Your New School “Home”

From the Other Side of the Wall... (3)

The past 6 years have held more change than I could have predicted based on my first 10 years in the classroom. The lessons I learned in my first transition have had a residual impact on all subsequent moves in my career. As we start this school year, and so many of my friends and colleagues find themselves in new roles or with new leadership I thought I would share a couple of lessons that I learned from a couple of my favorite educators.


From Sanger to Guyer:

My first school transition was so much harder than I could have ever anticipated, and the enormity of the change took me by surprise. I still taught Junior English. I still coached cheerleading. I still had to prepare my students for the same state tests, using the same standards. I had a incredibly supportive administrative teams in both schools. I had friends in both buildings. Everything looked so similar on the surface, a surface that only thinly covered the layers and layers of new.

I was homesick.


Lesson #1: You will find your “home” again.

The principal who hired me as a (9 months pregnant) first year teacher was an incredible mentor and influence on my life and my practice. When we discussed the opportunity for me to move to a new school in a new district, part of what helped me take the leap was her promise of continued connection. She kept her promise, and we checked in many times during my first few months in my new position. At the end of every conversation she would ask the same question, “Do you want to come back?”

The first few times she asked, even I was surprised by the speed of my “YES”! However, as the semester progressed, my “yes” slowed, and on some occasions was even hesitant, until one day my answer changed. I will never forget the day she asked and I said “No”.

She looked so pleased and so proud as I sat across from her telling her I didn’t want to come “home”. She explained that she had been asking me the same question because she knew all along that I was in the right place. The question wasn’t for her, the question was for me.

I needed to find my way to my new school home. It didn’t happen overnight, but I honestly can’t imagine the person I would be today without the time I spent at each of my campus “homes”.


Lesson #2: You will fail, but it won’t be final.

The second principal who hired me was equally as influential in my life and still impacts my decision making on a regular basis (What would Barbara Fischer Do)! One of the first conversations we had after the school year started set the tone for my transition into her building, and has helped me navigate every transition since.

She talked to me about grace, assumptions, and communication. She said that there would, inevitably, be things that I messed up. Not because I missed a deadline, or intentionally disregarded a directive, but because I had been taught a different way to do things. I would assume I was doing things the right way, and not even know when an expectation was different than in my previous district. And from her end, she would forget to tell me a detail, or communicate a deadline, because she would assume that we were on the same page.

The challenge of our year, and the commitment we would make to each other: strive to over-communicate, to question our assumptions, and extend grace to ourselves and each other if we messed it up.

As hard as it was to hear that she expected failure from me, it was also freeing and comforting. She extended grace before I needed it (and I did need it). She showed me how to lead with vulnerability and compassion.


My friend Dora posted this quote the other day:

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place” Unknown

If there were a way to like this a million times I would. I have work family, people that I dearly love, friends and mentors that have shaped my practice and impacted my life,  spread across 5 districts in North Texas. Little pieces of my heart left on each campus or office space.

Change is hard. Give yourself grace. Expect failure. Challenge your assumptions. And know…your new space will feel like home again, if you let it.

Still Learning,

-Ash

Just be YOU, always YOU.

I have a minor obsession with personality assessments, aptitude tests, and strengths inventories. And by minor…

  • Original StrengthsFinder Top Five: Woo, Positivity, Learner, Communication, and Developer
  • Newest StrengthsFinder Top Five (yes, I have taken it again): Strategic, Learner, Input, Communication, and Activator
  • Meyers-Briggs: ENFJ
  • True Colors: Blue with some Orange
  • Enneagram: 3 (Achiever/Performer)
  • Compass Points: Naturally South, can be North or East but never a West.
  • Thinking Talents: Connection, Love of Learning, Innovation, Mentoring, Storytelling
  • Love Language: Quality Time/Words of Affirmation

My enthusiasm over personality tools starts at self-observation and extends quickly into a springboard for personal and professional growth. How can these tools make me a better person, wife, parent, teacher, team-mate, and friend?

I am all in! But my relationship with catching a glimpse into what makes me tick has not always been super positive.

My first exposure to these types of assessments was in my senior year of high school when I took the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). At the time I was a little undecided on career path, and the possibility that one test could predict my success and lay out my future was intoxicating. An Army Officer came to share the results with our class, providing insight on how to use the assessment and to recruit potential heroes. He used several students’ real scores as examples before he came to mine. He had me stand up and come to the front of the room. My results indicated that I would be best suited for a career that is a cross between actress and religious professional. I was flattered that the US Government had recognized my potential for dramatic service to others, until I realized that I was being used as the non-example.

Uncle Sam didn’t want me.


The ASVAB experience planted a seed of self doubt that I didn’t know was there until it suddenly showed up, many years later, in one of my first department meetings as a new curriculum coordinator. We began to go over our results of the StrengthsFinder assessment and as my colleagues shared their strengths, I remember sitting in fear, reluctant to share my top 5, feeling that this survey had once again revealed a set of strengths that would identify me as the non-example. Everyone else’s strengths sounded so smart, so strong, so necessary.

Mine: Winning Others Over (WOO), Positivity, Learner, Communication, Developer…so different from everyone else’s…so actress/religious-professional…

As I braced for the now metaphorical Army Officer to have me stand up, you can imagine my surprise as my new team didn’t just tolerate and accommodate for me…they welcomed my differences, honored my strengths, and outlined how my uniqueness complemented and strengthened our team as a whole.

Being a part of this team was life changing. It was through working with these amazing people and on this amazing team that I learned to lead with my strengths and rely on the strengths of others. I learned to set realistic goals for myself and ask for help in areas that I know I am weak. I re-learned teamwork and I formed a new relationship with personality/aptitude assessments.

No matter what personality test, strengths inventory, or tool that you use-it is a STARTING point! A diagnostic, not a death sentence. If you are a true blue, #2, with a lot of WOO…Congrats! How are you going to use that to make a difference for the people around you? If you are a strategic #8 who is more North than Santa’s workshop, your people need YOU, to be YOU!

As it turns out, my job my vocation, my calling, my passion looks a little like a hybrid between a religious professional and an actress. I may have been a non-example for the military, but I am a great fit right where I am.

Still learning-Ash

 

Watermelon Seeds

At some point last year I became obsessed with this quote, “Don’t let the seeds spoil the watermelon.”

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When I say obsessed, what I mean is I might have had watermelon napkins, a watermelon notebook, watermelon screensaver, watermelon home/lock screen…just to name a few ways my obsession spilled over into my real life.

Watermelons became a physical symbol for another aphorism I believe with my whole heart: A bad day doesn’t make a bad life.

It is so easy to caught up, overwhelmed, inundated (and a whole list of other anxiety-ridden words) in the set-backs and negativity that I can forget how much of what I do is pure joy. Watermelons help me remember to take a big bite of what is good and spit out the rest. Savor and enjoy the sweet stuff. Don’t chew on the seeds…spit them out…let it go.


Full disclaimer: I don’t eat watermelon. I never have. I have major texture issues. So I have held on to this metaphor with very little experience related to real watermelons.


The other day I bought a new-to-me breed of watermelon for my guys.

SEEDLESS.

This new fangled fruit got me thinking all over again about those pesky seeds. If we have figured out how to get rid of the literal seeds, why can’t we engineer a way to get rid of them figuratively?!

Obviously…I had some questions for google. If you want the long answer about diploids crossing with tetraploids to produce triploid plants…this is the link for you. The short version is that watermelons without seeds can’t reproduce. They are sterile. In fact, for these plants to grow fruit at all, they must grow alongside watermelon plants with seeds.

I am officially re-obsessed with watermelons.

I am newly obsessed with their seeds.

In this profession and in this life, if there is one thing that I want to do with consistency-it is to bear fruit.  I want for there to be season after season of watermelons. I want for others to grow because they are planted near me. Which means…my life is going to have some seeds.

Looking back, the seeds that I am so quick to discard, are often the most valuable part of the experience, though usually not my favorite. This year’s seeds turn into next year’s harvest, IF I will:

  • Collect them-take an honest look, an assessment of what is going well and what isn’t.
  • Replant them-try again
  • Water them-commit myself to continued learning and improvement.

Still learning…from a fruit I don’t even eat.

-Ash

Did you have cake?

Pinterest. I can be honest, I love it and and I loathe it. This platform both fuels my creativity and propensity for comparison. Most of what you find here (and really on any social media platform) tends to skew positive, a literal highlight reel of successes from classroom practices to applying eye shadow.

There is often disparity between the reel and what IS real.

Then there is Pinterest and the “Pinterest Fail”. We have all seen them, the wild attempts at crafting, a hair tutorial gone rogue, and kitchen mishaps that smack of inspiration but lack execution. I love the honesty and authenticity in the side by side photos.

I have had my fair share of “Pinterest fails”, in the kitchen and craft scene, but also in a more metaphorical sense: outcomes that didn’t align with the plan, a route that felt more like a detour, a conversation that went off script, an idea turned into an ordeal.

“Shockingly” the stars don’t always align and everything doesn’t always go the way I over-plan it. (I hope you read that last sentence with the sarcastic self-depreciating tone that I heard internally as I wrote it.)

This one has become my absolute, all-time favorite.

You can feel the disappointment seeping out of the bottom photo, as the end result is such a “fail” that it doesn’t even resemble the first image. Is it a lamb? A cat? Is it edible?

I love this lamb-cat-cake with my whole, entire heart. 

As I look at this poor little lamb, I am reminded that we often need to revisit the intended outcome or goal before declaring our efforts a complete failure.

Let’s take the lamb cake:

  • If the goal was the picturesque lamb cake…it’s an abject disaster.
  • If the goal was cake…goal achieved!
  • If the goal was a memorable dessert…WINNER!!

Now, let’s try it with collaboration:

  • If the goal is for everyone to agree and things to always go smoothly without any conflict or disagreement…chances are you area setting yourself up for disappointment.
  • If the goal is a product with everyone’s feedback and fingerprints on it…that is an  achievable goal.
  • If the goal is to move forward into a culture of trust, authenticity and collaborative reciprocity…then every single attempt, every step closer, is a WIN!

It is so easy to label a lesson, team-building attempt, or new strategy as a fail, and file it away, post the side by side photo and never look back. I think sometimes it is harder to recognize the real goal, shift the focus, accept the mess, and trust the process.

I want to challenge you to scroll through the “boards” of your year and evaluate the “pins” that on the surface looked like a fail.

Ask yourself:

  • What was the real goal?
  • Are you beating yourself up or making grand plans for change when you are making progress?
  • Have you lost sight of the good you are doing as you search for something that appears perfect?

Sometimes you need a lamb cake…but most of the time, the GOAL is just to have cake…so…did you have cake? I bet you did…

Still Learning,

-Ash

Whales & Collective Efficacy

Let’s be honest…it was just a matter of when and not if I would write about whales. I love whales. A lot.

My first whale experience was about 12 years ago when the redheads and I went to Sea World with my grandparents. I was in love from the very first moment I locked eyes with Shamu . Since then I have sought opportunities to see whales, watch whale movies, google whales…I think you can identify a pattern.

In 2016, on a trip to Seattle, my sweet husband took me on a tour to see whales in the wild. I fell in love all over again the first time I saw Gray Whale #56 breach the water.

Last year, before a conference started in San Diego-I booked a whale watching tour for myself. I just couldn’t pass up the chance to see the whales as they migrated north. It was a magical afternoon, truly, magical.

This week I was reminded of my magical, solo whale “watching” trip while learning with an elementary staff about the importance of “small wins” and building collective efficacy. We were connecting the concept of change management in corporations to the massive change effort our teachers undertake in their classrooms as they grow our students over the course of a year.

The article (Change management is a dolphin, not a whale — https://www.torbenrick.eu/t/r/ixe) contained this graphic:

And as we were discussing the connections and applications to our work in schools, I remembered that on my solo, magical, whale watching trip…I didn’t see a whale. Not one whale. Yet, even without the whale-it was one of the most beautiful, memorable, exciting days of my life. I saw more dolphins and sea lions and seals and birds than I could count or name!

Big wins are the goal-but I think sometimes we don’t take time to truly appreciate, much less, celebrate the small wins that get us closer to where we are going.

Next week, I will be back in San Diego, and I booked the same whale watching tour for a second time. Why? Because ultimately it was a successful trip, and you will never see a whale if you don’t get back on the boat!

I am learning to keep my eyes open for the “dolphins” in life, on my team, and in the work we do together for students. I am learning to find ways to help others spot their own dolphin-sized accomplishments. I am learning to honor progress, even in small increments. I am committed getting back on the boat-never giving up on the whale-sized goals-for me, for us, and for the students we serve.

Still learning,

-Ash

Lucky

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St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. At my house we skip right over Valentine’s day and have been known to have green colored…well, everything, on March 17th. As the granddaughter of Bob O’Toole, it is a day that reminds me of my sweet Irish PaPaw, and I feel like the whole world puts on green and remembers him with me. For a day it seems everyone feels “lucky”…


Several years ago when I moved into a curriculum writing role I had a conversation that changed my entire perspective. I was talking to a parent who expressed sincere gratitude for their child’s second grade teacher. “We were so lucky to have a teacher who really loved to teach writing, and who passed that love and skill on to our child”.

Lucky. Like finding a four leaf clover or winning the lottery.

The comment took me aback, and I floundered for a reply in the moment, but found a way to accept the compliment on behalf of the true hero. My real response was in the two years of work that followed as we developed a viable and guaranteed writing curriculum and implementation plan for our district.

No student should ever get “lucky” and receive quality instruction. This thinking about “luck” and “lucking out” was a driving force for me in the work that I did as a curriculum coordinator, but I could not have predicted how it would impact my thinking long term.

In my work with adult learners in the professional learning space, I run across the same conversations, with the same theme on a regular basis.

  • “I was so lucky, I had an amazing supervisor during my student teaching.”
  • “My principal is really committed to my professional growth so I get so many amazing opportunities. I feel so lucky that he was moved to this school.”
  • “My mentor teacher was a real blessing to me, they invested so much in my growth as a first year teacher. “
  • “My department does things a little differently, I had a 3 year induction program. I feel so lucky to be on this team.”

I love to hear stories of when professional learning, mentoring, and systemic support work!! I am a product of effective professional learning, dedicated mentors and supportive systems. But what I know in my heart is that for every good luck story, there is inevitably a bad luck story: Someone who was overlooked, who didn’t get a mentor, who struggled on their own for their first three years, who’s leadership didn’t seem to notice they were drowning, who’s department lacked an adequate support structure.

When teachers aren’t lucky…neither are students.

I truly believe that when teachers are engaged in meaningful, collaborative, reflective learning it impacts their practice, extends into their classrooms, and positively impacts student success.

Every teacher, on every campus, in every department, in every district, first year or 34th year, deserves a system of professional learning that provides access to quality, meaningful, relevant professional learning. A system that honors their expertise. A system that engages them in work that matters. A system that prepares them for the challenges ahead. A system that provides coherence. A system that ensures that no one has to hope that they are lucky.

Developing systems to provide access for teachers is the mission that wakes me up in the morning. My hope is that we keep finding creative and innovative ways to support each teacher  in their growth as they support our students. It is my goal that every day in our system feels like St. Patrick’s Day…where everyone is lucky…and we are all…

Still Learning,

-Ash

Seventeen

My first baby is seventeen today. There are moments when it feels like just yesterday I was bringing him home from the hospital, swaddled and new, but most days that feels like a lifetime ago.

As a high school teacher, teenagers have always been my favorite, and I honestly don’t wish for the days or years when my boys were smaller. I almost feel as if I have been waiting their whole lives for them to be this age. I love the snarky self-actualization, the tentative independence, the sometimes reluctant responsibility, and the magnitude of emotions that come with navigating this phase of life.

My students taught me new things about living every single year. My boys teach me every single day. And today, because it is his birthday, I will share a few things I am learning from Hunter “Bean” Helms.

Don’t apologize for who you are.

Hunter Helms is 100% his own person. He likes what he likes. He won’t be persuaded to be anything less than authentic. In a world where so much is fluid, he has an integrity of self that inspires me.

Show up.

Wherever Hunter is, he is all there, till the end. In his friendships. When he volunteers. In his schoolwork. When he plays video games. It is the kind of showing up that is rare and genuine and powerful. I hope everyone has a Hunter in their life that will show up for them, and I am committed to being more like him, for him, everyday.

Figure it out.

Curious doesn’t really cover it. He is always working to figure out the problem and find a solution. He wants to do it his own way, with his own work. He doesn’t cut corners, and he doesn’t do things half way. He couples independence with tenacity, and grit with a growth-mindset.

He also has some smooth dance moves, an extensive collection of tiny random things, is a thoughtful gift giver, always checks the mail, loves a good meme, and knows every word to every song on any radio station. He is seventeen, and he is one of the best teachers I have ever had…

Still learning…from my son,

-Ash

 

Let’s Wrestle: Thinking about Teams

It won’t surprise anyone that knows me well to learn that in high school I lettered in Academics. Yes, that is a thing, with the jacket and the patches and everything. I tried to play basketball my freshman year, but as it turns out, there are not many schools with a girls freshman “C Team” so there was more practicing than playing for a 5’2″ fifteen year old with a size 10 shoe. I hung up my athletic shorts and sneakers for show choir, band, and musical theatre.

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My extra-curricular activities definitely shaped the way I have always viewed the make-up and function of a successful team.

In band and choir, you belong to a section, you have a part to play or sing that makes up the whole. The music isn’t the same without each part, in harmony, on key, all together. There is choreography and coaching, direction and duty, but at the end of the day the success of the group depends on each individual person or section doing their individual job. You need to listen to each other, watch the director, and show up ready. The skill of each player is important, but the craft of the conductor can not be underestimated.

My first year or two of teaching felt like a well orchestrated chorale of English instructors. We had a phenomenal conductor (department head) who gave us our parts, taught us the fundamentals of our craft and directed the music of a successful school year. In a small school, I was usually the only teacher singing my part, although I occasionally had a duet with another content area or grade level. For the most part, I got to choose how I “sang my song” as long as I contributed to the beautiful music, stayed on key, and managed my volume.

Being part of a cast is a completely different kind of team experience. It requires collaboration, as your fellow actors help you develop your character, give you feedback on your delivery of the lines and execution of the scene. This shared ownership of the end product creates a deep bond in a short amount of time. There can be some odd dynamics with leads and understudies, principal actors and those in the company, and at times there is a definite hierarchy happening backstage. Together you have an end goal, a performance, and when the curtain falls, the success of the ensemble depends on the individual success of each actor on the stage.

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There have been many times in my career that I have been blessed to be cast in phenomenal roles. As part of the cast, I gave and received feedback, rehearsed with other members, knew when my scene was coming up, interpreted the lines I was assigned, and did my job. There were times I was the understudy, times I have been a part of the company, and times I was more of a stage manager than in the spotlight. What is always true is that I am more successful as an individual player because of the input of those around me.  However, the success I experienced still began and ended with me-what I brought to the work, how much time and effort I committed, how willing I am to incorporate feedback.

Recently my youngest son, the 5’11” giant who I refuse to EVER stop calling my baby, joined the wrestling team in November. (I am seriously proud of this kid!)

This is a team experience like I have never seen before (remember I am limited in personal athletic experiences, so be patient). There is no bench on a wrestling team. There is one guy in each weight class and they all wrestle at every match. When you are out there on your own, you are literally fighting your own fight, for everyone on your team.

Let’s pause here. When this piece of the wrestling rules was explained to me-I was floored. It is a similar construct to singing your part in the choir but with crazy intensity and pressure. There are no other sopranos to carry you, no second chances, no one to hide behind, and no director to signal volume changes. You may walk into the match by yourself, but not you are not alone. If this isn’t a parallel to teaching, I am not sure I have ever seen one!

It gets better. You may walk into your match on your own, but your team is in your corner. Literally. That is where this term comes from. Your coach and your team are seated around the mat giving you tips, yelling what they see, shouting out your blind spots. It is a little wild to watch them watch each other, equal parts cheerleader, fan, coach, and student.

And then there is this: Win or lose, every match, I watch my son walk to the edge of the mat, get eye to eye with his team-mates and debrief. “What can I do better? I haven’t seen that hold before. Can you show me how to counter that move? Did you see how I got that point in 2nd round?” They talk it through, celebrate the successes, make a plan, then  together they go to watch and learn from the next match. They regroup at practice. They challenge, they mentor, they push, they require so much from each other. Improvement only comes through a series of intentional supports and resistance.

Another key element of wrestling is the weigh in and the uniform, or singlet.  Can we talk about transparency? Vulnerability? Accountability?

I have decided that I want to be a wrestler.

I commit to walk into every day dedicated and determined because my outcome impacts everyone-and there is only one of me. I will show up for my team-mates in practice, but also be ready to be fully present in their corner. I want them to know that I am fiercely committed to them-as a cheerleader, a fan, a mentor, a coach and a student. I will be committed to open, honest debrief and the cognitive conflict, mental wrestling, push and pull that will make all of us better in the end-even if uncomfortable in the moment. I am going to weigh in on my weaknesses, putting it out there and staying accountable for my growth.

I have been blessed to wrestle with some amazing teams. To those that I am on now, to the ones that are in my future-I promise to show up and wrestle with everything I have…but I won’t wear a Singlet, because…#safeschools.

Shoutout to my favorite and forever teammate.

Still Learning

-Ash

Pop Culture PD: Anyone?

Have you ever watched a movie or TV show about a teacher or an administrator and thought, “where were they during inservice”?

Alright…I know everyone doesn’t have those thoughts, or a mental list of professional learning opportunities that would benefit many of our most famous teacher icons. Welcome to my brain! And welcome to the first (in what I feel like will be a) series of posts to help our friends in fake classrooms everywhere learn and grow!


Anyone? Anyone? How could I start anywhere else?

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Watch the Clip HERE!

Our poor, infamous, teacher friend has gotten his fair share of ridicule since the debut of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in 1986. We have ALL had this teacher, know this teacher, or perhaps felt like this teacher at some point in our lives, which is why these scenes are so iconic. Today, we will focus on his actual lesson, and not just the painful way he takes attendance.

It is tempting to fast forward, get more popcorn, or check Facebook while he lectures his less-than-engaged fictional students. But as I take a second look, I  realize that my own teaching has often been characterized by one of the small missteps that could have made this lesson something worth Bueller’s attendance: WAIT TIME!

We all know that Wait/Think time is necessary for ALL students to formulate thoughts and process information. In fact, this strategy was first published by Mary Budd Rowe in 1972, meaning that Mr. Rooney (if he were paying more attention to instruction) could have offered a workshop for his teachers on the topic!

In an article published by the US Department of Education in 1984, Robert J. Stahl lists the following benefits for students of just THREE SECONDS of wait time added to instructional practice:

  • The length and correctness of their responses increase.
  • The number of their “I don’t know” and no answer responses decreases.
  • The number of volunteered, appropriate answers by larger numbers of students greatly increases.
  • The scores of students on academic achievement tests tend to increase.

Wait-time is one of those strategies that takes time and practice to master.Wait-time requires a dedication to letting students think for themselves and use their own brain to solve problems. It isn’t a magic bullet or strategy that you can do once a year and then move on, but it can seem magical when implemented consistently-as it shifts the responsibility from teacher to student.

Another benefit…wait-time is FREE! You don’t need approval and it doesn’t have be written into your lesson plan. All it takes is you, a few good questions, and an internal timer.

I have gathered up all my favorite wait-time resources and links, these are the ones that I would want to share with Ferris’ teacher, if he were real!

  • Teach Like a Champion Blog: This is a lot of greatness in one spot! Detailed Strategy, classroom video & a debrief in the blog!
  • Teaching Channel: Get Back to Me: This video and the resources that go with it feature a 1 minute video of a dialogue between a teacher and her students. Lots of greatness packed into a tiny amount of time!
  • Your Secret Weapon: Wait Time-This strategy  is shared by TeacherVision and offers several additional tips to get you thinking about how this might look in your classroom.

Thanks for taking this quick trip into the mind of PL Director…I would love to hear which teaching stars you would like to see show up in this series!!

Still Learning…

-Ash

#OneWord2017…and 2018

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My New Year’s post mentioned that in lieu of the traditional resolution I often select a word that provides focus or grounds me to the goals I have for the year. I have loved reading the blogs and tweets and posts tagged with #OneWord2018! The energy and excitement is contagious, and there is such power in sharing your word.

As I was searching for my 2018 word, I struggled to find a one. I was encouraged as I read Amber Teamann’s post that gave me “permission” to choose more than one word. That encouragement was reiterated as Matt Arend has a word to get his year started. But even after reading these and many other #OneWord2018 posts, I was floundering…till I realized, I am not done with my #OneWord2017.

 

My 2017 word was “unflappable”: marked by assurance and self-control.

Another definition reads, “having or showing calmness in a crisis.” It is a funny little word that had very serious implications for me.

When I first saw the word  (posted by a friend as her word) I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew it was the word for me.

For several years we have joked that when I get stressed…I get flappy. I am naturally animated when I talk, but there is no way to miss an anxious, stressed, frustrated flap. Sometimes the “flappiness” is a signal to myself that I need to take a deep breath, and other times it is a cue to those who know me well to tell me to take a deep breath.

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So, in 2017 I set off to be “marked by assurance and self-control”, and to “have or show calmness in a crisis”. I made a graphic and saved it to the home screen on my phone,  I looked up all the scriptures on peace, saved some really cool quotes about being calm,  and tried to use the Breath App on my Apple Watch.

After a year of focusing on this word I can better recognize stressful situations, in the midst and from a distance. I can take a deep breath, find my center, and keep going. Which is a really great first step! After a year of concentrated effort, I very rarely flap…externally.

As I reflected on my progress towards becoming “unflappable” I realized..I focused more on the “marked by” and “have or show” than the REAL deep work of cultivating assurance, self-control, and calmness. And as it turns out, it is easier to look calm, than to be calm.

2017 was a good start on this “unflappable” path, but I still have work to do if this calm and resolve, assurance and peace are going be more than just surface characteristics. It may be one of my words forever, or at least be in the rotation.

Still learning…

-Ash