Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My 2016 Word for the Year

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

We are coming to the close of 2015 and welcoming in the beginning of 2016.  I have started the year for many years now by choosing a word to serve as a guide and light my path as I enter into the next year.  Below are words that have chosen me since 2010.

2010 Word—Gratitude
2011 Word—Connectedness
2012 Word—Courage

2013 Word—Celebrate
2014 Word—Playful 
2015 WordMe to Spaciousness to Open-hearted (I spoke about how my word morphed over the course of last year.  To read more about this click here.

My word of the year for this year is really a continuation of the morphing of 2015.  As I close 2015, I am in a place of open-heartedness.  This place comes with both heartbreak and joy.  Both of which have made my heart more tender and have made me realize the gifts around me in a myriad of ways. Yesterday a friend showed me a video of a new baby hearing her mom's voice and sweetly smiling.  With an open heart I could view that video and feel overwhelming joy.  This happens all of the time. An overwhelming of gratitude that comes with an open heart.  As I listen to the gospel choir at church on Christmas Eve.  As I say goodbye to a dear friend.  As I see my son choose health.  As I am surprised with a gift given by my daughter.  Moments in life have become alive as I experience them with openness.

I am bringing that openness to 2016 with my new word.  I have known for about a month that this will be my word going into the next year.  It is actually the next morph of open-heartedness.  My word for 2016 is HAPPINESS.  And I want to make that word a verb in some ways--an action.  I have framed my word in this way...I am running toward happiness.  Actually, I am sprinting toward happiness.   David Whyte in his poem "The TrueLove" names for me what the jaunt toward happiness is.  It is a lovely poem--one (probably the only one) that I wish I actually wrote.  It names my journey as of late in a way that I wish I would have named myself.  I am running toward happiness.   And “finally after all of this struggle and all of these years, I don’t want to the struggle anymore.  I want to live and I want to love and I will walk (run/sprint) across any territory and any darkness however fluid and however dangerous to take the one hand I know belongs in mine.” Please see the entire poem here.

That one hand that belongs in mine presents itself to me in a variety of ways.  It is the hand of the one who loves me.  The hand of my child.  The hand of my God.  My hand as I become more of who I am meant to be and grow in self-love.  The hand of open-heartedness.  The hand of authenticity.  The hand of love.  

This year I run toward happiness--sprint actually.  Running toward the hand that is rightfully mine.  Running towards the hand that belongs in mine.

Happy 2016!  May this new year bring each of us to a place of belonging.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Morphing of My Word for the Year 2015

I started my year in 2015 with a full plate.  The year before was an over-the-top year!  Work was magnified by a commute, a huge need for written curriculum and generous consulting opportunities.  Major family issues added to the mix...all leaving me gasping for air.   I entered the year needing space...needing a focus on me.  From this space my word for the year emerged and with that emergence it has morphed as the year continued.  On January 1 the word I chose was "Me".  I wanted...I needed a focus on me.  I needed to find that place where I existed outside of the confines of all that was being asked of me.

As the year continued my word changed from "Me" to "Spaciousness".  I began to create white space in my life.  Space that was mine.  Like an empty plate that welcomed food but not one overwhelmed with mounds of mindless choices, I chose to focus on the container which was the base.  The plate of me created white space.  I chose the portions and the tastings of my life in a way that allowed for me to emerge.  The stuff of my life was chosen and placed on my container with focus on the white space that existed between each choice.  An intention on spaciousness served me well.

Then this summer my word morphed again.  Living within the confines of spaciousness created desire to live my life more fully.  More vulnerably.  More lively.  My word changed from "Spaciousness" to "Open-hearted".  My heart became open to me and was opening to others in ways that I hadn't realized was closed.  I found love.  I found heart break.  I found an aliveness that comes from risking for love.  For me.  For another.

And now, with an open heart this year is coming to a close.  I started my year with a full plate and am ending it in the very same way.  This year was an over-the-top year once again.  Work, which taps my creativity and my desire to give back, continues to demand my best.  Family illness has taken a toll.  But somehow, I am different.  I have morphed from needing to claim me, to needing to create space for me, to living in the world with an open-heart.  Open to me and open to the circumstances that I encounter with a desire to respond to those circumstances with compassion and clarity.  Open to the possibilities to love and be loved.  Open to finding love in the eyes of a child, the eyes of a friend, the eyes of a stranger, the eyes of self, the eyes of a lover.   A me year.  A spacious year.  An open-hearted year.  A very good year indeed!

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for dedicating space and time for teachers and teachers of literacy to come together to share ideas, practice and life experience.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Everyday Leadership

I work at a school where all participants are viewed as leaders.  Each of us, in different ways, contribute to making the school a vibrant place every day.  Each of us, students and staff alike, in our daily way, offer our gifts and leadership to the school.  Our individual contribution makes a difference and together we do great things.

One of the great leaders in our school is Mr. Kevin, the head of our school's building and grounds.  He is in charge of the campus facilities.  He oversees the upkeep of our building.  The work he does in this regard has helped our school be a beautiful place to work and learn.  What he does for the school though, is so much more.  I see Mr. Kevin at so many school events.  He is probably here earlier than all of us and often is one of the last to leave.  He is here on Saturdays.  He notices the small things as well as the big things.  He jokes with staff and students.  He goes into classrooms and works with students as they need support.  I have heard that during his time here, he has also gone in to substitute when the school was desperate for substitute teachers.  He does what is needed--for any of us.  Where there is a need, Mr. Kevin is there to fill it or find a way.  He is a person who makes a difference in what he does in a quiet and daily way.  He has made an impact on others in ways that he is probably not even aware.

We are all leaders.  Each of us have the opportunity to make a difference in our daily interactions.  On my way to school, I stop for coffee at a local drive-through and recognize the leadership offered by the woman who greets me with a smile, ask how I am doing and takes special care to make sure my order is correct.  Leadership greets me as I work with fellow administrators and teachers, each of us planning in a daily way to offer strong instruction, loving interactions and an environment that allows each member of our community to learn and to grow.  Leadership continues in my interactions with my family in the evening as kindnesses are offered and support is given, sometimes when weariness would be the preferred response.  Every day, all day long we are offered choices that allow us to lead in ways that make a difference.  And sometimes that difference has a huge impact on another.  Sometimes we may never know the impact we made.  And on rare occasions we are offered a glimpse of that impact.

Early in my career my life was changed by what was then called the Bay Area Writing Project.  As a young teacher, I travelled from Ohio to Berkeley one summer to learn about writing and how I teach writing.  The next school year I had the most fun I have ever had in exposing my students to writing and creating a room where a joy in writing was had by all.  Several years ago, I was visiting my home town and was in a local diner.  A young man saw me, came up to me and gave me a huge hug.  He was a former student and as we talked he told me that he was currently in college. And he wanted me to know what a difference I made for him.  He told me that I taught him how to write as a fifth grader in a way that impacted him in middle school and high school.  He told me my writing class set him up for the success he was then experiencing in college.   I think about that experience of finding out that I made a difference.  I felt gratitude in knowing that I made a difference for him that first year after my Berkeley experience.  Those who taught me made a difference.  My student will make a difference.  And the ripple continues.

We never know the impact we have on others.  And sometimes we get to know.  Below is a link to a short Ted Talk (six minutes) that talks about everyday leadership and making a difference.   What can you do to make a difference in the lives you meet today?

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for dedicating space and time for teachers and teachers of literacy to come together to share ideas, practice and life experience.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Advent Practice

At the end of last month Facebook popped up with a page that asked "What does your advent calendar look like."  I am not one for posting these little Facebook searches, but I do like to see what comes up (and now and again, I like what comes up so much that I post it on my page).  I did the search out of curiosity and up popped 24 days populated by people who I love, with the first day being me and the 24th day a picture of gaily wrapped gifts.  The calendar does mostly represent those who add meaning to my everyday life.

In my morning reflections I found myself thinking about this calendar.   Each person on this calendar has affected my life in different ways--often significantly.  And as I move through life on a day-to-day basis, I don't acknowledge this in ways that I would like.  Then came my brainstorm--why not write letters of gratitude each day of advent to the people on my card (as well as a few others who are not represented on this calendar)?  This practice will keep me focused on gratitude in a season that often focuses on excess, and will allow me to express it.  AND it can replace the Christmas cards that I often hurriedly put together.

So, each day, starting with yesterday, when I was the recipient, I am writing 1-2 letters to friends, family and significant others, to show them ways that I am grateful for them being in my life.  What a better way to enter into this holiday season?

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for dedicating space and time for teachers and teachers of literacy to come together to share ideas, practice and life experience.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

When Freedom Is Not a Choice

I have been taken with images of men and women fleeing from places where freedom is not a choice.   The choice to stay is actually probably a choice to die.  Images of children floating to shore as families flee to a new place where freedom and life might be given.  Images of agony in the face of freedom lost.  The poem below has haunted me.  We all seek freedom.  We all need compassion.

No One Leaves Home
by Abby Zimet

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

Monday, September 7, 2015

Purpose and Passion in Work

“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it” 
                                                                                                                        ― Gautama Buddha

Yesterday was Labor Day.   Every year at the church where I worship, on Labor Day someone from the parish talks about the value of work.  This year was no different.  What was different, though, was that a 23-year-old woman was asked to speak about labor and what it has meant in her young life.  She spoke about finding purpose in whatever work we do and acknowledging that all work is valuable and can be linked to purpose.  She spoke about the importance of finding purpose and passion in work and recognizing when it does not exist so that the passion can be created there or found in another kind of work.

This young woman's first job was working in a movie theater where, at 17, she found purpose in giving others joy and entertainment as they went to see a film.  Presently she is working two jobs.  One of her jobs is bringing a group of mentally disabled adults to church every Thursday evening.  She finds purpose in helping others find their spiritual connection and wants to create a space for this connection for others who might need support in this pursuit.  She also supervises a local farm and works with the farmer to learn all she needs to know (she had never farmed before) so that she can effectively allow the crops that they produce to be shared with others.  She spoke about looking at a pepper and knowing that her work allows others, families, to have food like that pepper on their table to nourish their bodies and bring families around a table.  This young woman amazed me as she spoke about purpose and going after work that gives passion.  At 23 years of age, she had found something that escapes many adults across a lifetime.

Since my very first day of kindergarten, I knew that my purpose was to be an educator.  My kindergarten teacher created a space of fun, love, play and learning that took me in that very first day as she read aloud books to our class.  I promptly went home and announced to my family that I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher when I grew up.  And in first grade I announced that I wanted to be a first grade teacher.  And the story continued with each grade tapping into me a deep desire to serve as that grade level teacher.  I have not swayed from that kindergarten passion (except for the development of a love of writing as a high schooler) with a wonder about how I could be a writer and a teacher.  In my career I have actually taught all grades K through graduate school and, lucky me, in the last years have been able to teach teachers how to write and how to teach writing.

As educators, purpose is paramount.  And instilling purpose in our young people is a worthy aspiration.   Every year, as I work with students and adults, I observe those I work with and think about what natural gifts that student or teacher brings to the classroom so that I can use that natural gift to help support learning.  One year I was teaching fifth grade and I had the delight to teach Carl.  Carl's natural gifts were not of a reading and writing variety.  He struggled with language and didn't feel that he was a good student.  One afternoon we were outside on the playground and I was watching my class as my attention was drawn to Carl.  He played with wild abandon.  He laughed.  He included. He ran and jumped.  He lost himself in his play and that day I lost myself in observing him do something so well.  Carl was the best "player" in my class.  As I recognized that, I was able to tap into that natural ability and let it enhance other parts of what he did in the classroom.  And even more than that, that afternoon on the playground opened me up to a deep understanding that all students bring gifts to the classroom.  Things that they and they alone can do.  As a teacher, one of my jobs is to recognize that gift, that potential and provide openings for students to grow there.  This work will create children who become adults who find passion and purpose in all that they do.  That is my purpose.

So, as I begin this new school year, I go into this valuable work with this renewed understanding of purpose and possibility.  I enter a new school year with a desire, with a passion, to create conditions that allow children and adults to tap into their gifts, to discover possibilities and know their purpose.   I enter this school year knowing that as we touch the children of today, we support the evolution of young adults like the young woman who spoke of the importance of purpose at my church this weekend.  Honestly, what could be better than that?!

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for dedicating space and time for teachers and teachers of literacy to come together to share ideas, practice and life experience.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Keep the Focus

Right now I have several distractions in my life at home and at school.  They are the things that keep calling out to me…”Pay attention to me.”  “Give me your energy and time.”  “I am what is important.”  But they are distractors.  They are pointing me in the wrong direction.  They are the things that cause me to go to places of self-doubt, resentment, gossip, and even a bit of hopelessness.

But those things that keep my eye on what is important give me energy and a sense of purpose and belonging.  Today I choose to keep my eye on those things.  One tool I use to keep balance and look at the important is examining my four natures.

Today I will focus on my health and loving my physical body.  In recent months I have had a growing acceptance of my body.  Recently I went to visit my mom.  Out of the blue Mom said to me, “I hate my stomach.  I know you do too.”  And my response was, “No, mom, lately I have been loving my stomach.”  Her response, “No you don’t.  Don’t lie to me.”  Mine to her…”Really, mom, I have been loving my body. I love my stomach”  I find that that compassionate stance with a vessel that has taken me through thick and thin has allowed me to take care of myself in a loving way.  To eat right.  To exercise.  To live in what I have been given.  And to accept myself where I am. 

Today I will focus on the relationships in front of me and build capacity in my life to love deeply.  I have two adult children who I dearly love.  I have friends who adore me and who I adore.   Today, as I get caught up in things that don’t go the way I might want, or get hurt because of something said not quite right, or wish for love not being offered, I will take a breath and ask myself how can I best build love.  That will take me where I want to go.

My mental domain has been square in the middle of school.  School started two weeks ago (in upstate NY that is so rare as school typically begins after Labor Day).  But at school I am and there are hundreds of details and some big pieces that are unknown and scary for some.  So…today I am keeping my focus on the students in my school.  We have over 400 of them--all coming to learn and to develop skills that will help them at school and in life.  I will keep my focus on them when other distractors come along.  When I find my time eaten up or my focus on the minutia, I will remind myself of the students and ask myself if what I am doing that contributes to my desire to give the best school experience possible for these young people.

Today I will give myself time for quiet and reflection.  Time to write to hear my voice and to write to give myself the possibility to touch on inner wisdom that is bigger than who I am.  It is in that space, I know my best self and understand my life purpose.  It is in that space that I can know self-acceptance and self-love.  It is in that space that I see who I am and see me as God sees me.  When I center, when I pray, when I reflect--to me they are all the same, I find peace.  Here is the place I really keep the focus.  And with that focus, giving back is natural and balance is inevitable. 

Join the Spiritual Round-Up at Reading Teaching and Learning.  http://hollymueller.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Feed the Right Voice

Choice has been a big word for me this year.   I have written previously about how we cannot always choose our circumstances, but we can ALWAYS choose how to respond to our circumstances.  Last week, in a beginning staff meeting, we discussed ways that we can choose our inner dialogue as a way to create satisfaction and a sense of purpose.    Consider this Fable:






We each have both voices inside of us.  Sometimes one is louder than the other.  How can we feed the good wolf that produces joy, peace love and all of those other attributes that bring a sense of fulfillment and positivity?   Here are a couple of practices that I do to bring out that voice I want to feed.

  • I make a list of my blessings at the end of every day a practice.  It is how I journal in the evening and how I end my day.   If in the middle of the day, the wolf I don’t choose to feed is breaking into my thoughts, listing five blessings right then and there is a good way to break the negativity.   This year our school is noting those things we want to feed in our school.  Every day each of us is listing something positive that occurs every day during the school year.  I know for me, this list will be a well of support when I have a dark day and nothing seems to be positive.
  • As I do my evening journal, I set an intention for the next day, based on what I think I might need to help me maintain that centered place.  Today my intention is to have relaxed productivity.  I knew that today would be non-stop and, when setting my intention, I knew that I would need to be relaxed within the productivity to keep feeding the wolf I want to nourish.  Having this intention allows me to hold that space through the day.

There are days that the wolf that brings us down grabs a hold of us.  On those days, negative feelings and thoughts naturally creep in.  When I was a principal in a primary school, there were those days when I thought I could do nothing correctly and my negative thoughts were bigger than life.  In those instances I would often reflect on what I was feeling and the whys of that feeling.  If the feeling was based on something I could control, I might make an action.  Sometimes I realized that I was overly tired.  In cases like that, I might choose to not make any big decisions and to get a good night’s sleep the next night.  I am always amazed at how a good night’s sleep changes perspective.  Those days came less and less as I quietly and gently looked at what was happening inside and acknowledged and supported the voice that gives me power.

What are ways that you feed the positive wolf?  How do you teach your students to do the same?

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for dedicating space and time for teachers and teachers of literacy to come together to share ideas, practice and life experience.