our brain can’t (or shouldn’t) try to keep track of it all. So I have to “plan to forget” toolbox so I can turn my work brain off in the evenings, sleep at night and have balance in my weekend.

Calendar Reminders

When I’m putting in the electronic appointment for the school board presentation, I take a moment to put another appointment in the week before to remind me that it’s coming up and carve out time to prepare. That allows me to forget that the presentation is coming up and rely on my tools to tell me when it’s time to start the preparation work.

To-Do Lists

Sitting down to start my day, I prioritize three things I need to get done that day. Then below that I add one or two other bonus things I could get done. When I finish that list I say “well done” and start another one. If I don’t get them done I add them to my list the next day. For me, knowing I just need to accomplish three things keeps me from feeling too overwhelmed with my days.

Walking Around with Sticky Notes

When I leave my office to walk down the hallway, I’ll often combine tasks like “OK, I’ll run these copies, stop and ask this coach for a resource and then pick up the envelope I need from the office professional.” As I walk out the door, someone catches me and asks me a question and we make a plan to talk more tomorrow. Then I get down to the workroom, run my copies and return to my office. Oops. I didn’t visit with the coach or pick up the envelope. Now I just travel with a sticky note that reminds me of the things I planned to do while out and about. It seemed a little silly when I started doing it, but it’s helped me use my time more efficiently and if I do forget my next task–I have a tool to back me up.

We all have ways that we plan to forget. Instead of getting frustrated with our full brains, we can build our own supports to have in place.

 

 

5

Believe and Prepare

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I wrote about paradoxes in coaching a few weeks ago and now we’re living an extreme one. As we get ready to go home after close to six weeks in the hospital, I put all my energy into believing that my son will regain feeling and function again. I also prepare for the possibility that he may not. It’s the oxymoron of optimistic realists. So I encourage him in his visualization exercises to experience what it will feel like to move a toe again or lift a knee and with the help of our amazing community we’ve remodeled the house to make it wheelchair accessible. We simultaneously believe he’ll recover sensation entirely and we prepare his environment for what is. And what is is not a negative reality, it’s just our current challenge.

Quality educators I work with do this too. They sit alongside a child, listen to them read and discuss the text. Noticing all the things the child is doing well, they find one thing to nudge them forward. They believe the child will become a stronger reader and will grow an academic year or more. Or they sit by a writer who can barely crank out a few words and say, “Look at how much you already know how to do, now I’m going to teach you…” They believe the children will grow and they prepare for them right where they are at. There’s a sense of patient urgency in you wonderful people.

It’s not a simple paradox to live though. It requires courage. People will tempt us with quick fixes. We’ve already been offered nutritional milkshakes to help our son regenerate nerves–the first one is free. While that may work for some, we’ll stay the path with our team’s approach. In teaching we’ll be offered computer programs that will engage and boost our students’ learning. And while that can work for specific interventions, we know what a child needs most is time and attention with the best teacher possible.

Underneath quality improvement plans (not the compliant ones) we write for individual students, schools and districts, I see this “believe and prepare” paradox present. When we believe, we have far-reaching vision for what can be. When we prepare, we ground ourselves with what is. The space between “what is” and “what can be” is the work.

Enjoy your winter breaks. Home for the holidays has never meant quite so much for our family.

15

Some New Perspective

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Three weeks ago my son collapsed at home while we were getting ready for bed and said, “Mom, I can’t feel my legs.” We’ve been in the hospital for 22 days as of today, first in acute care and now in rehab. He’s currently paralyzed and diagnosed with a condition known as Transverse Myelitis. Transverse Myelitis is rare and the onset with a healthy young man of eighteen is even more strange. I’ve always thought my children were “one in a million,” but this isn’t exactly what I meant. There are a lot of things I thought I knew or believed pre-Tranverse Myelitis that I have a whole different perspective about now. There are other beliefs that have only been strengthened through this experience.

My first major shifts have come in understanding what kind of support I want to offer in the future for families in crises. I used to think that if I stopped by the hospital I’d only be “in the way.” I now understand that if I can bring positive energy into a hospital room for even five minutes, that’s a gift. I will trust people to tell me to come back another time if needed. I won’t stay away next time. I also thought I had to know people really well to show up for them. Where did that idea even come from? People who haven’t seen us in years or barely know us are materializing from everywhere–and helping. It was hard to receive the help at first, but several people have told me these wise things:

*Receive with grace and just say “thank you.”
*Don’t do things other people can do for you right now.
*Tell people what they can do.
*People want to feel a part of things. Allow it.
*Know that you will be able to pay it forward in the future.
*Sometimes ask for needs, but wants are OK too.

I have been making connections between the medical world and the educational world constantly. Here was what an occupational therapist said to Jamin during her first visit. “Our job is to meet you wherever you are at. If you wake up with pain one day, we’ll do less. If you are having a strong day, I’m going to push you hard. Each day, we’ll just build on what you can do based on where you are at.” Does that sound like a great coach? It does to me. While we aren’t dealing with physical paralysis in the classroom, there is some emotional paralysis that has to do with change. Meeting people where they are at each day and building on strengths is the way everyone gets better.

Another therapist explained, “I’m going to teach you one way to transfer to your wheelchair. I never use a slide board with patients as young and athletic as you. But my colleagues will teach you other ways and you’ll experiment with your own and you are going to figure out what works for you. No one else can tell you that.” I wanted to hug her and tell her that’s what great coaches do. Now that I think about it, a lot of those early days are a blur, so I may have hugged her. I probably did.

Finally, the opening image for the post has me doing some thinking about RTI. Almost as soon as we reached the rehab floor we started hearing this buzz about the discharge date. The OTs, PTs, nursing staff and doctors got together to determine goals that my son needed to reach with independence before he could leave the hospital. Then they estimated how long it would take him to meet those goals. That date was published on the white board for us all to see. Each individual and team refers to it as they work with him. It is the day he transitions back to his “core” life. I wonder what that would be like for young readers who are getting an intervention with a different program or approach. If the intervention teachers, counselor, classroom teachers and the administrator all focused on a date, say February 2nd, and their goal was to get that student to independence and back into the core by the time, what would that mean for our reader and the collaborative support he receives?

I don’t know what this latest life event means for the blog and the cool thing is–I don’t have to. I like this quote by Gilda Radner:

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.”

4

P’s and T’s of Coaching: Positive Presupposition

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Great Wolf Lodge, a family water park destination, has a list of rules posted before you enter the wet wonderland. In the middle of all these rules are big, red, bold words:

DO NOT PEE OR POOP IN THE POOL.

This statement is not–I repeat–not a positive presupposition. But it still makes me laugh.

Positive presuppositions are statements, questions and a way of thinking that suggest we trust others to have the right knowledge and/or the best intentions. DO NOT PEE OR POOP suggests that we might not know to keep our number ones and twos to ourselves or that we would intentionally pollute the pool. A positive presupposition could sound like, “Thank you for keeping your waste products to yourself.”

Positive presuppositions are subtle when it comes to coaching. It can be the difference between asking, “When did the students become less engaged?” and “At what point were there shifts in student engagement?” The first one suggests that the students weren’t engaged whereas the second one inquires about any shifts. Another example would be, “He didn’t finish his homework” and “He hasn’t finished his homework yet.” The word ‘yet’ being the subtle add-on that suggests an optimistic outcome.

While we can communicate positive presuppositions with what we say, there is also worthy internal work to do in this area. I recently heard a coach I work with say, “I’m focusing on positive presuppositions about why that meeting went the way it did.” Instead of assuming someone was trying to be difficult or hurtful, there are 99 other possibilities that could be just as true. When we focus on the positive possibilities, it shifts our energy. We can move from feeling angry, tired, sapped, embarrassed or anxious to feeling light, free and hopeful.

Here are examples of one way to see things as well as the positive presupposition way. I left two for you to fill in yourself. I find positive presuppositions take a lot of practice for me.

 

PP Table

 

 

 

3

Show Up

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There are a few writers that cause me to consider never writing another word. Anne Lamott, author of Operating Instructions and Bird by Bird, is one. Ann Patchett is another. Patchett most recently had that effect on me when I read her collections of essays in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

I’m sure Ann and Anne would be horrified to hear my confession, but here’s what happens. I read one line—just one sentence—like Ann Patchett’s:

Hard work is first and foremost hard, and whether or not it’s ultimately rewarding is very rarely the thing you’re thinking of at the moment.

Or Anne Lamott’s:

You don’t always have to chop with the sword of truth. You can point with it too.

And I have to stop reading because it’s that good. The wisdom, the structure, the word choice are masterful. I know I’ve never written something that good and I’m concerned I’m wasting people’s precious reading time.

“If I stop writing,” I think, “people will have more time to read better stuff.”

My teenage daughter made a similar comment about her art that sent me on a rant.

“Just because you aren’t Salvador Dali yet, doesn’t mean you should stop creating. Do not deprive this world of your creativity. And who cares if it’s not great in other’s eyes? It’s great in mine.”

Following my own motherly advice, I strive to observe and record like Patchett and Lamott and remember the point isn’t to be great, but simply to show up for your own personal brand of creativity.

3

Because It Makes Me Smile

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Years ago I was at a toy shop downtown and saw a seven-foot giraffe and said, “I have to have that in our house.” Little did I know when said giraffe was being auctioned off for a good cause that my husband would outbid everyone else so he could get it for me. “Savannah” as I’ve named her has made our living room her home ever since. In the lead image, you can see what she looked like as we moved her to our new home in the back of the pick-up. I was recently telling the story to someone who asked if she matched the decor of our house.

“Not at all,” I replied.

I’ve loved and collected giraffes for many years. Maybe it’s because they are very tall animals and I am a very small animal. Or maybe it’s because they have the largest heart of any land animal, but those gentle (except when they are neck fighting) giants make me smile.

Physically when we smile, we tell our brain to feel good and in return our feel-good brain tells us to smile. That’s a cycle I like to tap into. As Mother Teresa said, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” I’m comfortable answering questions about why I bought a certain outfit or why I gave a certain gift or why I have a kitsch seven-foot giraffe in my home, “Because it makes me smile.”

1

Read This

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Since I made the commitment to read a book a day, there’s been no regret. Oh, there’s been catching up and wondering if I can possibly keep this up until Labor Day, but no regret. Pushing myself to read means I’m watching less media, going to the library more, taking my book in my car to read at any little moment and talking to more people about books. Those are all wonderful things.

At this point I’ve read 34 books. Two books have emerged as favorites.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

One of my friends on Goodreads had written in her review, “I love everything about this book” and I completely agree. I love the characters, tension, dialogue, description and even the fact that it made me cry. My ten-year-old loved it as much as I did. It’s one of those books that I clasped to my chest upon finishing and said, “Thank you.”

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt

Wow. OK Wow. There is a song from Sesame Street called “Just One Person” that begins,

If just one person believes in you,
Deep enough, and strong enough, believes in you…
Hard enough, and long enough,
It stands to reason, that someone else will think
“If he can do it, I can do it.”

Making it: two whole people, who believe in you
Deep enough, and strong enough,
Believe in you.
Hard enough and long enough
There’s bound to be some other person who
Believes in making it a threesome…

This is that book.

Here are the other books I’ve read and the order I read them in:

Hooray for Hat by Brian Won
I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo by Jill Esbaum
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Neilson
Gifts from the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig
Monkey with a Tool Belt by Chris Monroe
Something Big by Sylvie Neeman
The Cheese Belongs to You by Alexis Deacon
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
How to Get a Job by Me, the Boss by Sally Lloyd
The Pocket Mommy by Rachel Eugster
Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building by Christy Hale
A Good Trade by Alma Fullerton
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
Plastic, Ahoy! by Patricia Newman
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
Odd Duck by Cecil Casteelluci and Sara Varon
Fairytale Comics Edited by Chris Duffy
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
To Dare Mighty Things: The Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Doreen Rappaport
Puss Jekyll Cat Hyde by Joyce Dunbar
The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren
The Silver Button by Bob Graham
Bugs in my Hair! by David Shannon
A Dance like Starlight by Kristy Dempsey
My Teacher Is a Monster by Peter Brown
Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt
Flight School by Lita Judge
The Day I Lost My Superpowers by Michael Escoffier
The Grudge Keeper by Mora Rockliff
Jim Curious: A Voyage to the Heart of the Seas by Matthias Picard

I believe if we teach literacy, we need to be up on current books. Educators often ask me how I know about so many books. I say simply: I stay in touch. My children talk to me about what they are reading and I read those books. But you don’t have to have kids. Talk to anyone. Ask, “What should I have on my to-read stack?” and they’ll tell you. Happily.

Or look at a website like

Publishers Weekly Best Books of Summer

Or go to Twitter and type in the hashtag #bookaday

Or get an account at Goodreads and follow what your friends are reading. Friend me if you like. I don’t post often but I check in every couple of weeks.

Or go to Amazon and type in the books you like. Scroll down and see what other people are buying who like what you like.

Or find the “new books” shelf at the library and sign-up for the e-newsletter from your local library. There are new books and suggestions from librarians.

Or go spend twenty minutes in a bookstore. Walk in, find the area that interests you, sit down and begin touching. If you have the funds, buy the books. If you don’t have the funds, write down the titles and put them on hold at your library.

Or follow blogs like mine or this one Nonfiction Detectives or this one Teach Mentor Texts.

There’s plenty of summer left. Keep reading. Find good stuff and share it.

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Trust and Laughter, Laughter and Trust

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If you are going through a change at work, this book by William Bridges Managing Transitions belongs on your shelves. I was rereading the section today on trustworthiness. He has 11 reminders about trust and a few of them really jumped out at me. Maybe they’ll resonate for you too.

Do what you say you will do. Don’t make promises you can’t or won’t keep. Most people’s mistrust has come from the untrustworthy actions of others in the past.

Listen to people carefully and tell them what you think they are saying. If you have it wrong, accept the correction and revise what you say. People trust most the people whom they believe understand them.

Share yourself honestly. A lot of mistrust begins when people are unable to read you. And remember: while hiding your shortcomings may polish your image, it ultimately undermines people’s trust in you. Admitting an untrustworthy action is itself a trustworthy action.

Ask for feedback and acknowledge unasked-for feedback on the subject of your own trustworthiness whenever it is given. Regard it as valuable information and reflect on it. Feedback may be biased, and you don’t have to swallow it whole. But check it for important half-truths.

Try extending your trust of others a little further than you normally would. Being trusted makes a person more trustworthy, and trustworthy people are more trusting.

If all of this is too complicated to remember and you want a single key to the building of trust, just remind yourself, “Tell the truth.”

And now for the laughter…

Many of you have already seen Weird Al’s viral Word Crimes to the tune of Blurred Lines, but if you haven’t, watch this. I bet you’ll find yourself smiling in recognition of both word crimes you’ve been guilty of and the word crimes that get on your nerves.

Word Crimes

Finally, my daughter showed me this video of an interaction between Kermit the Frog and Cookie Monster. Kermit’s voice has been slowed down and the effect had me doubled over in hysterics. You must watch it. It’s 59 seconds of funny. I’m pretty sure I felt this same left of frustration toward Cookie Monster at some point.

Kermit and Cookie Monster Slow Mo

IT’S NOT A COOKIE! IT’S AN ORANGE! OF COURSE IT’S AN ORANGE!

2

Taking in the Good

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My friends Eileen and Laurie were talking about a book called Hardwiring Happiness. They mentioned a part of the author’s practice from “Taking in the Good” that zooms in on observing or recalling a positive experience for 10, 20, 30 seconds. Why? Unless an experience is intensely wonderful, our positive experiences stay in short-term status and never get downloaded into our memory.

Hanson talks about how our brains act like Teflon with positive experiences, which can slip right out of our memories while negative experiences are more like Velcro. They grip and stick easily. That helps us in survival situations (don’t eat small, red berries, bad!), but it doesn’t help most of us in our everyday lives. Thinking about negative and positive experiences as Velcro and Teflon is helpful for me. Most of us would like to be able to release the negatives and retain the positives. Lucky for us our plastic brains can do that more often if we are mindful.

The mindfulness exercise is simple. When you experience something positive, just stop. For 20 whole seconds. Notice everything you can about the experience. What are the colors and shapes? The sounds? The body sensations? The emotions? I tried this on walks. I’d see the first crocuses poking up or the dew on a spider web and stop to let my body and mind record it. Or I’d hear a birdsong or kids laughing and stop myself 20 seconds to listen and take it in. I shared this with my teenage son and he started doing it too on his runs.

Now I’ll warn you the result of this practice means that you might look like Walter Mitty at times. In the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Ben Stiller plays a character who zones out while life is happening around him. I’ve had people pass me on a trail with questioning looks as I record the beauty of a fern’s fiddlehead. The other cool thing is that you don’t have to be in a breathtaking setting. Once you start looking for things that make you feel positive, you’ll find them everywhere. It could be a color, the taste of homemade raviolis, a sharp pencil or even the smell of fresh basil. Or you can just sit and recall those things and let your brain bathe in the positivity.

By writing this I’m reminding myself to do this more. As Rick Hanson writes, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” So if you can stay with the positive experiences longer and more often, you’ll truly be able to take in the good.