Thinking of Going Out on Your Own? Consider this....

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You’ve joined the “I am going to be my own boss; hear me roar” movement.  

You’re ready to take a leap into the world of entrepreneurship.

Memes from the Internet that read “Design your own life, or someone else will,” or “Be the boss babe you were meant to be,” have become your daily mantra.

You’ve got those entrepreneurial juices flowing, you’re excited, and now it’s time to get prepared.  Some things to consider before taking the leap:

1. Financial Resources:    

The Dream: You watched a free online webinar that gave you all the top tips on how to earn a gajillion dollars by following a few easy steps.  That’s a cute idea.  

The Reality: Fatten up your bank account before you leaving your job or invest in a rental space for your new Puppy Fluffing Business. Once you leave that squishy, safe place in which you are employed by a well-funded entity, you will have “where is the money going to come from-induced stress.”  Be prepared by having your financial safety net secure and ready.  Talk with a financial planner and/or an accountant who can help you strategize the best ways to move forward safely with the resources you currently have.  

2. Time:

The Dream: You went ahead and bought that brand new hovercraft golf cart you’ve wanted, because you started a new blog, which you’ll be working on from 8:00 – 10:00 PM after the kids have gone to sleep and the wife is busy watching The Crown.  Obviously, you’ll be rolling in the dough when Amazon starts begging to put their adverts on your page.

The Reality:  Mad props for the time blocking structure, but newbies who want results realize that they must eat, breathe, and sleep their new project.  There are ways to do this without losing your mind. (Shameless plug, click here for a free consultation). If you want to be the next Arianna Huffington or Blake Mycoskie, plan to restructure your day in a way that will promote productivity, while still leaving you time to watch The Crown with your lady.  

3. Continuing Education

The Dream: You read a book by the hottest motivational author of the day.  Now, you are ready to chase your dream because said author encouraged you to pursue something that excites you.  You are passionate about computers, so this makes you a computer repair expert.  

The Reality: But…are you an expert on marketing? How about networking, sales, bookkeeping, scheduling, client management, real estate law, copyrights, organizational structure, or employee development?  Just to name a few.  Seek mentors, surround yourself with experts and create a team of people who will encourage, sharpen and guide you.  Classes, seminars, books, podcasts and more books and podcasts are a must for you to become the successful businessperson you want to be.  Get ready…school’s in session.

Turn those dreams into realities by approaching this new season with wisdom and preparation.  The great news is this: it can be done! It is full of mind-blowing lessons and life-giving partnerships.  While there will be muddy waters, there will also be moments that energize your determination, resilience and capability.  

Apply these practical steps to make the path a more predictable one.  Don’t know how to break it down and come up with a detailed plan? Call me. We’ll get it done.

 

How to Manage Brain Overload

The onset of fall us upon us (unless you’re in South Florida like me, then fall comes in January).

But…the fall season is in full swing with schools starting, pumpkin and cinnamon everything in stores and people already making holiday travel plans. It feels like life goes from 0 to 60 overnight once this time of year comes around.

I have the privilege of coaching educators. In case there’s any question about it, I’m here to confirm that teachers are in fact superheroes. They work from sun up to sun down to ensure that our children’s brain, hearts and bodies are nurtured with the greatest of care. With school starting these last few weeks, I have worked with a variety of these superheroes and have come across a consistent dose of brain overload.

This brain overload though, isn’t restricted to just teachers. It affects all of us; just in different seasons.

What’s the best way to handle life and work when we feel like there’s just too much to do and not enough time?

1. Block off some time.

Time? Who has that? I’ve said it so many times and I’ll continue to scream it from the rooftops: in order to make time, we must take time. The only way we will get things done is if we take a small amount of time each week, or each day to organize our priorities. This will look different for everyone, so try a few different strategies until you find one that works for you. You might benefit from a Monday morning weekly planning. Or, each night before bed, write a list of what you’d like to accomplish the follow day. There are many different ways to accomplish brain organization, and it doesn’t require a lot of time.

2. Schedule Wisely

With a lot to do, and lots of information coming our way, we have to realize that our brain power is a limited resource. Though it is complex and magnificent, it only has enough mojo to handle a certain amount of concepts at a time. As Neuroscientist David Rock says, we should “schedule blocks of time for different modes of thinking.” Different parts of the brain are activated based on our activity, and each part requires different types of energy. That being the case, you should schedule your hardest tasks first, and do your best to avoid distractions. In order to process all the information coming your way, allow yourself blocks of time to indulge in distractions: catching up with a colleague, social media, a trip to the vending machine.

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3. Take Breaks

A trip to the vending machine does a lot more for you than you think. It helps reset your ability to focus and create. Allowing parts of your mind to turn off gives them time to recharge. You’ll then be primed and ready to kick butt when you revisit your task. As you work your way down the to-do list, in the middle of an intense discussion, or when you start to become fuzzy due to a lack of nutrition, don’t hesitate to stop what you’re doing and allow yourself a few minutes to breath (or eat M&Ms). When we give ourselves this opportunity, we will have both the physical and mental stamina to get more done and do it well.

If you don't feel overwhelm now, great! Chances are you, you will at some point. Get ahead of that by implementing these ideas now...while things are easier. Then, if life and work become crazy, you'll have already mastered the tools needed to accomplish tasks without losing your mind.

Don’t let the overwhelm of life and work control you. You have the ability to take charge and structure your day and tasks in a way that will keep you calm, focused and productive.

Redefine Your Career Climb

I was recently a part of a conversation between two lovely gentlemen, we will call them Larry and Ben.  Larry, an older man, very well established in the business community was giving young Ben some well-intended advice. Larry’s parting words to Ben were, “keep working your way up that ladder, son.”  Ben puffed up his shoulders, slapped a convincing grin on his face and answered with a hearty, “yes, I plan to, sir!” 

Larry walked away. Ben turned to me, rolled his eyes, let out a huge sigh and said “What a joke; I’m not climbing up anyone’s ladder.”

I’ve been thinking about that moment a lot.  We are all on a ladder, working our way towards some end.  The idea of “the ladder,” is a good one, but is need of a modern interpretation. 

 

Historically, the idea of climbing the ladder has been used to describe advancing in the hierarchy of a large business.  In recent years, climbing the ladder implies that a person is “moving up,” by growing in whatever their work may be.  It used to mean a move from a lower position, to a higher paying one.  Now, it means a vertical or linear advancement that gets one closer to his or her goal.  

Let’s look at three ways to approach whatever ladder we are on:

1. Direction:  Where is your ladder taking you? It would surprise you how many people are stumped by this question. When climbing the ladder, whether it is our own, or someone else’s, we should be clear about what is at the top for us. What is it you want to accomplish by doing the work you’re doing? Maybe it’s becoming a partner at your firm, or maybe it’s to learn new skills before heading in a different direction. Either way, in order to work well and work with intention, you must have a clear idea of what the end of the ladder you’re on looks like.

2.Integrity: Have you ever climbed up a tall ladder? What are two things you need to prevent a fall? A stable structure to lean on and stability at the base.  Once you have decided on your ladder, look at who built it, who is maintaining it and what they are leaning it on.   How is your ladder used to benefit others? You should feel confident about your climb if the makeup of the ladder is reliable and respectable. There are many ladders out there and the ones that are worth your efforts should be stable.

3. Size: You’ve decided on a ladder, and confirmed that it’s a safe situation.  This is the one area everyone needs to consider at different times of his or her climb: is the ladder so big that you won’t have the energy to get to the end? We must identify what we want at the end, and then divide the rungs into small sections, each taking us to smaller, achievable goals. This will help us have sustainable momentum and a smoother climb.  When we experience the fruit of our hard work, we are more inclined to keep going.

Everyone wants to feel that they are in control of what they do.  Keep in mind that any work you are doing is good for growth and learning.  Taking inventory of what ladder you’re on, how it’s built and how to approach it will keep you clear-minded and confident.

Happy climbing.

5 Must Reads for Entrepreneurial Newbies

In your newfound business adventure you will find there is a growing need for knowledge.  The growth of your business is dependent upon the growth of the one(s) driving it. While time is a limited asset among new entrepreneurs, it is crucial that intentional hours are set aside for personal and professional development. The wisdom you can gather from the experiences of others is one of the most beneficial ways to fire up your growth potential.  Here are five books I recommend most to my business and career clients.  They are written by expert entrepreneurs and chock full of proven methods to get you started.

1. Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do Work That Matters

by Jon Acuff

For a swift kick to the bum to get you moving along, Start is the perfect resource.  It caters to individuals who want to do more with their lives, get the most out of their work and build the confidence to dream big and act boldly. If you are looking for a motivational powerhouse of a book, you will find it in Start. Wall Street Journal best-selling author Jon Acuff, lays out 5 stages illustrating the road to success.   The book will engage you and stir in you the courage you need to stop thinking and start doing.  To hear more from Jon about how work can be awesome, click here.

“People are mistaken when they think chasing your dream is a selfish thing to do. As if perhaps being average is an act of humility. As if perhaps wasting the talents you were given is proof that you're a considerate individual,"  Jon Acuff

 

2. How to Win Friends and Influence People

 by Dale Carnegie

If there was ever a guide on how to interact with others, this is it.  Carnegie, a life-long student in human behavior, speaks to the masses on using creative and proven ways to cultivate relationships, win people to your ways of thinking, increase your influence and arouse enthusiasm in others. As an entrepreneur, understanding the human condition and how to appeal to it will boost your networking and marketing capabilities.  Carnegie has gifted the world with this work of relatable anecdotes and golden nuggets of knowledge. Along with his helpful books, Carnegie offers a variety of phenomenal courses and seminars.  Check them out here.

“If some people are so hungry for a feeling of importance that they actually go insane to get it, imagine what miracle you and I can achieve by giving people honest appreciation this side of insanity,” Dale Carnegie

 

3. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You

by John C. Maxwell

While leadership might not have been the role in which you saw yourself, leadership becomes part of the DNA of any entrepreneur.  Who better to learn leadership from than a true leadership expert, public speaker, pastor and coach? John Maxwell mixes decades of personal leadership experience with historical studies to present 21 principals that are sure to provide personal growth as you prepare to lead others. John offers numerous other books, and a great blog which you can check out here.

“People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care,” John C. Maxwell

 

4. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World

by Gary Vaynerchuk

This book, and good ol’ Gary V. make my heart wings flutter. Do yourself a massive favor and follow him on Twitter: click here to connect with Gary V. With Jab Jab, Gary provides an excellent resource on the different ways each social media platform functions.  With digital marketing becoming a primary promotion tool, entrepreneurs have struck gold with this book.  Gary, a branding pioneer and multi media expert, gives his readers the tools they need to balance authentic relationship building and marketing.  With this easy to read guide, entrepreneurs will find a clear and comprehensive road map to the social media world. 

"Great marketing is all about telling your story in such a way that it compels people to buy what you are selling," Gary Vaynerchuk

5. Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

by Seth Godin

The inception of the Internet has opened up a world of connection not possible a few short years ago.  Your target market, those you have brainstormed about, studied, and created plans for are a few clicks away.  Seth Godin (another Twitter feed you must follow: click here for that), a successful entrepreneur, author and business blogger gives his readers 3 steps to creating a tribe: the desire to change things, the ability to connect a tribe, and the willingness to lead.  Godin makes the impossible seems possible.  He illustrates the need we all have to follow someone, or something and spurs you on to become that someone worth following. 

“In unstable times, growth comes from leaders who create change and engage their organizations, instead of from managers who push their employees to do more for less,” 
Seth Godin

The Goal Crusher Guide

You have so much to do, and you're not sure where to start. Well...you've come to the right place.  Let's take a look at the 3 parts of the goal crushing process.

Step 1: Exploration:

This is the time you take to determine your goals, consider your obstacles, and make decisions based on your hopes, dreams and desires.  Meeting sales quotas, starting a new project, lifestyle changes, anything you are trying to accomplish, requires time.  The small amount of time set aside to brainstorm the dynamics of your goal are insignificant when compared to the focus it provides.  The hardest part of this activity, is blocking off and committing to a solid amount of time when all you do is think. Knowing where you are going, and how to prevent certain things from getting in your way, will give you a sense of excitement as you begin to see great things ahead.

2. Planning:

As my boy Abe Lincoln once said, "Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first 4 sharpening the axe." In the planning part of the process you will begin to lay out specific details of what resources you will need, how you will get them, and how and when you will use them. You will take inventory of your human resources as well, laying out clear plans of who will be involved and how.  Magic happens when your planning is undertaken with great thought and detail.  Don't let ambiguity get in the way of a clear plan of action. 

3. Execution

Now that you have determined your goals and planned out your action steps, the execution stage has been simplified. Execution is your path to change. Moving into this stage, having the tools you have created during exploration and planning, you are equipped with what you need to succeed.  It is important to get in the mindset of hard work and resilience, as a lot of time and energy will be required and surprises will be thrown your way.  Keep moving.  Stick to the plan. Allow yourself certain flexibilities; while you can't control those around you, you can commit to doing your part with excellence. If the details of your plan have to change, roll with it and find another way that works.  Execution depends on you and your determination.  Those who execute well reap great rewards. 

If the idea of crushing your goals excites you, and you need someone to help you explore, plan and execute, I would be happy to discuss the best course of action to get you where you want to be.

 

 

 

Maintaining Healthy Growth at Work

The most successful individuals are those that never stop growing.  They welcome the many factors that contribute to growth and keep a healthy perspective in regards to why and how growth is achieved.  There are many ways we can develop as professionals; today we will touch on three of them: 

1. Embrace Change  

Work cultures and practices are constantly changing; you should be, too.  When new programs, new colleagues, or new leadership are introduced, consider the benefits that will emerge as a result.  Change can be daunting, but it is going to happen. You have to decide if you are going to roll with it and make the best of a new situation, or fight against it and make known your disapproval.  If you choose the former, you will likely be seen as someone who is flexible, and keeps the best interest of the company as a number one priority.

2. Welcome Feedback  

Growth begins when we willingly assess our strengths and weaknesses.  With that, we are confirmed in what we do well, but also have to face some hard truths about how we can improve.  To receive feedback gracefully, keep a healthy perspective.  Remember that the feedback is being given to you because your employer feels you are worth investing in; you are an asset. Every great asset requires development.  History is teeming with stories of people who had to receive some hard truths and work to overcome them before achieving greatness: Walt Disney, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, and Thomas Edison, just to name a few. You can read about them here. If you are also receiving feedback that will help you improve, consider it an honor and a great opportunity.

3. Make Time for Learning

You have the framed diploma(s) on the wall, and that should represent the beginning of your academic accomplishments.  With the change you are now embracing, and the feedback you have gracefully received, how can you learn about and implement new ways of doing things?  Reading changes the way we perceive our work and offers insight into how we can bring about change and excellence in what we do.  From the CEO to the intern, reading is a necessary way for everyone to grow and connect. Continuing education has many faces, whether that is in a book, a course, or a mentorship, there are innumerable resources available to you.

 

 

Do This for 15 Minutes, and You Will Save Hours.

You’re working hard.  You’re working often. Still, things are not as you hoped they would be. You end up feeling discouraged, overwhelmed, totally wiped.  Many people think in order to reach goals, we must work harder.  That’s not always the case; instead, we need to create systems to help us work smarter.

Systems streamline, saving time.

Systems remove the guesswork, saving stress.

I explore this concept with my clients day after day.  Creating systems, for the big stuff, and the small stuff, can streamline your life and help you to feel a huge sense of relief from the everyday chaos. When you wake up in the morning, is there an order in which you get ready for the day?  I bet there is.  If that order of things is disrupted, what does it cause? Stress? Frustration? A significant amount of bad language?  Don’t be ashamed….we’ve all been there.  

Our morning routine is a small example of our dependence on the safety and expectations that come from systems.  We love them, because they take guessing and decision making out of the equation.  

Let’s take an example from some of my superstar clients (names and details have been changed).  Erin’s office was covered in piles of papers.  When she arrived at her office with new mail, or files, she tossed them down wherever there was an empty area. (Are you getting a nervous itch?) She didn’t think much of it, until her boss started making comments, and she realized how frustrated she was when she couldn’t find things. This was a consistent stressor, because she was unorganized, and she was making a poor impression.  After exploring some ideas, she created a system where she puts the papers in a newly purchased paper box, which she can throw into a desk drawer. This might not be an ideal system for everyone, but for Erin, it is a great baby step in keeping her office straight and her sanity intact.

Let’s look at another example from a superstar client named Drew.  Drew is the owner of a very successful marketing company.  He has recently become frustrated with the company’s lackluster team meetings.  He does not usually go in with a clear agenda, and often forgets issues he meant to discuss.  After thinking through ideas that suit his personality, he created a system in which he keeps a running list in the notes section of his phone.  Whenever he thinks of something to discuss in the meeting, he makes a quick note and moves on.  Come meeting time, he has all of his thoughts in one, easily accessible spot.  His employees are more engaged, the time together is more productive and he proves that he is capable of great leadership.  Seems like a simple solution to many, but it wasn’t something Drew had taken time to consider.

That’s just it.  You have to make time to explore solutions.  While the solutions you create might be very simple, their effects are substantial. Don’t try to tackle them all at the same time.  Pick one, allot 15 or 20 minutes of your day to think through the obstacles and the possibilities, and give it a try.

The benefits of having systems:

- Clarity -

For everyone involved.  When we know what is expected of us, and what to expect from others, things run much smoother.  With clarity, we promote better work and home environments; it offers a better way to get things done.

- Productivity -

 Much of the reason we don’t accomplish things is because we don’t think about what is required and the best way to get there.  Systems give us a map to the end goal.

- Order -

Chaos ensues when there is no plan.  When effective systems are in place, all of the moving parts are able to work efficiently and without the conflict, which comes from disorder.

The beauty of systems is how they interact with one another.  Your systems at home overflow into your systems at work.  If you have a plan in place to consistently get out of bed on time, that will get you to work on time. They work in collaboration with each other, which is why it’s important to consider the many parts of our lives that could be improved by these small changes.  We must be willing to revamp our systems.  Don’t become discouraged if the first one you try doesn’t work….try another one.  You have to find a fit that is appropriate for you, as they look different for each individual.  

Principles to Practice When Positioning Yourself for Leadership

There are many factors that contribute to the rise of professionals in their careers, yet these four principles, when practiced consistently, will prepare you for the leap into leadership:

1.    Listen Well: People who problem-solve well, are people who listen well.  People who earn respect, are people who listen well.  People who communicate interest and commitment, are people who listen well.  But, what is listening well?  It is listening without judgment, and listening to understand, not to respond.  If you ask a question, and then catch yourself crafting a response to the answer before they have finished talking, you are not listening well.  While someone is talking, we should be listening so intently, that the only things popping into our heads should be follow up questions to what they are saying, so that we can further understand what they are trying to communicate.  Listen deeply, and listen with intent, and people will come to appreciate that you care about their concerns, and not just your own.

2.    Lead with Service: The idea of servant leadership is becoming increasingly more prominent, as people in a variety of industries are experiencing its positive effects.  When leaders are seen as individuals who care about the people with whom they work, they are trusted.  As leaders, if we cannot put aside our own wants to ensure the concerns of others are addressed, the needs of those people won’t be met and their work will suffer.  As Lawrence D. Bell once said,  "Show me a man who cannot be bothered to do little things and I'll show you a man who cannot be trusted to do big things." If you desire to be a leader, first concentrate on how you can build up the people around you, and do so with genuine care.  The faithfulness of your actions will foster personal growth, and people will feel you are approachable and trustworthy. 

3.    Be Teachable: There will never be a time when we have become such experts, that we have learned all there is to learn.  Ideas are always evolving, culture shifting, businesses transitioning and thanks to modern-day technology, the knowledge required to keep up with all of that is at our fingertips.  Take advantage of the wisdom of others.  If you’re not at the top of the food chain, welcome the knowledge of those who are.  Seek out a mentor, a coach, new resources that will become part of your ongoing personal and professional development.  

4.    Don’t Grumble, Strategize: You’ve got a problem? Great…do you also have a possible solution?  People who can identify weaknesses or missing links, play a vital role in the health and growth of a team.  It is how they present those findings that sets them apart.  Go before your listeners with your observation, and ask if they would like to hear some viable solutions. Create a reputation as one who can pinpoint obstacles, and create workable plans to help your team get to where they want to be. 

Your interaction with others and the effort you put into your work will determine how others view you.  Good leaders are consistently evaluating themselves and taking inventory of character development and work ethic. We are not born with exemplary character; it is something we have to intentionally practice.  Your practice will be well worth the effort.

4 Ways to Get What You Want for the Holidays

I’m not talking about ponies, or iWhatevers, and I’m speaking directly to those of you in the workforce.  Your Holiday Wish List for the office, for your business, for the future of your career might include new technology or a bonus from the boss, but long-lasting career fulfillment is much more economical than that.  We have to change the way we view work, and the resources we use for work.  We want staples and white out and a new mouse pad, but what our souls really crave are much more important. Our wish list should include items that bring about real growth and change and I believe Santa would be thrilled to deliver these:

1. Growth:

You want a raise? You want your employees to be committed, loyal and productive? You want a co-worker to understand that you really are trying to be a team player? Tell them.  We think we are more comfortable keeping our desires to ourselves, and sitting in the frustration that comes from that inaction, but are we really?  What would your work environment look like if you brought about healthy change?  In order to do that, we must step outside of our (not so comfortable) comfort zones and find effective ways to speak with grace, appreciation and conviction to those who we work with every day. 

2. Purpose:

“What am I doing here?” – or – “If I could only be doing…..” are these things you find yourself saying?  How great would you feel if you could find purpose in what you’re doing, regardless of your current job status?  Searching for vocational mission is on ongoing process, one that brings great contentment as you are met with self-realizations of your abilities, passions and opportunities.  Once those are discovered, the job position becomes secondary and how to utilize your gifts and desires becomes your primary focus. You are able to find purpose in a variety of different roles.

3. Community:

Did you know that 30-43% of managerial time is spent mediating conflict between employees?  What if that time could be used for more productive purposes: encouraging employees, engaging the client base, creative planning, infrastructure development…the list is endless.  That list though is being sidelined due to a lack of community.  When employees do not feel they are part of a team, they create silos.  Silos are breeding spaces for pride, apathy, and divisiveness.  If your wish is to be a leader who has more time for business building, or you’re an employee who desires a more peaceful workplace, seek out opportunities to build your work community.

4. Respect:

Everyone wants to feel respected.  In the different roles we hold, we want to be validated and encouraged.  We want to know our work is not in vain and is appreciated.  Even the most confident of people have moments of needing an extra dose of confirmation.  So, how do we earn respect?  Respect others and work hard.  Keep those two things at the forefront of your mind, practice them and know that your efforts will not go unnoticed.  

5 Ways to Show Thankfulness in your Workplace

Work can be stressful. (I can sense your heads nodding in agreement). 

People at work can be stressful. 

But, let us not deceive ourselves.  At some point, you and I have been the less than ideal employee, the frustrating co-worker, or the seemingly inept leader. 

When we realize this, we are left with a tremendous opportunity to promote growth and change. Each individual's work is important. When the work is done well as a collective group, families, communities, nations benefit in ways that change the patterns of society.  

Let us be thankful this season for the ways everyone around us contributes.

Without the people in your workplace, you wouldn’t be where you are.  It takes a team of people made up of different skills sets and abilities to run a successful business.  Whether a large company, or a small one, each person’s role, at some point, has been a great asset to where it is you are today, and where you hope to be in the future.  You might have that one person in mind who is hard to work with, but I guarantee that even they bring something to the table and deserve to be appreciated. Work is done with more efficiency, care and excitement when done well together.  Showing appreciation for one another is a sure-fire way to bolster moral and encourage productivity.  

5 Ways to Show Appreciation:

1.  Authentic Compliments:

These do not have to be long, wordy, complicated conversations.  With a simple comment of a time when you have observed them being amazing, you will incite a feeling of trust.  This will benefit your relationship, and people are known to cling to positive affirmation to a point that it encourages the same behavior in the future.

2. Lending a Helping Hand:  

What has this employee/co-worker/boss done to help you?  How can you do a small task that takes one thing off of their plate, in an effort to show that their hard work does not go unnoticed? Again, simplicity is key.  Filing a report, covering their class while they use the restroom, making a phone call or delivery for them…small things go a long way.

3. The Thank You note:

In a world of emails, text messages and posts, stand out by giving someone a hand-written note.  I recently had a conversation with a client in which they asked me, “why does your generation never write thank you notes?”  So, let us all rise up and jot down a quick note of appreciation to someone who deserves/needs it.

 

4. Public Praise

Have you ever had a boss commend you in front of your co-workers, or had a friend compliment you online, or had a parent speak with pride about you at Thanksgiving dinner?  Didn’t that feel amazing?  It is now our turn to bestow that upon someone else, and let them know how valued and wonderful they are.

5. Say “thank you.”  

While it seems simple, unless you are someone who is comfortable communicating openly, this can be a daunting task.  I challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone and be a deliverer of appreciation to someone else.  This takes humility, which is an exceptional character trait to practice. Looking into someone’s eyes and just saying, “thank you for being a good friend,” or “thank you for always working so hard,” or “thank you for the promotion, it means so much to me and my family,” is an interaction that will touch the heart of the one you are thanking, and will most likely touch yours, as well.

 

Work is good, helpful and necessary.  It is not only good for community around us, but it is good for us as individuals, as it presents such wonderful opportunities for us to grow, and for us to show love to one another. 

Happy Thanksgiving, now go out there and thank someone. 

 

School 360, Part 6: Pro Tips for Educators

With Head of School, Pastor, and Author Sam Kastensmidt

Sam served as a high school Bible teacher for five years. During that time, he absolutely fell in love with teaching and showing people the beauty of Christ in all the Scriptures. During a trip to Israel, he was invited to teach at several locations, including the Mount of Transfiguration, Caiaphas’ house, and the Gardens of En Gedi. Shortly after his trip, he was offered the role of Headmaster at Bethany Christian School, which he accepted.  Since that time, Sam has played a key role in ensuring that his students are surrounded by teachers who communicate love and expertise in the classroom.  Sam has a natural ability to lead teams, and get people excited about what the school community is doing.  It is a great honor to have him speak into how educators can make the most of the school year.  Here we go!

What are the best practices for teachers in regards to communicating with parents and students?

The most important practice for a teacher in regard to communicating with parents, is to make significant investments of love into the lives of their students AND their parents. During my time in education, I have learned that — more than anything else — a parent needs to know that their child is loved and secure in the learning environment. When we make “deposits” of love and encouragement into the life of a student (and take the time to rightly praise a student for his/her achievements), the foundations for future communication are laid. Only when the foundation of trust is secure can you begin to build upon it. If a teacher (or administrator) has made positive investments into the lives of the family, it is much easier to make the necessary “withdrawals” when difficult situations arise. Administrators would tell you that the most difficult relationships to patch between teachers and families are the ones in which a parent begins, "My child thinks that the teacher doesn’t like him.” The bonds of trust are paramount to effective communication, and the maxim that “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care” holds true with both students and parents. 
 
In Peter’s first epistle, he wrote, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” I have learned that this counsel is profoundly true. Love almost always produces a bank of good will, and it fuels a parent’s willingness and desire to give you the benefit of the doubt in your communications. 

Do you have any tips on how teachers can work together to enhance each other's curriculum?

Oddly enough, the greatest barrier to effective collaboration comes not from the lack of good ideas, but a lack of genuine humility and open-handedness to actually carry them out. It is crucial for a teacher to remain a life-long learner with a general conviction that there is ALWAYS room for growth.

As both a writer and a teacher, I can admit that it’s painful and even frightening to hand over my work (my babies) to an editor or a co-author. After all, I’m generally convinced that my ways are best. I’ve worked very hard to produce my curriculum. It is hard putting my labors on the altar and allowing anyone else to raise a knife to them. Critiques or even suggestions can often feel like attacks on our identities as “good” teachers. Yet, if I am truly more interested in improving my students’ learning experiences above satisfying my own ego, then I should crave outside perspectives. I should be eager to marry the strengths of my curriculum with the strengths of others. As teachers, it is imperative that we are constantly reevaluating our methods with open hands. 

Each year, I tell teachers to dump out all of the lesson plans in their “curriculum buckets.” With empty buckets, I then instruct them to search for the lessons that were most effective and engaging for the students and put them back in the bucket. For the lessons that flopped, leave them behind and search for better material, seeking input from colleagues and learning from best practices. 

We all have blind spots (logs in our academic eyes), but only humility can enable our hearts to receive counsel from others to remove the logs and to truly get excited about delivering the collaborative lessons with passion, as if they were our own babies.  

How can teachers create lesson plans that are fresh and effective?

Collaboration is certainly a great way to keep things fresh and effective. We should seek to learn from others around us. 

In my experience, passion is crucial to effective lessons. If a student senses that YOU are bored with the material, they will check out. But if you present the material in a passionate and fun manner, they will be caught up in your energy. Before I present a lesson, I try to imagine various ways to make things relevant and engaging. If I’m teaching about exponents, I want to show them how compound interest can transform tiny investments into million dollar nest eggs. If I’m teaching about government, I want to have the students forming a mock government with each of the roles necessary to pass legislation according to the lesson. If I’m teaching a scientific concept, I want to think of ways to demonstrate the properties in front of their eyes. If I’m teaching on parts of speech, I want to select a passage of literature that is funny or engaging. And if I am teaching Bible, I want to make sure that they sense that the Scriptures are supremely precious to me. 

In short, if you can’t get excited about your lesson plans, don’t expect your students to be excited, or even engaged.

How does a teacher move beyond teaching curriculum to being influential in the upbringing of their students?

This question separates good teachers from life-changing teachers. In my experience as a teacher, I have found that the greatest inroads into a student’s life are very rarely made through curriculum or lesson plans. And I say that as a former Bible teacher. When I first started my career as a teacher, my friend Duane Mellor (assistant pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church) issued a challenge to me. He said, “Sam, if you give me just one week with your students on a mission trip, I guarantee you that I will have a greater impact on their lives than you will have made after a full year teaching behind a podium.” In the past decade, I have learned that Duane was absolutely right! 

The most powerful and transformative moments in my teaching career have come in the situations that are not part of a teacher’s job description. They do not typically happen during lesson plans. It can be something as simple as sacrificing your own lunchtime to sit and have lunch with a struggling student. It can be as simple as attending a game and cheering for your students. More often than not, these transformative inroads come in the opportunities to build up our broken-hearted and insecure students — extending love and mercy in the midst of a student’s failures or loneliness. These relationships are forged when a teacher wisely shares aspects of his/her life, revealing stories of weakness and showing your scars. That sort of prudent vulnerability gives a student great freedom from the thought that they are alone in their anxieties and fears. Finally, students may not realize it, but they are excellent lie-detectors. They intuitively know whether you genuinely love them beyond the classroom, and it’s typically your sacrificial efforts outside of the classroom that can offer that assurance.  

Why is a school's mission statement so important?

Simply put, it offers guidelines and signposts to ensure that we “keep the main thing the main thing.” It is not only prescriptive for all that we do as a school, but it is restrictive to keep us from running into the weeds. 

How does a school get families on board the vision and mission of the school?

“The mission of Bethany Christian School is to educate, equip, and encourage our students to reach their God-given potential and to impact the world for God's glory through a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.” 

I have found that the most effective way to get families involved in the school’s mission is to spread the aroma of Christ. Even our unchurched or skeptical families recognize that there is something profoundly different about the nurturing, Christ-centered environment at Bethany. This, more than anything else, propels people to get involved and invested in the school. They grow to genuinely love the school, because they sense that they are genuinely loved by the school. That’s Bethany’s big secret, and — in my arrogant opinion — Bethany is second-to-none in fostering a healthy spiritual environment for our students and families. 

Beyond that, I think parents will naturally desire to be more involved when they see the fruit of what the school has done for their children — spiritually, socially, and academically. When school becomes a joyous part of their children’s lives, parents will want to be a part of that. 

And there are numerous ways to assist us in carrying out this mission: being diligent in prayer, volunteering for school functions, offering financial support, giving encouragement to teachers and staff, volunteering as a room mom (or dad), referring students for enrollment, building relationships with teachers and other parents in the school, applying for a role as substitute, and so much more.

What are your favorite tips for school administrators and faculty on creating harmony within the school community?

When I first began my career as Bethany’s Headmaster, the former Dean of Students (Dr. Dave Ingram) led a beautiful devotion for our faculty. During that time, he pointed out that the Bible calls upon us all to be priests to one another. We are to shepherd one another, encourage one another, uplift each other in prayer, and want the very best for each other — always pointing one another to the beauty of Christ and His work. As we seek to exalt Christ to each other, the pettiness of prideful squabbles is put into proper perspective. If the God of the universe would humble himself, be tortured, and die for me, then who am I to withhold mercy from others? As one theologian once wrote, Christians should be the most forgiving people in the world, because we are the most forgiven people in the world. And if this God then calls me to love others — as He has loved me — then I have no excuse for perpetuating conflict. And if I consider my squabbles in light of how much I have been loved and forgiven by God, the Spirit will crush my fleshly desire to perpetuate conflict with others. 

The most important element in overcoming existing disharmony in a school community is an unshakable belief in the Holy Spirit’s power to breathe resurrection into dead or wounded relationships. However, resurrection always requires a death. That means that you need to let your grudges die. You need to let your offenses die. Your hatred and envy and your need to be right all need to die before your relationship can be raised to new life. Often times, I am called to mediate in these squabbles. The greatest impediment to harmony is a firm belief that “he/she will never change, and therefore, I am shutting down to protect myself.” If you fear being emotionally abused, trust in the wisdom of Matthew 18. If the other person is unwilling to waver from their animosity, trust the administration (whom God has appointed for that situation) to step in and defend you. Do not jump into the mud pit with them.

When you're hiring, what do you look for in people?

Beyond general qualifications, the three non-negotiable qualities that I must find in an applicant for any position at Bethany are (1) a love for Jesus, (2) genuine humility, and (3) a passion for their calling. If a candidate possesses these qualities, I know that they will be less prone to conflict; I know they will be teachable; I know they will be driven self-starters; and they will be eager to find their chief joy and identities outside of the job. 

It may seem strange for a head of school to say that he does NOT want his teachers to find their chief source of identity or joy in teaching. But I absolutely mean that with all of my heart — for the sake of my teachers and for the sakes of their students. In the past four years, I have had countless encounters with teachers who are burnt out, discouraged, and severely exhausted. Teaching is unbelievably emotionally taxing. Often times, you feel like you’re wasting your efforts. When you’ve poured your whole heart and soul into loving a student, nothing is more crushing than receiving a total blindside from an upset parent. If your identity is wrapped up in teaching, this is utterly devastating. I’ve been at this for a decade, and I still feel crushed when an angry parent questions my heart. In Jeremiah 2, God rebukes the people of Israel—saying that they had committed two sins. Namely, they were relying on their own strength and neglecting His strength. God says that it was as though the Israelites were storing up all of their water in broken cisterns (big holes in the ground) that cannot hold water. And they were choosing to die from their lack of water, when there was a wonderfully plentiful wellspring of life in their midst. I don’t want teachers to look to their cisterns (curriculum, lessons, reputations, etc.) for life. I want them to drink deeply from the ever-flowing wellspring of life found in Christ alone. 

As I’ve said hundreds of times, the most important thing that a teacher has to offer students is her heart. And I know that their hearts will be best nourished when their identity and joy is found in Christ. 

Are there any resources you would recommend to parents?

First, I would encourage all parents to plug into a local church. Beyond that, there are countless wonderful resources for parenting. I really like the lectures and seminars provided by Bob Barnes. 

If there is one big takeaway for our readers, what would it be? 

Always keep Christ first in your life. Jesus promised, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all the other things will be added unto you.” When I can keep my eyes fixed on Jesus (and the wealth of his infinite attributes poured out for me), my perspective on the rest of life is always better. It makes me a better husband, a better dad, a better boss, a better friend, a better pastor, and a better man. 

 

 

Social and Emotional Preparedness for the School Year

With Counselor Extraordinaire, Gayle Greenwood

As Director of Counseling at The Lovett School, Gayle has used her unbelievably authentic care for others and her vast knowledge of the heart and mind to care for young people and their families for years. With 25 years of experience as a counselor in the school system, and in working with abused women and young, pregnant girls, Gayle is overflowing with practical wisdom on how we can best prepare and help our children.  It is a great honor to have Gayle, someone who is so passionate about what she does and is very good at it, take time for us today.  Let's rock and roll:

 Gayle, with so many children starting a new year and many in new places, do you have any tips on how to acclimate well to a brand new school?

It’s important for parents, and kids, to recognize that when leaving a previous school – particularly one that the child has been at for several years – that there is a natural grieving process. This “grief” isn’t always recognized as such and helping the child/family realize what they’re experiencing helps in the acclimating process. It’s important, at the beginning of the summer, to assign a buddy/family to a new child and their family. This helps tremendously. When possible, the buddy should be in the new child’s classroom. It’s also helpful to create a Circle of Families group that consists of the new family and returning families. This provides great support to the parents and kids. As the counselor, I try to eat lunch with all of the new kids to talk about how they’re feeling about their transition. This allows them to get to know me quickly and realize I’m there to talk with and to help.

How can parents best help their children through conflict resolution?

The most important thing a parent can do is listen and help the child, not the parent, problem solve. All too often, parents let their own feelings get involved and this can either add “fuel to the fire” or overly dramatize a situation. Children most want to simply be heard. In order to begin to help, the parent should try to identify the feeling that the child is projecting, i.e., hurt, anger, confusion, etc., and then connect that feeling to the content of the story the child is telling. “So, you sound really hurt that your friends were talking about you. I can understand how that must hurt your feelings. What do you think you might want to do?” Allow the child to offer ideas and then gently guide the child toward an idea that might work by asking “what do you think might happen if you try that? If you don’t?” Try to steer clear of blame on either side.

How can families help students who are overwhelmed by school work?

First and foremost, talk with the teacher. Find out the expectations. Check to see about how long a child should be spending on homework and see if it’s consistent with the time your child is spending. Find ways to “chunk” the homework, put up a calendar on the wall in their study area where projects and deadlines can be noted. Make sure all work is in the book-bag the night before and place the book-bag by the door for easy pick-up. Again, always talk with the teacher first to gauge their perspective on the situation – it might provide some clarity.

How can a school counselor best aid your child?

I always say that I want a child to come in happy in the morning and leave happy in the afternoon because then a child is emotionally ready to learn. When a child is hurting, learning suffers. My job is to help determine why a child is hurting. Children should always be encouraged to self-refer to the counselor and for parents to know that the counselors are part of the team for their child. School counseling offices are a place where a child should feel safe. It is never a place of punishment. While I may talk with a kid about a poor choice, it is never from the perspective of discipline, only from the point of a life lesson.

Are there any resources you would recommend to our readers?

I’m a big proponent of parenting programs. If a school offers one, take advantage of it. I teach Positive Discipline and feel it is an awesome parenting program. I also recommend that parents take a class on children’s sexual safety. The one I teach is entitled Darkness to Light and I highly recommend all parents take such a course. Three authors that I recommend are Dr. Michael Thompson, Wendy Mogel and Dr. Avril Beckford. Awesome people.

If there is one big takeaway for our readers, what would it be?

Love your children without conditions. I think we all say we do, but, often parents place conditions and expectations on children that can cause a child to feel that they must meet/exceed those challenges to feel truly loved and valued. Your child is not you. Welcome mistakes and view them as opportunities to learn/do better. The value of a child is not based on their abilities, but on who they are.

School 360, Part 4: Identifying Your Child's Strengths

With Proactive Super-Mom, and the Administrative Director of The Social Mind Center, Ana Anselma 

5 years ago, Ana and her team of super experts began The Social Mind Center, where children who are gifted, shy, those who have Autism Spectrum Disorder, Social Communication Disorder Aspergers, ADDHD, Language Delays, Learning Disabilities, and Anxiety Disorders, are given the interventions, tools and strategies they need for success.  Ana is also the author and founder for Autism Mind, Inc. a website and service that educates, equips and empowers parents to live a different life with autism. Ana coaches and trains parents to be their child's most influential advocate. Ana also assists parents with creating an intervention plan that compliments their child’s unique profile. As a parent of two children on the autism spectrum, she has personally traveled the complicated path of a life with autism. Ana is a wonderful advisor and a wealth of knowledge on the topic of how to best equip our children for success; it's a pleasure to have her as a part of the School 360 series.  Here we go:

 Ana,  how can parents best equip their child to avoid academic or social pitfalls? 

Make sure that you are well versed on the academic and social expectations for the academic year. Obtain detailed and specific information as to the expectations for each academic subject and on how to best navigate the school environment, in things such as:
•    Details on homework-and ensuring homework assignments are completed and turned in
•    Testing formats
•    Teacher communication-staying informed as to any challenges
•    What are the academic goals for that grade? (example: in 3rd grade there is a shift from  learning to read to reading to learn, which is a significant shift in curriculum. Reading comprehension should be adequate).
•    What are the social developmental requirements for the grade (there may be a requirement to work in group projects cooperatively and collaboratively).

Should parents have a pre-year meeting with the teachers, and if so what kinds of things should be discussed?

Parents should meet with teachers as early as possible in the year to obtain detailed information of expectations for the year and to discuss students strengths and weaknesses. For example:

My child does well academically, however needs assistance with staying organized.

Team up and formulate a strategy, which you will both use to help your child stay organized.

In this midst of gathering all this information, what tips can you give parents on keeping a healthy perspective?

Every child wants to succeed and every child has a purpose and place in the world. Believing in your child, encouraging and supporting them is critical. Providing them with the tools and resources needed for them to perform to the best of their ability should always be the goal. We all have weaknesses and strengths. When we ignore our weaknesses they can over power our strengths. We need to be proactive about addressing our weaknesses and making sure that there is no underlying source of weakness. Monitor your child closely, and if the struggle increases in intensity and frequency, seek a professional opinion.  

How can centers like yours aid parents and student through the school year? 

Our center can assist parents with identifying underlying learning deficits and language delays that can impact progress in reading, writing and comprehension. We can help to identifying if there is a learning difference impacting academic and/or social progress.

Are there any resources you would recommend to parents?

Yes, there are 2:

•    www.understood.org
•    www.allkindsofminds.com

If there was one big takeaway you would have for our readers today, what would it be?

Do not ignore skill deficits, as they rarely fade without being addressed. Foundational and fundamental skills are acquired in elementary early years, and it is important to address skill gaps...the earlier the better. Addressing skill deficits in the earlier academic years is simpler than in middle or high school.

Thank you, Ana.  If our readers wanted to contact you, or your clinic, what would be the best way to do that?

They can email me at: ana@socialmindcenter.com

 


Parenting Through Middle and High School

With Life-Changing Teacher and Administrator, Jenn VanHekken

I had the honor of working with Jenn years ago.  I knew then that Jenn was someone from whom I would learn.  She has natural gifts in teaching, in nurturing the hearts of students, and in leading her peers.  It is with great joy that I have the opportunity to dig into some of the nitty gritty questions of middle and high School with Jenn; someone who is a pro in this area.  Jenn is currently the Director of Academics in the Western Michigan Christian School system.  Instead of me rambling on, let's ask Jenn to give us a little insight into what she does.

Jenn, tell us a little bit about your role in academics:

I spent the first 8 years of my career as a middle school and high school English teacher, and I have taught everything from 6th grade Language Arts to 12th grade Advanced Placement Literature.  As a District-level administrator, my goal is to continuously stay close to the students, parents, and community in order to build relationships that inform academic policy and not the other way around.  I still spend 1 hour a day as a classroom teacher, because when I started in education I knew that I wanted to impact the lives of students - and being in administration doesn’t change that, but I know that if I want to impact student lives, I need to know who they are, where they struggle and where they succeed.  So while I am an administrator by title, I will always be an educator first.

Awesome, Jenn...we are excited to learn from you.  Here we go:

How can parents and students best acclimate to the newness of middle and high school?

Starting at a new middle school or high school can be as difficult for parents as it is for students.  A new school comes with new routines, new grading systems, new classmates, and even a new lunch menu.  My best advice is to stay in touch!  Make time for back-to-school night, introduce yourself to your child’s teachers, offer to volunteer, get on the email list, go to parent meetings - do what you need to do to be in the know.  There are two main difficulties with this.  The first is that by nature, we are busy people.  It’s very difficult to make time for back-to-school night or the PTA kick-off, but can I challenge you to make time for these types of events that will help you acclimate to a new environment?  The more that you understand the culture and climate of the school, the easier it will be to address an issue when one comes up, or feel like you understand what is happening when your child is invited to their first football after-party.  The second problem with this is finding the balance between being an involved parent and being a helicopter parent.  My challenge for parents in this is to find ways to get involved with the school without using it as a way to spy on your child and their teachers.  To date, I’ve not met a teacher who does not have their student’s best interest at heart.  Trust them to take care of your child when you are not around, but be enough in the know to understand how to navigate the challenges that might come up.

What are your favorite tips on staying organized?

Middle schoolers and organization just do not go well together.  Most of the time 12 and 13 year olds have so much going on in their heads and their bodies that remembering to turn in a paper to their 3rd hour teacher falls to the bottom of their list.  On top of that, every student has a different organizational style; talk to your student to find the best way to help them with this.  Do they prefer an accordion folder where they can store all of their handouts in one place?  Do they appreciate a flowery day planner where they can write down their homework in pink gel pen? Are they tech-minded and prefer to use Google Calendar to keep them organized?  There are many great options for students, help them find one that they feel comfortable with.  Also, help them get started with the process - remind them to use their folders or their day planner, and be patient with them as they try to remember which class they have on which day and where they might have left their gym clothes.

How can families balance homework, extracurricular activities and family life?

Balancing family, sports, extra-curricular activities and homework can be one of the most difficult parts of middle school and high school - as the parent of a 17 and a 13 year old, I can attest to this on a personal level.  I don’t always do it well, but here are a few suggestions for finding balance within your child’s busy schedule.

Do your work together.  When I have work that has to be taken home, I often sit in my daughter’s room with her and do it while she’s working on her homework.  It gives us a little time just to be together, and sometimes we even take breaks to watch silly YouTube videos together.


Save one night a week as family night.  We have a Sunday evening rule.  No one is allowed to make plans with friends, work outside of the home, or leave the house on Sunday nights.  It’s the one evening that we sit around the dinner table and all eat together.  We try to throw in a board game or movie if the homework load is low, but sometimes it’s just dinner and knowing that we are all in the same place at the same time that brings a little moment of peace.

Finally, and this one is controversial, but sometimes you have to say no to the activities that your child wants to be involved in.  In this culture of do everything and be everything, we want to allow our children to be overly involved, but instead, make a priority list and find a way to limit your child’s involvement to those things that are the most important to him/her. 

How can parents help coach their kids through senioritis?

Senioritis is alive and well in the hallways of our schools.  After 11.5 years of traditional education, students begin to go stir crazy, and begin slacking their work ethic, decreasing the rigor of their class schedules, and even skipping class.  Unfortunately, the only cure for Senioritis is graduation, however, take the time to help your child finish strong.  Check with your child’s school to determine their final-semester requirements for seniors.  Some schools will exempt their seniors from final exams if they have zero absences or tardies.  Other schools offer an early-release date for seniors if they meet a specific grade point average.  Check in with your student’s school and then remind your senior about these options.  Also, for those students who are college-bound, remind them that an acceptance letter from college is conditional, and that full enrollment doesn’t actually happen until the school receives and approves a final graduation transcript (if you need more information about this, contact your school Guidance Counselor or College Admission Officer).

What tips do you have on prepping for college?

As a junior, your child probably has a college-plan.  They most likely have it narrowed down to a few college choices and are looking at a few majors.  As a senior, they will most likely chuck all those plans out the window and fall apart.  Sometime between being ready for college and actually making an initial housing deposit, your student is likely to come to the realization that they are being asked to choose a course of study and location of study that may affect their entire life; on top of that, they will be asked to take multiple entrance exams, examine their GPA, meet with admissions officers, memorize their social security number, and find a job/grant/loan to help them pay for up to $50,000 a year.  Your calm and steady child, may all of a sudden have multiple breakdowns, begin staying home when they once went out all the time, or begin going out when they always stayed home.  More than anything, they will need a steady presence reminding them that it will be okay.  That steady presence will be you.  In the midst of all of this, here are a few ways to help them through the process.


Have them take multiple college-entrance exams.  The ACT is more prevalent in the Midwest and Central states, and the SAT dominates the U.S. Coastlines, but encourage your child to take both.  The ACT is geared toward concrete thinkers, while the SAT is geared toward more critical-thinkers and writers.  Encourage your student to take each one in order to see if there is one or the other in which they feel more confident and/or score better. This can help with college entrance and with scholarship opportunities for your student.


Make a budget.  Sit down and talk with your student about the amount of money that they have available to them for their college studies.  Look at college costs together (every college website has a breakdown of their costs) and discuss how much you can offer, how much they might be able to get in grants and scholarships, and how much they will be responsible for. While this can seem daunting and uncomfortable, students are able to make wiser decisions when they have all of the information available to them.


Explore.  Go visit college campuses, sit in on a class, eat in the dining hall, stay overnight.  Your child will be spending the next 4 years in one place, and you want it to feel like home.  Even if your child is set on one specific school, encourage them to visit others as well - this will hopefully solidify in their minds where they want to go, and, it will add to their t-shirt collection and yours!


Allow your child to make their own decision.  This is a biggie, and it’s a tough one.  As parents, our one desire is to keep our students safe and help them through the battles of life.  Allowing them to fail is not on any parent’s bucket list, so when they make decisions that are different from what we would’ve made, it is often all we can do not to tie them up and throw them in their bedroom until they change their mind. BUT, and this is a big BUT, this is a really important time for your child to grow in their independence and decision-making skills.  Give wisdom, give guidance, visit different schools with them, dream with them, and give them a dose of reality, but then, let them go.  Sometimes they will choose your dream school, sometimes they will choose a school across the country, and sometimes they will choose a trade school that maybe wasn’t part of the original plan.  But in the end, what is most important is remembering that they are your child, and that when they come home on Christmas break, or come home for dinner after a long day of Community College, they will still need love, support, and food.  And after all of the forms are filled out, paperwork signed, bills paid, and tests taken, sometimes, just having a parent available to support them in their endeavors, is all that your child really wants. 

Are there any resources you would recommend?

The best resource I can suggest to parents is their school Guidance Counselor.  Guidance Counselors know the various guidelines for your state, for you high school, and for different colleges.  They can really help navigate all of the twists and turns that middle school and high school can bring.

If there was one big takeaway for our readers, what would it be?

Release your child to their experience.  Allow them to struggle; allow them to try new things.  Recognize that your child will not have the same gifts and talents as the classmate next to them, and they may not have the same gifts and talents as you do.  Be realistic about your expectations for them and celebrate the unique way that they were created - even if their journey looks different from the one you were anticipating. 

 

 

School 360, Part 2: Parenting Through Elementary School

With Super Teacher and Family Blogger, Julie Brasington

Julie Brasington, otherwise known as the Happy Home Fairy, has been instilling a love for learning and creativity in the minds of young children for years.  Through her blog, Julie inspires families to nurture encouraging and loving homes.  Julie has worked as a teacher and has led her ministry to families for over a decade.  It is such a privilege to have this opportunity to ask the Happy Home Fairy herself, how to best care for the hearts of our elementary students.

You are a huge advocate for quality writing.  What tips would you give parents to help their children sharpen their writing skills?

I believe that teaching a child how to write is one of the most important skills they will gain through their school experience.  Learning how to write well is essentially learning how to communicate well - which is a critical skill needed for... well, all of life! :-)  They will need to know how to organize their thoughts for college essays, job applications, and compelling work presentations.  The skill of writing well can also help a person communicate well in relationships as well as pass on a legacy of stories and information to future generations!  

I love teaching my students to show something rather than tell something when they are writing.  For example, instead of saying "The dog ran across the yard," one could say, "The dogdashed across the yard."  The change of that one verb makes the whole sentence come alive!  Or instead of saying, "I am hungry," saying, "My stomach was rumbling like thunder!"  Or instead of saying, "It snowed," say, "The snow was on the lawn like frosting on a cake."

A major component to learning how to write well is being an avid reader.  The more you read, the more you will learn what good communication sounds and looks like.  As a parent, I love reading aloud to my children as well as providing them with lots of printed material.  Audio books are excellent tools to encourage good communication as well!  Our family has enjoyed some of the Odyssey adventures from Focus on the Family.

How can parents help their children get excited about reading?

One of the best things you can do to encourage excitement for reading is to simply have books everywhere. When my kids were babies I kept books on the changing table and they would look at them when they were old enough to hold a book. I keep books in a basket in the backseat of the car for them to look at while we drive. We keeps books in a basket by the kitchen table and sometimes I will read to them during lunch or dinner. Both boys have bookshelves in their rooms and every night they can pick a book for us to read together before bed. I fill these baskets with books that I have loved myself, found recommended by other parents, or pertaining to topics that interest my boys. Having lots of books around coupled with the parent's own excitement about books/reading will help kids get excited about it as well.  And when we are in stores, I say no to buying a toy most of the time, but I never say no to buying a book. Books are usually not that expensive (if it's an expensive book we will save it for a birthday list) and it is another fun way to celebrate reading in your home.

Elementary is a time when children realize their favorite subjects.  How can parents help their children thrive in areas they might not enjoy as much?

All kids have been given different strengths and subjects that they are passionate about.  The tricky thing is keeping them from getting easily discouraged when they face a challenge at school.

As the parent, remain positive.  I try not to let my own prejudices (I hated science and math when I was in school) be voiced in a way that might feed their struggle.  And I also try not to let my frustration with their frustration create a negative imprint on the whole situation.  The goal is to teach your child to be a problem solver (life goal!) as well as to have a healthier outlook on his responsibilities.

Step back and look at the bigger picture.  Ask the teacher for his/her perspective and advice.  Be your child's coach and cheerleader.  If they need a break from something difficult - let them have one.  Then get back to it.   Give them challenging tasks in small doses.  I used to suggest to my parents to let their child punch a hole at the top of his homework page whenever he completed something that was hard.  It is very self-gratifying! :-)

And above all, I find that our weaknesses are the very things that teach us the most about depending on Jesus.  Pray about it with your kids and point them to Him as their source of strength and help.

Julie, how can parents encourage their children to love others well?

I love teaching my kids about the Golden Rule from Luke 6:31, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Whenever my kids are struggling with a friend, I try to encourage them to think about how they would want to be treated in that situation. Really what I am after is training them to think about others before themselves. This can be a battle because the flesh wants to be number one! But if we can help our kids learn to be humble when interacting with others and take on the heart of a servant, then a lot of problems can be solved.  Are my kids amazing at this?  Just this morning in the car they were trying to wrestle one another while they had seat belts on.  It ended in tears.  But every situation like that is an opportunity to point them toward the better way of thinking.  

What can parents do to connect with other parents?

Go to birthday parties when invited! Host play dates or attend them! Initiate contact - I read somewhere once that there are 2 different times of people - the "There you are" people and the "Here I am" people. Here I am people usually wait until someone approaches them, but There You Are people reach out to others and make an effort to build relationships - even when it's hard and uncomfortable. I don't always act as the There You Are person, but I try to keep that in mind when I am in a room with new people. Building relationships with the parents of the kids your child spends time with can be an important way to stay connected to what might be happening in your child's world.

As children are starting to expand their extracurricular horizons, how can families balance work and play?

This is a tough one, because often we are getting home from school in time to eat dinner and go to bed! There isn't always a lot of time for play! So one way our family tries to balance work and play is to limit after school activities.  My boys work on their homework in the car on the way home after school and then when they are home they get to run around and play until dinnertime. Then we practice the piano, eat, and start the bedtime routine.  Kids need some unstructured (free play) downtime after school to unwind from so many hours of 'being on.' Our family also has a Friday night Pizza and Movie night tradition as well as a Pancake Saturday morning that the kids get excited about and look forward to throughout the week.  I try to also spend a good chunk of time with each boy at bedtime reading silly books and hearing their hearts about their day. It's a good time to laugh and connect in the middle of busy life! These are all good ideas, but sometimes life is just crazy, so we try to infuse some lightheartedness into stressful and busy situations.  When things start feeling tense, I try to find a way to make everyone laugh. Impromptu dance party, tickle fight, joke-telling, sock ball fight -- whatever might help - even if it's just for a few minute.

Are there any particular resources you would recommend to our readers?

I have lots of resources on my blog (www.happyhomefairy.com) to help moms build a happy home - educational activities, FREE Printables, crafts, family fun and encouragement!

If there is one big takeaway for our readers today, what would it be?

Sometimes you might want to base your love on your kids' performance at school (and basically everywhere else). Make constant efforts to check your heart on this - love without condition. Encourage them to do their best and remind them that you love them no matter what. Pray with them when they struggle. Ask God to give you creative ways to point them upward and then cheer them along the journey. After a long day, sometimes they just need a hug! And possibly a chocolate chip cookie. :-)

If our readers want to get connected with you, what's the best way to do that?

Check out my website - www.happyhomefairy.com. I am also on: Facebook (@happyhomefairyblog), Instagram (Happy Home Fairy), Twitter (@happyhomefairy) and Pinterest (happyhomefairy).

School 360 Part 1: Parenting Through the Preschool Years

With Preschool Director: Barb Ingram

Please let me introduce you to Barb Ingram, a retired Preschool Director, School Librarian, and one of the wisest women to ever grace the academic world. Barb studied Education, with a concentration in Early Childhood and has graduate level experience in Media Education and Children’s Literature.  Beyond that, she is widely sought for her experience and expertise in the many details of Preschool and all that it entails.

Let’s jump right in!

 

 

 

Barb, How does the way parents approach preschool affect their child?

Children are very attuned to their parents’ feelings and attitudes, and will look to you for cues as to how to approach a new situation. No doubt you’ve carefully chosen your child’s school, so be confident about your choice. Communicate that confidence and positive attitude to your child in warm, genuine, encouraging ways as you talk about school, both in advance of the start of the year and on a daily basis. Also communicate confidence about how they’ll do in the school setting as you imagine together some of the things they might experience there.  If you’re feeling anxious about your child starting school, or about how they’re doing at school after they start, work at consciously relaxing your posture and your facial expression. If you seem worried or uncertain you may unintentionally communicate to your child that there’s something scary about this place, or about separating from mom or dad.  A parent who looks traumatized by the separation is no help to their child. Let their last view of you be one of a cheerful face, even if you dissolve into tears when you turn away from the doorway. (Hey, we get it! Letting go is hard.)  Trust the expertise and kindness of the teachers. They know a thing or two about helping children adjust to the school setting. If your child is wailing as you leave, know that the teacher has lots of tricks up her sleeve to distract your little one and get him or her engaged in an activity.

How can parents help their child adjust to school?

Do your best to send them to school well-rested. They may need more sleep than you realize! Children 1 thru 2 years old (i.e. up to 36 months) need 11-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period (including naps). Children age 3-5 need 10-13 hours (including naps). Children age 6-12 need 9-12 hours. And parents…well, all parents need naps, right?

Do your best to provide nutritious food to fuel their bodies, both for breakfast before school and for any snacks and lunches you provide. Sugars, preservatives, and food dyes are not your friends, and can significantly impact your child’s behavior and ability to learn.  When you and your child arrive at school in the morning, be a model of friendliness and courtesy as you and your child are greeted by staff members. Please don’t pressure your child to “look them in the eye” and “say ‘good morning!’” There’s enough going on in a child’s mind as they arrive at school, anticipating the day and anticipating the separation from the parent. Some may happily say hello; others may not be ready to do that. Please don’t make everyone uncomfortable by stopping in the hallway and badgering a child to “use your manners.” Just be a great example yourself.

Remember that “a quick goodbye is best.” Be positive and confident and brief! When a child is struggling with separating from the parent, a long, drawn-out farewell with multiple starts and stops, repeated kisses and hugs and reassurances, does not ultimately help the child or the teacher. Please be truthful. I’ve heard all of the following untruths: “I’ll be back in just a few minutes.” “I’m not leaving – I’ll be right outside in the car.” “You’re having a candy party today! Go on in – your teacher has candy for you.” “You need to get out of the car now. I can’t stay here holding up the car line or the policeman will put me in jail.” (Seriously??)

Barb, you’re telling us our kids don’t have candy parties?  ;) What should parents say?

Say what’s true: “I’ll come and get you at pick-up time! Have fun!” When it’s time to pick your child up from school, please set aside your phone or excuse yourself from conversation with other parents and be available to focus your attention on your child. Let them see and feel how glad you are to see them, to hear what they have to say, and to take a look at what they have to show you. Some children may be chatty and ready to talk about their day at school; with others it may be like trying to gain access to classified information. It may help if you know their school schedule and can prompt them by asking “What did you do in PE?” or “Tell me about your art project for today.” But children tend to be present-oriented, so what they did 30 minutes ago, or 2 or 3 hours ago, can be hard for them to bring to mind on the spot. You can hope those things will resurface later and you’ll hear something about all those hours spent in school! (Probably at bedtime when you really want them to just stop talking and go to sleep!)

Regarding discipline issues at school…if the teacher reports that there was a behavior problem and a consequence, please maintain perspective. You can thank her for letting you know. You might want to ask if she feels that you should follow up on it at home. For the most part you should be able to let it go as something that was dealt with at school. You don’t want to let an incident that occurred at 9:00 AM and was over by 9:10 color the picture you and your child have of the entire school day. Consequences are most effective and meaningful to a child when they occur close in time with the negative behavior, and this has already taken place. Delayed consequences or adding on of further consequences won’t be necessary or helpful. If you feel it’s important, you may find a time later in the day to discuss in a matter-of-fact way what happened and consider with the child what they can do differently the next time. Please don’t let pick-up time come to be about reporting on behavior: “Were you a good listener today? Did you have any time-outs?” Let it be a happy reunion with your child.

How can parents best process recommendations from the teacher?

When a teacher shares concerns with you about your child, please try to be open and to listen well, rather than becoming defensive. If the teacher’s concerns are serious, know that she has agonized over them and how best to share them with you. She is not and does not claim to be a diagnostician, but her observations are incredibly valuable to you as a parent, because she observes your child for many hours in a classroom setting with peers, something you are not able to do. Recognize that the teacher sees your child in the context not only of this particular class, but in the context of all the children in this age group that she has ever taught. Besides her training in early childhood education, a teacher with, for instance, 5 years experience teaching 4-year-olds, has spent well over 6000 hours with multiple class groups of children that age. She knows the typical developmental range they fall in: how they learn, what their speech and language is like, how they interact socially and emotionally, what large and small motor skills they have. When a child’s behavior patterns fall outside of that typical developmental range in any area, that stands out to the teacher and she observes that child closely. If the teacher recommends that you pursue for your child an evaluation of their vision, or hearing, or speech and language, or motor skills, or other developmental area, please follow up with a professional in a timely manner, just as you would follow up with an x-ray if your pediatrician were concerned that your child had a broken arm. Sometimes parents delay because they fear that there’s “something wrong” or that their child will be “labeled.” In the case of any developmental issues, the earlier the child receives therapeutic intervention, the better it will be for their overall growth and development and learning. As one parent told me, “I discovered that therapeutic intervention was a huge positive bonus of support and expertise for my child that I wasn’t equipped to provide myself. She was able to work on skills in fun ways with the therapist, and she responded very differently to trying things in that setting than she would with me.”

As an example of the benefits of pursuing such support for children, in my professional experience and also in personal experience with 2 grandchildren, I’ve seen remarkable growth in children who have gone through a series of OT (occupational therapy) sessions.  The core strength they gained, along with strengthening of other targeted areas, transformed their confidence, desire, and abilities with regard to drawing and writing (crucial school activities). They had previously avoided those activities, finding them physically taxing and “too hard”. But, as a result of the strength they gained through OT, a whole world of creative expression was unlocked for them and poured forth in artwork and writing, paving the way for great success in school.

Sometimes a teacher may recommend that parents consider giving their child a second year in the same age level class before moving on to the next one. Instead of thinking of this in negative terms such as “repeating a grade” or “being held back,” try to look at it as giving your child an amazing gift. You can give them “the gift of time” to grow and mature and to develop true readiness for what will be expected of students in the next grade level. If this is recommended for your child, please be open to the idea and seriously consider all of the pros and cons. In all my years in early childhood education I’ve never heard a parent say they regretted giving their child that extra year. On the contrary, the unanimous feeling has been, “That was the best decision we ever made for our child.”

What are the most important things parents need to know about these early years of school?

During the preschool years the best thing we can do for children is to help them build an experience base that’s broad and deep. This happens through lots and lots of free, unstructured play, both indoors and outdoors. It takes place during fun, discovery-oriented, hands-on learning activities that are developmentally appropriate (code for designed according to the way kids are wired to learn’). It’s enhanced by reading kids tons of quality children’s books (real ones printed on paper, with pages to turn). The key in early childhood education is not acceleration –- it’s not about how far and how fast we can push children. It’s not a narrow focus on recognizing those squiggly lines we call letters and numbers. The key to education in the early years is richness – the gradual accumulation of layers of experiences as the foundation on which all future learning will best be built. Childhood is a journey, not a race. Young children’s learning is all about growth and readiness...the natural emerging of skills and interests. Kids don’t need to be reading independently at 5 years of age any more than they need to be walking independently at 5 months. Preschoolers don’t need after-school tutoring or organized sports or specialty classes in dance or tennis. They don’t need to spend time glued to electronic devices. In order to develop fully in every area of life children need to play and play. As parents, you have the power to protect their childhood, and the privilege of delighting in it with them.

 

How to Take Work Criticism Like a Pro

Didn’t get the report you were hoping for? How to make that work for you:

 

1.     Take a breath.  Human Nature typically responds to criticism with gloves on.  You might fight back and make yourself look unappreciative, disrespectful and prideful, or you become passive aggressive and decide to only give the bare minimum in an effort to “show them who’s boss.”  Instead of letting our important, yet sometimes dangerous nature control us, what can you do to make this uncomfortable situation work for you?  You can breathe, listen, and process.  Being a teachable employee makes you a valued employee.  So, instead of flying off the handle, or plotting your secret revenge, take some time to process the criticism.

2.     Ask questions. During your meeting, it is advantageous for you to take notes.  After you have listened and heard what your boss has observed about you, follow up with some helpful questions, such as: “thank you for bringing this to my attention, can you please give me a specific example of a time when I was argumentative?”  You could also ask “I really do want to develop my business skills, so I appreciate you taking your time to do this; do you have any resources you could recommend that would help me?”  Showing that you are listening will communicate to your boss that you are a team player.

 

3.    Be Honest.  Taking responsibility for something you could improve on makes you a rock star.  Be the 1 in a million employee who blows their bosses mind by just being honest.   If you agree with them, let them know that and explain what you think has been an obstacle for you.  Do your best to refrain from using others in your explanation; this is your review, not theirs.

 

4.    Consider the Critique.  Take some time alone to really consider your recent job performance, not based on what you think your job should look like, but based on the expectations of your superior.  How honest can you be with yourself?  This is a great opportunity to put your pride aside and grow in your humility.  You want to be the best you can be, right?  Let yourself be teachable in this moment.

 

 5.    If you feel the criticism is unjust:  After you have really given your review some serious consideration, if you still feel that an injustice has occurred, that’s fine, but approach this carefully.  Request a meeting with your boss. Begin your discussion by showing appreciation, throw in your very humble, yet factual clarification, and end with more appreciation and a commitment to working with excellence. Again, please consider this step a few times. Sleep on it, seek wisdom from others (outside of your workplace) and then, consider it some more.

 Remember, receiving a report that isn’t ideal from your boss is not a horrible thing.  It means you are worth investing in; they are offering you wisdom and opportunity.  Hear the critique in light of that and you are ready to keep moving up in the world. 

Looking to overcome the obstacles that led to your recent review? Contact me below for a free session:

 

For the Communicationally-Challenged

WHICH IS ALL OF US; IT JUST DEPENDS ON THE DAY.

 

All too often the art of communication, or lack of art, gets us into trouble.  With a little grace and intentionality in the way we listen and speak, the majority of the problems we face would be simplified and more manageable.  

6 Quick tips on how to communicate more effectively:

1. Approach conversations with the intent of listening to learn. Often, we go into a conversation chomping at the bit to get our opinions out into the universe.  If we reset our focus to listening, chances are high that our initial plan will change and become simpler than we thought. 

2. Listen and speak with grace and humility.  Always keep in mind that other people's struggles are no different than your own, in that we all have them. While the details of the struggle are not the same, the emotion behind it might be. You probably have more in common than you think.

3. Always begin hard conversations with a positive.  Make your positive statement, or observation authentic.  People can read BS from a mile away.

4. When listening, don't jump to a response right away. That communicates that you've just been waiting to say your piece.  Listen, take 3 seconds, and then speak.

5. Make eye contact, smile and lean in. When my husband and I first started dating, I pretty much decided to marry him because of his skills in this area. (Can I get an Amen, girls? Who doesn't love feeling like the only girl in the room?) He also had great teeth; I married him for that, too.  Also, for the love of all things good, put your phone down and turn it on silent. People will know you are listening and genuinely interested

6. If you don't have time to talk now, be honest.  Say something like: "This is really important to me, but if we talk now I won't be able to give you my full attention, and you deserve that.  Can we plan on talking today at 4:00?" This willprevent distractions and unnecessary frustration for you both.  Unless of course, this is your boss, or spouse...now is the perfect time. 

Time to Start

3 tips to help you get started on something new

It’s Time for you to Get Started

What is it you want to do? Everyone has something…what’s your something?  Got it in your mind? Okay, now, why haven’t you gotten a move on that?

We are going to talk about three things you can do to get you moving in the right direction:

1.     Realize that you can do it.  “I can’t” is such a popular phrase, which is so silly.  We use it constantly, but we don’t really mean it.  You actually can.  Can you right now? Maybe not.  Can you eventually?  Absolutely.  Stop telling others and definitely stop telling yourself that you can’t do something.  It’s 2016, people….”I can’t” is quickly falling by the wayside. You have the desire, you have the capabilities, so yes, you can do it.

2.     Decide What you Need in Order to Get Started.  It’s okay to not have everything you need in order to start something new.  Knowing what you need is all you need.  Do you need more education, or training? More accountability? Better time management?  You don’t have to obtain all of these things at the same time.  Write down the list of your needs, pick one, and get moving on that.

3.     Commit to Making One Step.  Just one.  Sign up for that class.  Have that hard talk.  Rewrite your budget (or, create one if you don’t have one).  Say “no” to something, so that you can make room for something else.  What is one, small thing you can do to move you closer?  Pick it. Do it. You will look back later on and the simple, initial step you’re taking now will hold a different value to you.  What you choose to do now, when executed well, will set you on the path to more little steps until you find yourself wondering why you didn’t start this sooner.

You can’t go wrong here.  Try the one step.  If you realize it’s not for you, okay, you tried.  You can scratch it off the list without regret.   But, if it does work for you, whoa.  What does that look like for your life?

Today’s the day. Realize that you can do this. Decide what you need in order to make it happen. Commit…to one, small, step.  

Would you like to take the jump, but don't have the motivation, or the discipline? I would love to be a part of your new adventure.  

Know Your Mission

Clarifying the "Why" in What You Do

Life Coaches will tell you one of the most powerful questions in the world is “why?”  From the “why” comes an emotional response that can help a person go from frustrated and fatigued, to productive and focused.

Your “why” is your mission.

Corporations pay thousands of dollars to have consulting firms help them generate a mission.  Companies thrive on mission statements; why wouldn’t you?  Luckily, knowing why you want to achieve something is free for most individuals; it’s just a matter of being intentional.

An undefined mission prevents us from achieving our goals well.  It’s one thing to accomplish something, it’s another thing to enjoy the process that brought you to that accomplishment. That’s where the real gratification takes place.  

Most people though, are focusing so much on the end game, that they find themselves unable to get their head clear enough to know what to do next.  It’s really difficult to achieve your goal without asking yourself why you want to get there.  Getting back to the root of why you started on your path is what will help you enjoy the ride.

Let's look at a case study: I have a client named Ms. Amazing (name protected for anonymity's sake). Ms. Amazing is a business owner who sells women's clothing. When I asked her what her "why" is she said, "to encourage women." She stated that she desires not to have a business that is only about sales, but that fosters genuine relationships with her customers. I spoke with her today and she mentioned that she had some great success this week reaching out to a new customer, and that quickly, a great bond was formed.  She said the conversation centered around her "why," and that if she had focused on the upcoming sale of fancy pants, the meeting would not have been nearly as fulfilling. Ms. Amazing's "why" was the motivation behind her courage to reach out, and her ability to connect on a human level with her customer.

Why are you wanting to graduate from your nursing program?

Why are you deciding to be a vegan?

Why are you committing to bringing your wife flowers every Friday?

Only you can answer your why, but how powerful it will be when you do. Your “why” is your mission, and your mission will not only lead you to your vision, but it will refocus you along the way. 

Will you lose sight of your mission? Absolutely.  That’s okay. This is why we have to practice the art of revisiting our “why” throughout the course of our endeavors.

Next time you get “stuck,” ask yourself one simple, yet profound question “why am I doing this?”

Even if this gives you momentary clarity that helps you move forward a little bit, you are still more likely to achieve your goal than you were before you reminded yourself of your mission. 

A clear mission and attainable actions step are going to be your keys to success.

Are you feeling stuck? It’s okay, you’re not alone!  If you’re in need of someone to help you clarify, or revisit your mission, life coaching would be for you.  Contact me and we will talk about how to set up a plan to help you get where you want to be.