Category Archives: teaching

3 L’s of Leadership: How To Lead From The Middle (Or Even The Bottom)


The 3 L's of Leadership: Love, Laugh, Learn!

Are you a teacher leader?

He systematically walked in and out of every room, disturbing and unnerving all.  The staff braced themselves for the sure to follow email  pointing out negatives wherever he saw them.  Each approached him only when necessary since his whole demeanor screamed, “Leave me alone!”  This was their fearless leader–or was he?

We often think of leadership as the one who holds a leader-like title.  It’s like going around a park seeing labels on trees.  Unless we’re really interested in that tree, we’re not likely to look at the lable.  With leaders, we know when it’s right and when it’s not.  Calling something  ”leader” that’s clearly not is meaningless and unfortunate.

What, then, is a leader, and how might we be one?

Teachers are in a unique position to lead, though they may not realize it.  Think about your own school.  Who is the true leader?  Who do people go to for inspiration and new ideas?  Is there anyone who seems to keep a positive focus even in the middle of all of the negatives?  You too can be that person with perhaps a shift in motive.

Ask yourself a simple what?  What really motivates that person to lead?  Is it power?  If so, it’s the opposite of true leadership which Jesus modeled beautifully for us.  How did his leadership differ from what we see in the typical “leader” we often encounter?  Wouldn’t you say that the true, positive leaders in your school have some, if not all, of the three L’s of leadership?

Love – If we are motivated to become great, me might get a title, but we’ll not likely be the person that the title represents.  Jesus was clear that in order to become great, we must be the servant of all.  We can serve others with a heart full of true love.  That’s how it works.  Each day, we teachers can love our students, our fellow teachers, our bosses, our parent community, and our workplace.  We can do it because our hearts are full of love.  When our motive is love, we will share good things with others.  It won’t be difficult for us.  It will be a natural outcome from our pure motive.

Laughter – Real leaders tend to have a sense of humor.  They take the intolerable things and turn them into bearable situations.  Otherwise, they might have left years earlier.  These leaders don’t laugh so much at the situation, which tends to make things worse.  They actually look for things that bring them pleasure.  Imagine Jesus walking through a crowd and finding Zacchaeus up in a tree.  I think He was quite amused by the whole situation and saw that Zacchaeus needed a change.  Jesus initiated spending time with Zaccheaus in order to change his lifestyle.  Jesus laughed so much with these types of people that the church leaders were annoyed by him.  Yet, He led many to laugh and to love people.

Learn – Most real leaders have an attitude of learning.  They listen to people and yet they see the real meaning in the conversation.  They learn wherever they go and collect jewels which they pass on to others.  They are not know-it-alls, who are interesting at first but wear-off quickly.  Instead, they listen with the heart, and they share practically how to help the other person move forward.  Jesus listened to the woman at the well and offered her life-changing water.  Are we learning from this master teacher?

With these three L’s we’ll become, if not already, a teacher leader.  Imaging a school full of teacher leader who learn from each other, laugh, and love.

How do you lead from the middle?

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” Ken Blanchard

Day 357: Honesty Can Be An Interesting Policy


Don't expect a lot from the coffee. After all, they share a garden cafe with Starbucks!

“Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” George Burns

There are several signs around town that amuse me.  This one is quite honest.  Basically, if you want coffee, they have it, but it’s not their specialty.

Sometimes I like honesty.  I’ve found it interesting to listen to stories told by different people.  When I was about 30, a friend of mine died, and his wife, a great story-teller, began to give me the details.  Each time she told the story, it was different.  I found myself completely frustrated, because she was still working out how to tell the story in the best light, and I wanted the real facts of how my friend died.

Stories, though believed to be true by the teller, are usually told in one of these ways.

1. An Honest Story – I’m not a great story-teller, probably because I tell them as true to the fact as possible.  Facts are important to me, and I suppose I don’t like hearing a story that leaves me wondering about its truth.  Inspirational true stories, like the story of Helen Keller, tend to motivate me.

2. An Embellished Story – The great story-tellers tend to stretch the truth.  For some, it’s not that they mean to stretch the truth, it’s just that if the story keeps to the heart of the truth, the details don’t matter to them. That’s fine for me, as long as I know it’s embellished–and I usually do.  I’m closely related to a great story-teller, and it works for me when I know how to separate my emotions from the story.  When I listen to these kinds of  stories, I try to think about the purpose.  Often the story-teller wants to play on our emotions in order to help us see our need for change.  If these stories help us to make needed changes, I can agree they are needed “truth” in our lives.

3. An Honestly Detailed Story – Some people cannot tell stories because they give so many details that they have forgotten the story part.  In essence, we never hear the meaningful part of the story because we lost interest when the story-teller and the spouse got into an argument about a detail.  Yet there are times, like when someone dies, that the correctly presented details are very important.  In these cases, the more honestly detailed the story, the more it is appreciated.

So what kind of honesty will it be?  I guess it’s a matter of mood or need.  If we want to hear a heart warming story, we’ll choose a different kind of person than if we’ve been diagnosed with a dreaded disease.  Children instinctively know who to go to for fun and who to go to for truth. Many stories seem to have truth, but the kind of truth we need might change based on our situation.

What kind of honest story do you tell?

Strange Things We Do For Peace


...our Prince of Peace...

“Peace begins with a smile.” Mother Teresa 

Yesterday, I found myself “sewing” peace but not in a usual way (hence the word “sew”).  We had a Christmas celebration, and I wanted to wear my stage dress.  It’s simple, modest, and black.  Because it has slits up the side, I wanted to lower the slits so as not to call attention to them at a school function.  Of course this was the day I couldn’t find my needle and thread, and the safely pins weren’t doing the trick.  I’ve seen people use staples in these situations, but I chose double-sided sticky tape for the side seams.  As I worked, I had to admit that I’d never be doing this if it weren’t to keep peace at a very conservative school.

When I was younger, I’d say that I really enjoyed creating war.  I could fuss or rebel against most anything that came along.  In my old age though, it seems I’ve mellowed.  Peace is a good thing in my mind, and many times I find myself working hard for it.

I began to think about all of the crazy things people do to keep peace.

Apologize – Though it’s not often easy to apologize, many times it is needed.  The longer we avoid an issue, the more difficult it will be to repair the damage.  The other day, a couple of my friends were looking grumpy, and I started teasing around with them.  Within a few minutes, I realized that something serious was wrong.  I was so embarrassed about my being so insensitive.  Needless to say, my apology was in order.

Avoiding the situation –  Not many psychologists would agree that we should run away from our problems in order to keep peace, but the bottom line is that there are times when avoiding the situation can keep things more peaceful than confronting it.

Move – A friend of mine said that her mother is moving to a new house.  It’s not just because of the bad neighbor, but it does make the move more exciting.  It’s hard to believe that someone might move to a new house to keep peace, but I’ve heard it happens often.

Quit your job – It’s sad to say that quitting a job often leads to peace. Keeping peace is actually a lot of hard work, and when work is bringing no peace, some people find it easier to quit than to work harder for it.

Perhaps, if there was less controversy, there wouldn’t be such a need to work so hard at keeping peace.  Jesus came into this world in a time of turmoil and is called the Prince of Peace.  Knowing Him can bring us a peace that our world doesn’t understand.

In what crazy or unusual ways have you had to work for peace?

Coffee: Foe or Friend?


A coffee and computer picture from a happier post...

“I judge a restaurant by the bread and by the coffee.” Burt Lancaster

Don’t you love it when you wake up extra early, start getting ahead, and then, it hits?  This morning it hit big time. I was blogging away on a post about the funny things we often do to keep peace.  All of a sudden, I knocked my whole cup of coffee onto my adorable Apple computer.  Can I tell you how much peace I was feeling at that moment?

That’s how my day started.  I drove extra careful to work, miraculously managed to get the contacts in my eyes, and tried to find all of my best words to say to the students on our last day of school before Christmas break.  I returned to find out the state of Apple, i.e., my Apple.

It could be worse.  My computer seems to be working, though it doesn’t know I have an airport.  Thankfully, I’m posting from a nearby house which still has the old-timey land line.

So I ask you, is coffee all it’s cracked up to be?  It wakes me up well in the mornings, soothes my mood, and gives me warm fuzzies.  On the other hand, it provides slightly tarnished teeth, bad breath, and occasional spills that can sabotage.  (Let’s not forget the hot coffee case at McDonald’s.)

Do you have acquaintances like that?  You’d like to trust them, and they do seem really sound on the outside.  When you get closer, however, you may find yourself getting burned?  I am blessed with some wonderful close friends.  I always love the Bible verse which sums up what true friendship should be like, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…” 1 John 4:18a

Coffee–my friend and foe, I shall continue to drink you.  Though tomorrow, I’ll change the location of my mug!

Day 344: Why Tests Can Be More Fun Than Class


Find a quiet place to study; it's testing season!

“One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” Arnold H. Glasow

Today my daughter’s taking the ACT.  I remember it as if it were yesterday.  I was so unprepared that I didn’t even know that I should be concerned about it.  It reminded me of the many kinds of test we take throughout life.

I once watched my friend pant and stress during a very important test.  Then, he did something, which I never would have considered.  He got up and left the room and didn’t return.  What was he thinking?  I could hardly finish taking my own test because I was completely shocked at this response.

Needless to say, it wasn’t the end of his life.  He talked with the professor and managed to pass the class with a B.  Life is often that way.  The things that seem so important to us are not even close to the REAL important things.  It takes a few episodes of real life to finally understand when we are having a REAL test.

It’s testing season, and here are some of the tests I’ve actually enjoyed.

Final Exams – I have always loved finals week.  Schedules change, and taking the test marks its end.  Learning can be really fun, but completing a course is even more so for me.

Standardized Achievement Tests – These tests are meant to test our cumulative knowledge, which means we’re not really meant to cram for them.  It’s kind of fun to take them and to show what we’ve learned.  During school, I always loved these because we didn’t have to go to our regular classes during those weeks.

Competency Tests – I sometimes get to take a test to show that I know how to do a certain thing.  Besides the driving test, these are usually tests I enjoy.  I once had to take a test to show I know how to use sound equipment and how to swim.  The funny thing is that I passed both of them, though I don’t really know how to do either one.  In both of these cases, the best part about the competency test was that I didn’t have to go to the class any more.

Driving Permit Tests – I loved testing for the permit because I could read the book and pass it.   In essence, I could get permission to drive based on “book knowledge” without ever having taken a class to learn to actually drive.

You may think that I don’t like learning, but actually it’s not true.  I love to learn, but sometimes I don’t like class.  Often, a test can be even more fun.

Are there any tests you enjoy?

Day 342: Learning For Fun


Learning for fun is the kind of learning that sticks...

“Learning never exhausts the mind.”  Leonardo da Vinci

Our ballet teacher’s son had an amazing mind.  His parents each spoke a different language, and I watched how he went about collecting information even before he could talk well.  He once took my hand and led me to the other room where he tapped the top of his horse.  I realized that he needed the word “mane,”  but he didn’t know it in English.  “Mane,” I told him.  “The hair on the horse’s neck we call the mane.”  He then repeated it and started using it.  This child did intrigue me with his incredible need to learn.

Yesterday, our teachers had an opportunity to learn something new.  I loved the fact that so many of them came to a non-required meeting and had such enthusiasm while playing with two technology tools quite new to them.  There were questions I loved.  No one was trying to show off, and they were very willing to take risks.  When a person wants to learn, that’s the person I want to be around.

Here are my favorite types of learners:

Sponges – People who like soaking up something new are fun. These people know what’s out there, and they are passionate about it.  They introduce us to the fun stuff and get us excited about trying it too.

Yes People – These people listen to what we have to say, and then say “Yes.”  I love being around them and I especially love working for them.  Basically, I can add a”no” anytime I want.  I don’t need it from other people.  “Yes” people give out wings effectively.  I like wings.

Artists – I’m not sure what it is, since I am not a painter or a drawer, but I would surely say I’m artsy.  For some reason, I just mesh well with these people.  Last year, I made a deep connection with an artsy teacher.  We just had some kind of “idea chemistry” going.  Our ideas just kept bubbling up and feeding off of each other.  We would finally just have to put a lid on them in order to go home at night.

Crime Partners – I’ve loved working with one of my co-workers.  We go to conferences together and learn all we can.  When we’re on to something new, we can share it with each other.  We commit to learning together and have a blast doing it.

Da Vinci was right.  Learning energizes us!  If you’re like me, when you learn something new, you get energized and have to share it with someone.

Now, it’s your turn!  Quick–what are ten new things you’d like to learn?

Why I Hate Sports Day — Part Two


Let me in! I need a costume change!

“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” Satchel Paige

I’m posting once a day in 2011, so why is this the second sports day in the same calendar year?  Maybe you missed my first post about why I hate sports day.  In third grade, I sprained my ankle trying to catch a softball.  I knocked the wind out of myself when I missed the monkey bars, and I was generally the last person chosen for the team.  Really, I was too girly for sports.  Sunshine made me slightly faint, and I even got dizzy blowing my clarinet on the field in the marching band.  I love nature, if only I didn’t have to be outdoors.

Are there any other reasons why I hate sports day?  I can only think of a few hundred.  Nevertheless, here’s our plan of action:

Our Color – This year, we had to choose a color.  I chose black, because I was the last person to send in our team color.  I was sincerely hoping that the floods in Bangkok would knock some sense into the higher-ups that sports day should be cancelled in an effort to focus on the academics we missed.  Unfortunately, the higher-ups like sports more than I do. Who doesn’t?

Our Cheer -We’re 3C! We Rock! We’re Smokin’ Hot!  “Of course you can be the cheerleader!”–I told ten girls and one boy.  The great thing about third grade is that they don’t realize the cheer doesn’t even rhyme.  Seriously, the only good thing about the whole episode is that somebody wins a pizza party at the end.  Last year, we won, and if we don’t win this year, I’m buying the party stuff.  After all, we shouldn’t get out in that hot sun for nothing, right?  Also, with the looks of my sweet little class this year, I’m pretty sure we’re not going to win the “teamwork” award.

Our “Costume” – Since we’re wearing black, we needed a theme to set us apart.  “Smoking Hot” will allow us to spray our hair red and mold it upwards.  We’re going for a freaky look I guess.  I know about costumes, and honestly, the color of these “sports uniforms” lack a lot of imagination.  The bottom line is that jocks aren’t very color coordinated.  Whoever thought of those long knee socks for soccer?  Have you seen the bright green ones?  Behind any well dressed jock is a theatre lover who knows how to put together a decent costume.

So, it’s time for me to get up and get dressed.  In about eight hours, when this post comes out, it will all be over.  I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

What do you love about sports?  Please feel free to try to inspire me!

3 Cheers For Starting Over!


Do we really make efforts to live up to our class motto?

“There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.” Jean-Paul Sartre

Each year it seems I get at least one of those students who is crying out for attention.  Having not found enough of it in a positive direction, they reach out for it in the wrong places.  This year, I have six of these students.  Of course it’s a little much.  Some are carry-overs from other teachers and some are brand new to us.  Finally, in mid-year, they’re learning to work well as a team.  Unfortunately, we had a slip up yesterday, and that’s where I have an opportunity.

Just as we adults make mistakes, and we do make them over and over, children also need opportunities to start over.  Today will be that day.  As normal, I will greet my children at the door with a handshake and a smile.  I have the unique opportunity to let this student know that he can start over today.

Teachers can give the gift of starting over in several ways:

1. Forgive and forget. I sometimes have difficulty forgetting and allowing the student to truly start over.  Yet, when I do wrong, I expect others to forget it.  One thing we should remember is how to delete the data we’ve stacked against a student.  How will they ever change if we don’t give them a daily opportunity?

2. Look for the positive.  This can be difficult.  Some students have worked hard to master making bad choices, and it is often hard to find even one small thing to say something good about. Yet, if we look long enough with the right kind of eyes, we’ll see some magical moment when we can loudly cheer, “Great job!”

3. Set the student up for success.  I must admit that, at times, I’ve found negative thinking taking root about a student.  In our minds, we might even plan out something we will say when the student crosses the line.  Yet, we know that the way to help the student do well is to set them up for success.  We need to look for ways where they can excel.  We know it, and we have to be intentional about it daily.

Let’s remember why we started this occupation.  It wasn’t for the money; it was to change lives.  Let’s not grow weary in well-doing.  Today, we can start over and allow our students to do the same.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Anne Frank

Day 314: Please Don’t Watch That Clock


A clock doesn't need words or numbers to communicate in every language.

“Be pleasant until ten o’clock in the morning and the rest of the day will take care of itself.” Elbert Hubbard

Obviously Elbert Hubbard was not a teacher.  Yet, I agree that being pleasant will move the day more quickly, and we’ll arrive at the end of it much happier.

Today, I never could get a grip on the time.  Both wall clocks are showing the wrong time, and I’ve already shared with you why I don’t wear a watch.  That left me with the computer clock which should match the school bells.

We’ve been out of school for flooding in Bangkok and are in a whirl trying to get everything graded so that we can measure how well the e-learning worked.  The students have been so fantastic, working hard to help get everything reorganized.  Yet, several of them were eyeing the clock at break time, and my sweetest student walked quietly and gave me a smile when it was time for us to be at lunch.

That’s what I love about a wonderful bunch of children.  They want to help me, and they do understand our clock situation.  Though many of them are still working to learn to tell time, they do have an innate sense of lunch and break time.

I’d rather work along without a schedule, but clocks do intrigue me.  Here are a few questions I have:

Who came up with the direction of clockwise?  To me, it would make complete sense to run the clock the opposite direction.  Yet, a whole world follows the clockwise direction.

Isn’t it amazing that people all over the world can look at a clock and know the time whether or not there are any numbers or even anything other than hands on it?  Even in the most remote parts of the world, it would be hard to find a whole group of people who don’t understand a clock.  We need many different languages to learn how to say hello, but to know the time of day, we just need one picture.

Have you noticed how children have a different sense of measuring time? I laughed yesterday because one of my smart students insisted that there is no such thing as 3:oo a.m.  She was sure there was only a 3:00 p.m., which would be a while after lunch.  We never have 3:oo a.m. she argued.  It was a test, and I couldn’t tell her that she should choose the option that she is asleep at 3:00 a.m.   I guess if you never know it’s 3:00 a.m., then it doesn’t exist.  With children, I find myself saying things like, when the big hand is on the 11, it will be time for recess.  I used to tell my children that we will be there in about one Sesame Street.

Do you have a favorite clock or time of day?  Please drop us a line and share your clock experiences.

Day 303: Why Shadows Cast Clear Vision


When a shadow points to a light, turn it on!

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.” Helen Keller

Helen Keller, a woman who could not see with her eyes, left behind much wisdom about vision.  The main reason she could do this was that she walked in God’s light, and He gave her a kind of sight that the world does not understand.

On the other hand, I can see, and yet I continue to struggle with a healthy vision.  Why is it, I wonder?

Today, I caught this shadow on my wall.  It reminded me how much of life I spend looking at shadows instead of just walking in the light.

A shadow represents a vision of who we want to become.  Reality, however, is what we are already.

When shadows haunt us, we need only turn around and face the light.  Sometimes it means a 180 degree turn, and other times, it is a matter of refocus.

When you, like me, find yourself staring at shadows, do remember that there can only be a shadow if there’s a source of light.  To clarify the vision, simply turn around and face the light.

Who or what is your source of light?