Monday, February 29, 2016

Saying Goodbye. Enjoy Every Moment.

There was an image I saw once of an iceberg.  It had the tagline of "90% of what is happening goes on, unseen, beneath the surface".  I have found that to be true time and time again.

Everyone is fighting a battle.  Some of the battles are bloody and do quite a bit of damage to the heart.  And many of those battles go unseen by the masses at large.

Like everyone else, I've experienced my share of loss.  One of the first funerals I can remember attending was that of a little boy named, Adam.  Adam was a 4 year old boy that I had worked with in different avenues at church.  He passed away unexpectedly, while I was a senior in high school.  It was the first time I truly felt like my heart was ripped out.

Then my grandmother passed away.  She was my own personal cheerleader.  She is a huge part of the man I became today.  I wrote about the impact she left on me when she passed here.

The only other major loss I can recall is a college student named Natalie.  Natalie was the daughter of a co-worker of mine, and the best friend of my wife.  She passed away from a head on car collision.

Loss is never easy.  The holes it leaves are holes that are impossible to fill.  There are days that are better than other days, but there's still sadness.

Over the last few months, I've been dealing with an "iceberg" type battle.  A battle that only a few of my closest friends know. My grandfather, the man who was married to my grandmother that I wrote about, has been dealing with health issues.  My mom always tells the story that 6 months before I was born, he was diagnosed with cancer and told he had less than 6 months to live.  Well, 30 years later he's still here.  He's a fighter, just like my grandmother was.  Makes sense on why they were the perfect match and one of the best examples of what a marriage could/should look like.

Ever since my grandmother passed my grandfather has faced even more cancer related health issues.  And over the last month, it's become pretty severe.

So severe that my father called me this past week and told me I needed to find the time to come see my grandfather.  That there was a week or so left according to doctors.

I often feel like I have to be the rock of my family.  I have to stay the strong one.  At work, at home, everywhere.  I have to hold it together.  

The moment my dad told me I need to come say goodbye, I knew things were serious.  So on Sunday, my wife and I drove up the hospital where they are keeping him.

I've seen my grandfather in the hospital many a times.  But I was unprepared.  The moment I walked into the room and spoke to him, I had immediate flashbacks of when I saw my grandmother for the last time.  It took my breath away.

This was not the man I grew up with.  This was not the man I so often looked up to.  This was a shell of himself.  This was a tired man.  A man who had fought every battle he could.

He was able to recognize me and Liz.  He was able to say hello.  And he was able to tell me he couldn't get out of bed anymore because his legs had given up.  And that was it.  He couldn't say anymore.  

So I just sat there.  I sat next to him, and was just there.  He fell asleep within what felt like seconds of him saying he couldn't get out of bed anymore.  I sat next to him for a little.  Then knew I had to leave before I fell apart.  

He was so knocked out, he couldn't be woken, so I leaned down, touched his arm, and told him goodbye.

It's so hard to explain what it feels like to look at someone you've known your entire life, someone you love so deeply, and tell them goodbye.  

The only other time I've had to do that is with my grandmother.  It ripped my heart out then, and having to do it again with her other half, brought back every memory.

I haven't allowed myself to fall apart until writing this post.  I needed to get it out.  I needed to release it.  I have an incredible group of guys who check on me and who have known this is going on, and I haven't even been able to discuss it out-loud until today.

I write this post, in part to share the story, but also to express something I was so deeply reminded of this weekend.  

Enjoy every moment.

Every single moment.

My grandmother was my grandfather's entire world.  When she passed we all worried about him.  For the last few years, since her passing, he has gone to her gravesite every single day.  Rain or shine.  He always said he had to share with her what happened during his day.

I look back on so many memories of my grandparents.  Of all the life lessons they taught me.  Their strength, their love, their compassion, their drive, and so much more.  But most of all the life they chose to live.  They cherished the moments.  They celebrated, they cried, they cheered, they did it all.

Life is short.  We've all heard that before.  Sometimes that phrase doesn't become real to us until we've had that personal reminder.

When I look at the kids and adults I work with every day, I'm reminded that everyone is facing a battle.  That some of those battles are quite bloody to the soul.  That some of those battles will never be known or shared publicly.  But they're there.

So I'm trying to make it more of a point to love harder.  To forgive faster.  To understand deeper.  To enjoy every single moment I have, because I never know when it will be my last.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Dinner with a Gentleman #KidsDeserveIt

I almost have no words to express my emotions.

Last night we held our very first "Dinner with a Gentleman" at Webb Elementary in Navasota, Texas.

Now....let me back track a little.

Back in October or November we were beginning our Watch DOGS Program.  It's a program that seeks to get men involved in volunteering, even one day, at their child's school.  We partnered with another elementary in our community and housed a kick-off event at their school.

After lots of advertising and talking about it, and offering FREE Pizza, our campus had only two, yes two, father figures show up.

It was crushing.

We all know the value of getting men involved in a child's education, and life in general.  And it has been a mission that's been heavy on my heart for a while.  Especially coming from a home, raised by a single-mother, and thinking about the men who impacted me and are the reason I am who I am today.

So I sat down with my Assistant Principal, Aaron Marvel, and brainstormed.  I knew we could do better then just a kick-off event.  We thought about another popular option, which is "Donuts with Dad".  But after looking at our mornings here at Webb and our facilities, it just wouldn't work during a school day.

I also gotta give a shout-out to Brad Gustafson, Ben Gilpin, and Adam Welcome who listened to my crazy ideas through Voxer and helped me figure this all out too.

So, then I had an idea.  Why not turn this around, and find a way to celebrate the men in these kids lives.  Many of my students don't have their fathers in their lives.  They have uncles, brothers, step-dads, grandfathers, etc.

So the idea of a Dinner celebrating men was born.  We toyed around with different names for the event.  Dinner with Dad, Dinner with Dudes, and more.  We finally settled on "Dinner with a Gentleman".

I found a little money in a Title Fund account that has to be used for Parent Engagement and Involvement, and called a caterer.  I priced out some BBQ (everyone loves BBQ in Texas).

After the disappointing showing at the Watch DOGS kick-off event, we were being hopeful in guessing about 150 would show up for a free dinner.

So I created flyers, went around and talked to each class, and asked students to consider coming and to turn in an RSVP form so we would know ho much food and seating to account for.  I made sure the kids know this was a "Dinner with a Gentleman" so moms weren't allowed! haha

Well....let's just say we weren't prepared for what came next.

Over the next few weeks, we received over 200, then 300, then 400 RSVPs.....we didn't have money or seating for that!  I called in help, we brainstormed.  We stressed.

We found a new caterer, changed the meal idea (we had to stay in budget)!  We contacted some local companies to help us with the funding just in case.  We worked with the City, the district, and the VFW to get tables and chairs for our event.

Then 3 days before we stopped taking reservations.  At this point we had 647, yes 647, RSVPs.  We were floored.  We had never experienced anything like this before.

We went into frantic planning mode.  I reached out to the staff at Webb and asked for help!  And man they helped.

Centerpieces were made, tables were delivered, set up, and organized the day of the event, phone calls were made, and so much more.

Last night was our event.  It took everything in me not to break down into tears at the sight of a room full of men with their children.  We had over 580 actually show up for the event.

When the kids and their Gentleman came in, they got to pick out a book from a table full of choices (we wanted to have them leave with something they could use to continue building relationships).

They then found their seat, and we had our first of 3 short guest speakers.  We wanted to make sure we reflected our community and our fathers. So we had speakers of different ethnicity, of different upbringings, of different careers.

We then served our meal, had a student panel who got to share what having a gentleman involved in their lives mean to them, and we closed with a BEAUTIFUL song by our music teacher Mr. Kevin Haliburton.

Throughout the evening we had a slideshow of kids and music playing as well.

All in all, it went off without a hitch.  I couldn't believe it.

I am so thankful by the team I am surrounded by who stepped up and made this all a success.  They are the rockstars.

But even more so, I am proud of the Gentlemen who showed up with their kids last night.  I can only hope that memories were made and relationships were deepened by spending just a little more time together.

I am emotionally (and physically) drained this morning and still trying to really take everything in.

Children need men involved in their lives.  Just like they need women involved.  And for one night we got to celebrate some of those men who are choosing to be a part of a child's life.  I can't wait to hear the conversations today from the kids who there.

This is an event, that I know, I will never forget.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hope in Small Moments

Throughout my last few years of blogging, I've tried to show all sides of what we're doing in education.  The awesome, as well as the struggles.

I choose to believe that all of us struggle with our jobs as educators.  We all have those nagging fears or lingering doubts.

We see other people doing incredible things.  We hear how great things are going in classrooms or schools.  And we look at our own situations and wonder if we're doing it wrong.

I love what Hope King has said is that "sometimes online all we're seeing is someone's highlight reel".

I love blogging.  I love tweeting.  I love sharing photos.  I truly love sharing the great things we're doing at our campus, in our district, and what's going on around the country.

But there are times I doubt too.  Times I feel as if I'm doing it all wrong.  Times as if I wonder if I'm making any difference at all.

And I catch my mind drifting often to those doubts, those insecurities.  I forget the impact I have. I allow myself to get swallowed up by untruths.

Sometimes it's things people mumble under their breath or post online.  Sometimes it's my own self-reflection of things.

But I wanted to write a post today to remind you, that if you also have those doubts, those wonderings if you're doing the best you can, you're not alone.

Every one of us, regardless of how successful we may seem, have our down days.  We all have our days we wonder if we're doing anything right.

I myself, have those days more often then not.  But it's important we don't lose sight of the great things that are happening around us and through us.  That we don't compare ourselves or our situations to others.

We have to make sure we daily take the time to notice even the smallest moments.  We have to surround ourselves with others who will uplift and encourage us.  We have to look ourselves in the mirror and remind ourselves that we are worthy.  We are important.  We have value.

So if you'e doubting, if you're feeling broken or spent or worn out, you're not alone. We all get there.  But we work our way through it, and we always remember that little eyes, little hands, and little hearts are counting on us.  They're expecting us to show up and lead them.

Today, celebrate the small moments.  Though they may be hard to find, they're there.  Hold on tight to them.

Monday, February 15, 2016

3 Ingredients Every Staff Meeting Should Have #KidsDeserveIt

I've been really cognoscente  this year about changing up the way we've done staff meetings.  You see we do a staff meeting once a month.  And on a campus of over 80 employees, I feel like that time is so important for us to use to get to know each other, and to grow.

Last year I wrote a post called "Each of Us Holds Value".  This activity was such a powerful one that I did it again this year with my team.  February is such a hard time of the year that I felt it was so necessary.  You see that's the first ingredient that should be present in every staff meeting: Love.  People need to feel loved, but they also need to share love with others around them.  We so easily forget our worth and the great things we bring to the table.

Then for the "second-half" of our staff meeting I knew we needed to play a game.  We needed the other two ingredients that every staff meeting should have: fun and laughter.

So more than just play a fun game, I wanted to play a game that would have people laughing hysterically.

I had remembered reading a blog post from Hope King about a life sized Hungry Hungry Hippos game (You can read it HERE).  I had also seen Greg Smedley's staff play it recently. And I knew this was what we needed.

So I explained the game and told everyone that if they were physically able, and wanted to participate to form teams of three.  One person would lay on the cart, one would push, and one would collect balls back at their collection station.

You can watch the "Finals" round below.  Let's just say the room was full of laughter, screaming, and all around fun.

It reminded me of the quote by Erica Bauermeister, "Adults need to have fun so children will want to grow up."  And today we did that.  We had fun.  We bonded.  And we just flat out acted like little children.

Today was one of those moments I could see stress fall away for just a few moments.  For just a little while we got to act like we had no concerns in the world.  And really, as teachers, we need those moments to keep us sane.

Staff Meetings?  They should be filled with love, laughter, and fun.  All the other stuff you can cover in an email.  Spend time getting to know your people, laughing uncontrollably, building each other up, and make sure you have lots of fun.