You Are Worthy and So Are Our Students #BCSLearns

Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston and has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, empathy, and shame.  More specifically, Brown studies human connection defined as “our ability to empathize, belong, love.”  Connection is why we are here; it is what gives us meaning and purpose to our lives.  But, as a researcher, her stress became – how will she measure it?  In an article from Forbes entitled Why Human Connection Will Bring Us Closer Together Brown is interviewed by Dan Schawbel about the “crisis of disconnection in our society.” In short, she has found that the primary difference or “variable” between people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and those who do not, is that those who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of having that love and belonging.  From her research, Brown’s definition is that “True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging does not require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”  

So, what gets in the way of our willingness to truly connect with others?  According to Brown, it is fear.  “Fear of vulnerability. Fear of getting hurt. Fear of the pain of disconnection. Fear of criticism and failure. Fear of conflict. Fear of not measuring up. When we ignore fear and deny vulnerability, fear grows and metastasizes. We move away from a belief in common humanity and unifying change and move into blame and shame. Our BCS theme this year is empathy.  Let’s lean into our fears with empathy and show our willingness to be vulnerable.  As Brown contends,  “If leaders really want people to show up, speak out, take chances, and innovate, we have to create cultures where people feel safe — where their belonging is not threatened by speaking out and they are supported when they make the decision to brave the wilderness, stand alone, and speak truth…while maintaining civility.”

As a proclaimed researcher and “storyteller”, Brené Brown delivered a humorous and informative talk at TEDxHouston where in the 20 minute talk, she shares “insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity.”


BCS Students – They Are Ours, All of Them #BCSLearns

As we end our first week of the new school year with our students, some new to us and others back with us in the second year of our multiage, I wanted to share this blog post that I have saved for the start of the year.  The post reminds me of Ross Greene’s take on students that are “lost at school.” To review some of Greene’s work and videos, check out one of my previous posts.  The post I share today, from the blog View from the Edge, by educator and administrator Rob Miller from Oklahoma, is entitled, Hugging a Porcupine.  Miller uses this sharp spine coated animal as a metaphor comparing it to some of the children we serve.  Ultimately, what resonates with me in this post is how Miller describes that each of our students is OURS and students like these “porcupines” belong “to us as much as the star quarterback, the future Ivy League scholar, the homecoming queen, and the valedictorian.”  These students can be difficult to love to be sure, but they are OURS but, as Miller states, we often don’t want to “own” them.  “These children frustrate us, make us angry, and cause us to cry. They cause us to question our effectiveness as educators and the meaning and value of our work.  It hurts to get close to children like [them]. It’s like hugging a porcupine. But they are ours, and hugging porcupines is occasionally the most important part of our job.”

It is certain students of ours who can, at times, ask for our care and compassion in the most uncaring and harsh ways.  It is others who blend into our classrooms, say little, comply wonderfully, seemingly not requiring much of our attention.  It is both of these types of students with whom we must build deep connection.  It is the quietly compliant student and the “porcupine” who need us to help them thrive.   As Miller concludes, “All the kids at our schools are ‘ours.’ For some, we have but a brief opportunity to do the one thing – the RIGHT thing – to change the course of their life in a positive way. What an awesome privilege and frightening burden that is.  This much is certain. [These students are] ours. And when you take the chance to hug a porcupine…the reward will be yours.

And finally, I have shared this video several times with educators in the past, though with this hugging a porcupine blog, the below Story of Teddy Stallard is a great reminder of the amazingly positive difference we can make in the lives of students.  Here’s to making great differences in each one of your students this year whereby they come back years later thanking you for being their best teacher ever!

Now More than Ever! At BCS We Value Each Other through Empathy #BCSLearns

At BCS we value our 3 E’s: education, environment, each other.  With “each other” in mind, our 2017-18 Theme at BCS is empathy, and starting on the first day of school, and throughout the days and months that follow, we will focus on building the skill of empathy in each of us.  A new school year allows us another opportunity to reconnect to our vision and inspire those students we serve “to lead in the global community through a passion for learning, innovating, and inquiry & design” and embrace together this year’s theme of Empathy!  With the recent events across our nation, most recently in Charlottesville, this theme of empathy, and nurturing and strengthening it within each of us, has never been more important.  These events have caused division, tension, and violence across multiple lines to include economic status, gender, identity, political affiliation, race, and sexual orientation, which, in turn, has caused high levels of anxiety and concern for members of our community.  With our continued efforts to nurture our own culturally responsive efforts, our staff and I want to personally assure you that we will continue to embrace our wonderfully diverse school community and provide a safe, caring, and nurturing environment for each of us who find ourselves fortunate enough to be a part of this amazing school.  Additionally, our most immediate thoughts and prayers are going out to those living in the southeastern Texas and gulf coast region that have been tragically impacted by Hurricane Harvey. We wish them well and our school community will be putting together an effort of support for them.

How will we nurture and build empathy in each of us? Starting on the first day of school and throughout the year, we will be highlighting and reflecting upon important habits of empathy with each other and the students we serve.  More specifically, the nine habits from the blueprint to helping children acquire “the Empathy Advantage” that Michelle Borba describes in her book, Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, will help us focus on building empathetic skills throughout this year with a monthly focus.

  • September – Introduction to Empathy: Borba’s research concludes that “empathy is the trait that helps make the world a kinder and gentler place, and empathy can be developed and improved. Wherever…children fit on the ‘caring about others’ scale, there is always room for improvement.”
  • October Empathetic People Can Recognize Feelings: Teaching emotional literacy as the gateway to empathy so children can recognize and understand the feelings and needs of others in their body language, voice tone or facial expressions
  • November Empathetic People Have a Moral Identity: Helping children develop an ethical code and caring mindset so they are more likely to adopt caring values that guide their integrity and activate their empathy to feel with and help others
  • December – Empathetic People Understand the Needs of Others : Instilling Perspective Taking so children can step into others’ shoes to understand another person’s feelings, thoughts, and views
  • January – Empathetic People Have a Moral Imagination: Using elevating, emotionally-charged images in literature, film, news and images as a source of inspiration to help children become empathetic
  • February – Empathetic People Can Keep Their Cool: Helping children learn ways to manage strong emotions, self regulate, and reduce personal distress to keep their empathy open, avoids the Empathy Gap and allows them to more likely to empathize and help others
  • March – Empathetic People Practice Kindness: Developing and exercising kindness and pro-social behaviors to increase children’s concern about the welfare and feelings of others and enhance the likelihood that they will step in to help, support or comfort others
  • April – Empathetic People Think “Us” not “Them”: Cultivating teamwork and collaborative abilities to help kids work with others to achieve shared goals for the benefit of all and develop a WE, not ME, mindset
  • May – Empathetic People Stick Their Necks Out: Promoting moral courage and teaching children Upstander skills and situational awareness to embolden them to speak out, step in, and help others
  • June – Empathetic People Want to Make a Difference: Cultivating altruistic leadership abilities to motivate children to make a difference for others, no matter how small it may be, and boost their chances of becoming Social Changemakers

BCS is a great place to be, and 2017-18 will be the best year yet as we embrace our theme!  While Maya Angelou suggests that “we all have empathy…we may not have enough courage to display it” and Stephen Covey contends that “When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems,” let’s make it a year where we all find the courage to lean in and lead with empathy!

My Hope for our Departing 8th Graders? Continue Creating! #BCSLearns

Dear 8th graders:

The theme for this year’s 8th grade Farewell Celebration for the BCS Class of 2017 was “Forever a Cobra!”  Our vision at BCS is to “inspire students to lead in the global community through a passion for learning, innovating, and inquiry & design.”  To help you “forever” live into that (note the play on our theme “forever a cobra”) and continue to hone and practice your skills, inside and outside the classroom; skills of critical thinking and problem solving, inquire and design, and create.  In short, our ultimate hope for you, in that “forever a cobra” spirit, is to “continue creating, whether items that are tangible or intangible.   To that end, let’s think together about what you “created” in your time at BCS.  What exactly did you create?

  • You “created” great friendships and relationships with others; many of which won’t be forgotten.
  • You “created” projects, works of art and deep learning experiences.
  • You “created” a level of madness among your teachers with fidget spinners, bottle flipping and snap chatting.
  • Many of you shared what you designed and “created” at our first Make Share Faire earlier this month.
  • This Friday, you will have “created” a deep sense of pride in yourself as you finish your 8th grade year.

To be sure, you are moving on from BCS, and, while you will be “forever a cobra”, you will indeed continue to design and create as you move forward into high school…How might you ask?  You will…

  • “create” more great friends and deeper relationships!  Some that may last a lifetime!
  • “create” even greater projects, more phenomenal works of art and profoundly deeper learning experiences to strive toward the best version of yourself!
  • keep a deep focus on “creating” little successes each day, each week, each year for it is these seemingly little creations of success that lead to extraordinary results!
  • “create” the best four years of high school proud of what you’ve experienced and accomplished!

And most importantly thinking about your high school experience and beyond, my sincere hope for each of you is to “create” a successful life…

  • “Create” opportunities to be grateful with a positive attitude as part of your everyday life…
  • “Create” daily actions showcasing your honesty & integrity, respect & kindness, and responsibility & accountability the lifeskills by which you live and the key ingredients within Our Moral Compass
  • “Create” efforts that result in a powerfully positive difference in your life and in the lives of others…
  • “Create” strategies and action plans to make your goals and dreams a reality…
  • “Create” the most amazing life you can imagine…

You are “forever a cobra”, though I hope your life will be “forever successful”!

To sum it up, let me leave you with two definitions of success as my ultimate hope for you in “making” a successful life.  First from American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson…

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,  
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

And finally, BCS class of 2017, in thinking on the theme of “Forever a Cobra”, here’s to a successful next phase of your life. Let me close with an oft-used quote from the Dalai Lama…

I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It is the ultimate source of success in life.

Congratulations BCS Class of 2017!

Forever a Cobra!

Live Life, Learn and Laugh this Summer! #BCSLearns

As the title of this post suggests, many teachers will look forward to living some wonderfully relaxing life experiences, learning experiences, and laughing experiences during the summer months.  A few weeks ago I posted about “four well-being workouts” in a post I titled It’s Time to “Get Happy” that might be a great reference for maximizing our well-being this summer.  Review the blog and re-read the article.  Then, and only then, get some chuckles from the brief videos below and feel free to share them broadly!

Summer swag countdown…

What not to do this summer…

Song for Summer…

Most importantly, Teachers, we appreciate you and GIVE YOU A HAND!…


What Leads to Innovation? #BCSLearns

In a blog post by Keara Duggan, ‎Senior Director of Design and Implementation at Education Elements, entitled Ten Tips for Creating a Culture of Innovation, she highlights the key ingredients in creating a culture of innovation in our classrooms and schools.  I’ve posted about innovative learning and innovation culture in past posts, and Duggan’s “Ten Tips” definitely caught my attention.  Note them below, particularly the last (top) two.  Make sense they’re the same?

  • Know who you are – Let’s be inspired by our vision and values.
  • Encourage your team to ask questions – Duggan references a NY Times article about the power of simple questions like  “why?” and “what if?” in changing the culture of organizations.
  • Move beyond compliance-driven structures – Duggan contends that “we want to move our staff towards engagement that is based on creativity, relevance, and meaningful relationships.” It needs to be “less about compliance and more about authentic engagement.”
  • Engage in R&D – She suggests developing a cycle of experimentation and experience for research and development as we tinker toward utopia (in the words of a famous book title).
  • Don’t drop everything – “True innovation is about iterating on what already exists” rather than scrapping what’s already there according to Duggan.
  • Support all voices – “Create a school to ensure all voices and ideas can be heard,” implores Duggan, where there is an “inclusive feedback system.”
  • Train your team to think like intrapreneurs –  According to Duggan, if teachers “want to do something new and different, they [don’t] have to take on a new role…[take on a] maker mindset…in beginning [this] ‘intrapreneurship.’”  This is about a growth mindset.
  • Break down silos – “Innovation requires diverse and new perspectives” contends Duggan.  Optimize collaboration among all stakeholders.
  • Be willing to get messy – Fail forward and then…
  • Be willing to get REALLY messy and even fail – “Innovation…requires frequent, fast failures that you learn and grow from.” Check out the Harvard Business Review article Duggan references.

Check out the 10 minute interview with David Kester, Chief Executive, Design Council where he shares how to foster a culture of innovation.  What does he say that aligns with Duggan’s Ten Tips?

It’s Time to “Get Happy” #BCSLearns

Has anyone felt the pace of spring in schools pick up recently?  Anyone working longer hours, planning for two years (this year and next), trying to catch you own children’s end-of-year events? Running out of time?  Sorry for all the rhetorical questions, but, yes, spring in schools is at its peak energy level.  To that end, I thought I’d share an article called Get Happy: Four Well-Being Workouts from the New York Times Education Life section (April 5, 2017).  What are the four personal workouts as described in the article?

  • Identify Signature Strengths – A study by Dr. Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, concluded that when people identified strengths they demonstrate when they are at their best self and “deploy one of their signature strengths ‘in a new and different way’ every day for one week…people had on average lower rates of depression and higher life satisfaction.”  (See the video below for more of Martin Seligman.)
  • Find the Good – “Before you go to bed each night…write down three things that went really well that day. Next to each event answer the question, ‘Why did this good thing happen?’  Seligman contends that this strategy “turns your attention to the good things in life, so it changes what you attend to.”
  • Make a Gratitude Visit – pay a visit to someone whom you have not properly thank for their efforts.  “It’s common that when people do the gratitude visit both people weep out of joy,” according to Seligman. “It puts you in better touch with other people, with your place in the world.”
  • Respond Constructively – When a person shares good news with you, with what Dr. Shelly Gable, a social psychologist at the UC-Santa Barbara, calls an “active constructive response.”  Rather than a short, quick response like, “Oh, that’s nice” or not much of a response at all, stay present in the conversation and encourage them to talk more about it with some probing questions or even “encouraging them to tell others or suggest a celebratory activity.”

Check out the 6 minute video below on YouTube with Seligman sharing his view of “Happiness and well-being and how to achieve them.”