Lessons Learned

This blog post can be found at the Lessons Learned Blog which is the blog of Dr. Howard Carlson. I encourage you to check it out! So… what lessons have you learned in the past 16 months? Take time to reflect and use the windowpane method:

As the school year wanes, I hope each of you are making plans to get away this summer and recuperate from what has likely been the most challenging year ever faced by school district leaders. It is my further hope that you will not only plan to relax while away, but also carve out some time for thought and reflection. Once you do, I trust that time might be used in the following manner…

Think about lessons learned from this year.  Consider how your life and the lives of those you lead and interact with has been changed.  Based upon this information what do you see as next steps for your school system? To figure this out I encourage you to engage in the following simple activities.

First, consider and record in writing the lessons learned over this past year, both good and bad. I believe this is important because in any situation we adapt to the realities of the condition we face and there are always practices and activities that we can adopt moving forward.

Next, it would be instructive to apply the Windowpane Model in considering how your life, the lives of those you lead (think administrators, staff…etc.), and those you interact with (think board members, parents…etc.) have changed. Similarly, it is important to consider how different groups believe the school system has changed or should change. Is it that there is a greater desire for more counselors in your schools, or establishing a permanent opportunity for certain students to learn online, or will bus drivers want to have buses disinfected daily, or will board members desire ongoing use of Zoom to conduct certain meetings? Clearly this exercise is context specific and one that only you (or your team) can complete.

By the way, if you are not already familiar with the Windowpane Model it is a tool I have outlined in my books, but the concept is straightforward. On a notepad, piece of chart paper, or a white board draw a square and divide that square into a set of smaller squares so that the completed picture resembles a window with multiple panes. In each pane of the window identify a group, such as teachers, bus drivers, parents, administrators, board members…etc., and then think through and record how their lives and jobs have changed as a function of the pandemic. The activity provides a way for you (or your team) to systemically think through the impact of the pandemic on key groups within your school system so that you are prepared to consider next steps.

Ok, the final part of the process is to use the product of the lessons learned and windowpane activity to inform your next steps. In other words, based upon this information how do you approach the coming year? What might you want to carry forward from this previous year or two on a permanent basis? How have those you work and interact with changed? To what extent do these changes impact how your school system moves forward?

Of course, there are many other questions to be considered, but I hope these activities get you started thinking about the impact of the pandemic at a systems level and encourages you to glean that which can make a difference in the future.

If you have other thoughts or ideas for how to think through and better understand how the pandemic will impact your school system moving forward, please place those ideas in the comments section below. Please remember that we all gain and benefit when we share our thoughts and ideas with each other.

Relationships and Overcommitment

This post is from Dan Rockwell’s LeadershipFreak Blog. I highly encourage you to check it out!

I woke up late this morning. It caused me to reflect on the reason I get up in the first place. Commitments came to mind.

Every commitment is a limitation.

Sleeping late and writing early don’t slide their feet under the same table.

Commitments limit and expand at the same time but in opposing directions. People who believe they can have it all end up as skid marks that vanish in the fog.

Tennis ball - boundary line.

Every commitment is a limitation.

Commitments:

Commitments add meaning to life.

Commitments declare that others can depend on you.

Commitments distinguish between catastrophe and achievement in a frantic world.

Commitments are fortified with NO.

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” Steve Jobs

A yes without a no is over-commitment.

6 relationships that cause you to overcommit:

Relationships explain commitment-making styles.

  1. Greed – your relationship with money.
  2. Insecurity – your relationship with yourself.
  3. Fear – your relationship with environments.
  4. Pleasing – your relationship with team members.
  5. Ambition – your relationship with the future.
  6. Guilt – your relationship with the past.

Successful commitment-making:

  1. Pause before you commit. Over-commitment creates chaos, stress, mediocrity, and self-accusation.
  2. Use people-pleasing as a tool to NOT overcommit. Stop disappointing people by dropping the ball.
  3. Reflect on current responsibilities and future aspirations when making commitments.
  4. Infuse self-knowledge into commitment-making. Know your talents and strengths so you can seize relevant opportunities.

A commitment is a decision made once.

What causes leaders to overcommit?

What guidelines help you make commitments?

What Could Be?

I have been pondering this question a lot lately: What could be? What potential projects, ideas, or… things… are out there that we can take away from COVID-19 learning?

Here is an article that briefly discusses a few of those things.

But what about what the Lord is doing? What are some things that we are blind to, that may be right before our eyes; opportunities that we have in sharing the Gospel?

We are in the last months of a capital campaign for a building project. As I look back, I realize that there are just so many things that did not even cross our minds in the early stages and building phases of this project. And yet, the Lord opened our eyes to ways that we can use our building to tell others about Him and to support families and children.

Lord, please open our eyes to see. Give us Your vision for what You would have us do in our ministry.

Can We Go Outside Today?

Another fantastic blog post by Dave Eberwein. Please take the time to read and reflect on this.

The Power of Why

I remember the conversation like it was yesterday.

It would be a typical day in late spring. I was in my classroom teaching science. The weather was warm, sunny and inviting. A hand would rise and the polite voice would ask, “Can we go outside for class today? Please, Mr. Eberwein.” Most sunny days the question repeated itself. What the students probably didn’t realize is that I wanted to be outside as well. However, my lessons just didn’t fit well with being outdoors so the answer was often a NO.

Prospect Lake Elementary School – Natural Playground

But, IS there some evidence that supports the idea that learning outside is beneficial — that being immersed in our natural surroundings is actually helpful while learning curriculum?

We have all heard anecdotal support for learning outside — that being in nature is calming and centering — things like going on nature hikes…

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To All the Tired Educators

I’ve been following Pernille’s blog for a few years now and this is a great post. I would add this: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you; the Lord give you His peace, Amen. God bless you all my teacher friends.

Pernille Ripp

Before the first day of school, oh the excitement and nervousness present

Dear Pernille, and perhaps so many others

You have been losing a lot of sleep this past year. The world has felt so heavy, so hard at times, and when you finally have found your stride, life has thrown yet another turn your way. Events that will shape you the rest of your life, experiences that are being lived through that will follow you until the end.

You have worked too much, you have tried to create boundaries as well as anyone else, and yet you have felt the insatiable hunger of failure nipping your heels every day, haunting your every decision. Never enough. Never good enough. You have felt like the role of teacher came first, above mom, above wife, above person. You have stayed up too late, gotten up too early, pondered and wondered, sought out…

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Help my unbelief!

It is 12 AM. Friday, February 26, 2021.

My left foot won’t stop moving. Maybe you are more sophisticated than I am. The proper name is “restless leg syndrome.” I prefer to call it by the name that the TV show Seinfeld gave it: The jimmy leg.

When I lay down, I will lay on my left side to curb the jimmy leg. But a funny thing happens… my right foot starts shaking violently side to side.

I’ve always had twitches and shakes. I remember one time in high school I was given a fairly nice camera for Christmas and I was told, “I asked them if this would be a good camera because of your shaking.” I laughed about it then; I laugh about it now. I laugh about a lot of things. Laughing is a lot easier and more palatable–laughing is something I feel good about passing along to others. If I can laugh or make others laugh, I feel like I’ve done something good.

But the leg still shakes.

And the laugh grows a little more nervous. The jokes become more silly; more bizarre. My mind is like a frightened rabbit–it dashes around from one thing to the next. I occupy it with work; I bury it with busy-ness.

Through all of it, I am thankful for a clear head. I am able to detach from this scene enough to recognize it for what it is.

This is fear.

My mind seeks to avoid thinking about what looms later today: scans to see if I am cancer free. I am able to rationally say to myself that by Saturday, my life may be changed again dramatically. And in working through these thoughts, I realize that in reality, if I am NOT cancer free, then nothing changes from now to a day from now. All that really changes is my own knowledge of my situation, not the situation itself.

My leg is still shaking.

I know that my Redeemer lives. I KNOW it. I can sit here and focus my mind. I can keep a straight face. I can speak in even tones. I can tell you–as confidently as ever in my life–I am not afraid of my future. My future is not in my hands or the hands of oncologists. My future is in the Hands of the One who knit me together–as imperfect and defective as this earthly tent may be. My future is in the Hands of the One who called me to faith in the waters of baptism. As the explanation of the third article states: [He has] called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith…

I remember when we first moved to Indiana. We had lived in Nebraska for a few years, closer to my parents. I wouldn’t say that it was every single weekend, but probably two or three times a month my daughters would spend time with my parents–either at their house or at our house. Moving to Indiana was very hard on the girls because of that separation. About a month or so after we moved out here, my parents came to visit. I’ll never forget my two year old daughter running to my dad. He lifted her up and carried her as he walked into the house. I was behind him, so I got to see something that is burned in my mind: My daughter closed her eyes, got a wide, peaceful, tired smile on her face, and lay her head on my dad’s shoulder. If I could ever have captured a picture of “peace” that moment would have been it.

That is honestly how I feel. I have peace. I remember that look when I lay my head down at night, imagining that I lay my head on the shoulder of my Savior Jesus.

And yet my leg is still shaking.

I think of the father in Mark chapter 9. He brought his son to Jesus. As a parent, I can empathize with this father who is desperate for healing for his child. When Jesus said to this man, “All things are possible for those who believe,” the man responded with, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

My jimmy leg… my foot jerking violently… the horrific nightmares… the shaking… the racing mind. All symptoms of the same disease: fear. Fear, which is unbelief. Thank you, Jesus, for reminding me that I’m still a human needing a Savior. Thank you for reminding me that no matter how much earthly peace I may feel, no matter the confidence I have in You… that this life is not remotely what is to come.

I believe, but my body betrays me.

I believe, but I am not yet what I shall become.

I believe; help my unbelief!

Just Wait.

Tom Petty once said that “waiting is the hardest part” and I suppose that is true for a lot of things. I admit that I struggle with patience. It is a struggle that has had negative impacts on me, my family, my relationships, and–subsequently–my ministry. I find myself saying that famous prayer, “Lord, give me patience and give it to me NOW!”

In all seriousness, I would have to say that my biggest struggle with patience is having the patience to hold my tongue. To many times I have not exercised the judgment of restraint, and instead have insisted upon my right to speak my mind. Invariably, I embarrass myself and I re-live my words over and over again. For years, I replay those scenes in my mind and live with regret.

My advice to everyone during this extremely turbulent time–as I write this the outcome of the 2020 US presidential election is still unclear and there are many accusations of fraud–is simple: Just wait. Before you say something or do something that you may regret, wait. Pray for clarity. Pray for the right words to say. Pray for our country and its leadership. Remember that the Lord still reigns, regardless of the outcome of this election. Trust me, as one who has too often spoken first and thought things out later, this is the better way.

Let me share with you two different times of when I actually followed my own advice here. I hope you find these two instances funny and hopefully you will understand why I issue a caution about the language that is to follow. Be warned, I use some profanity in these stories, and the purpose will be very clear at the end:

These two instances actually happened in close proximity–one the summer before my freshman year of college, and then winter of that year. In the summer of 1997, I was getting ready to begin my college career at the University of Nebraska–Kearney. I needed to raise some money to pay for school, so I took a job working at our local Wal-Mart. (Side note: I have some GREAT stories from my time at Wal-Mart! I should write about those some time…). I did all sorts of different things while I worked there, but the one area I spent most of my time was at the cash register.

When you are a cashier, you learn to “read” your customer and then how to best serve them. Some people come to your line and want to get out of the store as quickly as possible. They may be angry, in a hurry, or maybe they just are thinking about something else. In any event, they do NOT want to talk. Just scan and sack the groceries and let them get on their way. Other customers come to you and want you to take your time. They want to talk. You may have to be their best friend or their confessor. Some people want affirmation; some want attention; and some just need interaction with a friendly face. Those are the customers who need a little extra time and care.

Sometimes I would misread customers and they would get angry or offended. I always felt bad about those interactions, but I very quickly learned to stay quiet until I got a good “read” on the situation.

One day, a lady came to my line and she seemed friendly; she wanted to talk. So I talked with her a bit–not overly so, but just keeping light conversation. We got to the end of her order and she said, “I have some coupons for those goddamn Doritos.”

I know I paused. I was kind of surprised. She didn’t seem angry… she said it so matter-of-fact. Did I do something wrong? What does this woman have against Doritos? If she hates them so much, why is she buying them?

I snapped back to attention and could tell I had paused a little too long. “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite hear what you said…”

“I have coupons for those goddamn Doritos.”

“Oh… uh…”

I waited. I didn’t say anything. I wanted to ask her if I had done something to upset her. I wanted to apologize if I had done something wrong. But instead, I waited. I took her coupons and looked at them. Everything seemed in order.

She must have sensed I was a little perplexed because she said, “Now, those coupons aren’t good on ALL the Doritos, just the goddamn ones.”

As she said that, and while I was reading the coupon, I finally realized what she was saying. You see, in June of 1997, the next great Batman movie was released. Although it wasn’t as popular as the franchise is now, the marketing was ubiquitous. And sure enough, there were even “GOTHAM” Doritos that you could buy. And I suppose if you split it into “Got” “Ham” a person could get confused as to how that word is pronounced.

Immediately, I went about my business, we continued our conversation, and the customer paid and left. I waited… I actually paused for once in my life, and in the end, it was all a misunderstanding.

In August, I went off to UNK to start my college career. I was blessed to room with a friend of mine–someone who is still a great friend to me and my family. I love this man greatly and I am so grateful for his friendship. We hung out together, had long talks, played intramural sports together, and even would go to the dining hall and eat meals together with another friend of mine from high school. One day, after a workout, we decided to brave the weather and head out for dinner from our dorm (Randall Hall.) It was a little bit of a walk, but not bad at all.

On this day, though, we kind of misjudged the weather. It was a very windy day and when we got to the dining hall, we were hurrying to get inside. But as we were entering, a group of three ladies was leaving the dining hall, so we moved out of the way and the two of us passed the three of them somewhere in the entryway. As we went by them, one of the ladies yelled out, “Show us your nuts!”

What?? What an odd thing to say! Why would someone say that? I was floored. As soon as I got inside the building, I stopped and looked at my roommate. He was staring back at me.

“Did she just…?”

“Yeah…”

“Why do you think…”

“I don’t know, man.”

Now, I suppose we could have made a big deal out of it and made a fuss. But instead, we just let them go on their way. For their part, the ladies didn’t even slow down for a minute, so it made the comment even more unusual.

My roommate and I usually talked a lot about classes, sports… everything… when we ate together. But this dinner was different. This time, we were both so bothered by what was said that we were just completely silent. I am sure that I had a very confused look on my face. I could tell from my roommate’s face that he was just thinking about that comment over and over.

Finally, like some sort of inspiration, I realized we were all wrong. The girl had actually yelled out, “Shorts? You’re nuts!” You see, Nebraskans may remember that in the Fall and Winter of 1997, early-1998, we were hit with a lot of snow and cold. What I didn’t share with you earlier is that we had come from a workout or basketball game in our tank tops and shorts, through about a foot of snow in addition to that strong wind to get to the dining hall. After that revelation, our minds were at ease and we went about with a normal meal.

You would think that after two memorable experiences (here it is over 20 years later and I remember them clear as day) I would have learned my lesson: be slow to speak. Don’t jump to conclusions.

Scripture is very clear on this, especially in the books of Proverbs and James. Perhaps the most remembered verses are from Proverbs 13:3 and James 1:19. In the two instances I related above, I exercised patience and did not make a fool of myself, embarrass myself, or hurt or embarrass others.

But, man, it is HARD!

In the era of instant news and information everyone is an “expert” and speed is valued over accuracy. Factor in the contentious nature of this election cycle… and you can see the problems that confront us. For the sake of the Gospel, I urge myself (and anyone reading this) to please wait. Wait for clarity and wait before you react to something that may cause offense.

Of course, waiting is important in ALL things, not just in politics and relationships. Patience is necessary for our own lives. Again, I write this for myself more so than anyone else: Be patient. God is at work. I am currently in a “good stretch.” My chemo is done, my last scan indicated no cancer, and yet I have radiation treatments for six weeks, five days a week. I am in the middle of week two.

Why? Why radiation if I don’t have cancer? Why can’t I just get back to the way things were? My doctors want to make sure that there is no chance for there to be any cancer in my body since I had five lymph nodes that showed signs of cancer. And so I wait. My body is broken. Prior to my surgery in June and the chemo that followed, I had lost 60 pounds and I was walking our neighborhood, feeling good, eating healthy, and exercising daily. I was probably the healthiest (barring the cancer, of course) that I had been in about 15 years.

And now, I’ve gained back 10 pounds. I can barely walk the same amount that I did back in February when I started exercising. My muscles are sore from basic stretching or even from just sitting upright. I still have a few days a week when I need to lay down to rest. My mind is ready to GO… but I need to be patient.

Wait, Weber. Be patient. Remember that God’s Word speaks about this as well in Psalm 27:

Teach me your way, O LORD,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living!
Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!