Give Grace, Especially to Yourself!

We spent the past week in the United States reflecting on what we are grateful for.  Now we move into the season of holiday rush.  Black Friday and Cyber Monday turn to Giving Tuesday, and we are aimed straight on to winter break!

It is easy to get caught up in the frenzy of consumerism, gift exchanges, holiday preparations, getting those last few weeks of lesson plans completed, and managing the kids so we can actually get some teaching done in the midst of everything.

All the excitement, mixed feelings about holidays, our personal lives, and showing up to the classroom every day can create a lot of stress.  Tempers can flare, power struggles ensue, and we may end up feeling defeated.

What if something else was possible?  What if we focused on giving grace?  Grace is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “favor; good will; kindness; disposition to oblige another.” 

Give grace to your students.  Remember they are doing the best they can with the skills they currently have.  Where can you find a teachable moment to help them build their skills?

Give grace to your colleagues.  Give grace to the parents of your students.  Remember that most issues or conflicts that arise have nothing to do with you.  Where can you let something slide and know they really didn’t mean anything by it?

Give grace to your family.  Even though we manage to stay reasonably self-regulated all day at work, we sometimes let our control go when we get home.  Our loved ones may bear the brunt of our own unintentional challenging behaviors.  Where can you find a strength to compliment your family members on?

Most of all, give grace to yourself.  You, too, are doing the best you can in each moment.  If life happens and you do or say something you regret, apologize.  Make it right.  And then look for where you can be extra kind to yourself, rather than focus on the negative.

Be a bright light this holiday season.  Remember that your students are watching and learning from you, no matter what grade they are in.  We can all take a little extra time to connect with each person in our lives, remind them of their goodness, and say kind words.  Give a little extra grace, especially to those who you might not want to.

Those little actions, seemingly insignificant to you, may mean the world to someone else who is struggling right now.  You make a difference!


Getting What You Want

The only way to really get what you want is to decide what it actually is that you want.  When you think about your goals, you must have something specific to aim for.  One way to gain more clarity about what you want is to create an “I Want” list.  Think about all the things you want to do–the experiences you wish to have.  Then brainstorm the items you want to have–usually the material things in life.  And then, give some thought to what you want to be–characteristics you’d like to develop, roles you’d like to have.  If you can come up with 100 I Wants on your list, you’ve got a lot more clarity.

Then you can decide what is most important.  Usually, several of the items on that list will jump out to you as most important or a top priority.  Sometimes they solve a particular pressing need you currently face, or they most directly align with your life purpose and mission.  You can begin to prioritize which I Wants to work toward.

Some pitfalls to avoid in your quest for deciding what you want:

1. Don’t live someone else’s dreams.  These should be things you truly want, and can get excited about, not what someone else wants for you.

2. Don’t settle for less than what you really want.  You might get stuck thinking about how you’re going to get something and then scale back your dream.  Make your choice and stand powerfully in it.

3. Don’t waste a lot of time worrying about how.  The point of deciding what you want is to allow your subconscious and the Universe to know what it is you want help with.  You don’t have to know how you’re going to be, do or have something in order to put it on your list.

4. Don’t let someone else talk you out of your wants.  Lots of people mean well and will try to tell you all the reasons why what you want isn’t going to happen.  They really believe they are helping you, so you don’t face discouragement or defeat.  Say, “thanks for caring enough to share that with me.” And then move on, continuing toward your dreams.

5. Don’t keep your wants to yourself.  On the other hand, the more people who know about your wants, the more likely there is someone out there who can help you get there.  So share your wants, with some common sense and a thick skin, of course.

Good vs. Evil in the Classroom

I’ve always been partial to the Disney villains in animated movies.  I’ve also always been partial to the “naughty” children in my classrooms.  Coincidence?

Animated Disney villains have been traditionally shown as pretty flat, one-sided characters that essentially share the same trait of being evil.  My favorite Disney villain, Lady Tremaine (Cinderella’s wicked stepmother), always attracted me because she was closer to a normal person but just had evil tendencies and was plain ol’ mean.

Over the past six years, I’ve been obsessed with Disney’s Once Upon a Time, a clever look at and remix of favorite fairy tales.  The series has examined the complexities of heroes and villains, who are traditionally thought of as good and evil, respectively.  However, for one of the first times, Disney digs deeper into the background of each character, as well as their ongoing choices, showing that they are really just humans with layers of both good and evil.  Their outward behavior may be labeled as evil but come from good intentions, and both heroes and villains alike engage in “evil” behaviors.

My favorite Once Upon a Time character, Regina/Evil Queen, grows the most throughout the series as we see her battle with her power-seeking nasty behaviors as she works to act more like a hero and allow the good within in her to shine.  Disney did a similar look at another famous villain in the live-action film, Maleficent.  We see how the villain became the way she was, and how the behaviors of others impacted her choices.  We also see how her behaviors were borne from the choices she made with good intentions.  Both Regina and Maleficent typically act from the best of intentions, with the resources they have in the moment.  And, for Regina, with the support of her friends she makes better choices and learns from her mistakes.

In the classroom, we often deal with children who have challenging behaviors.  Sometimes we slip into the labeling of “good” and “bad” children, rather than focusing on the behaviors we would like to see change.  I think I’ve been partial to children with challenging behaviors because they represent an opportunity to make a difference.

Just like Regina and Maleficent, these children are often doing the best they can with the knowledge and skills they have at the time.  That child who acts out to get more power and a sense of control is just telling us she feels out of control and maybe needs some extra attention.  The child who runs into or hits other children is letting us know he is struggling with entering into groups or that his body is growing faster than he can integrate.

Our children are people first, with all the layers of experiences, skills, feelings, reactions, knowledge, etc.  They may engage in behaviors that are undesirable, and it is our job to teach them how to use new skills to get what they need.  We have a wonderful opportunity to help children grow and learn as they manage their behavior and learn self-regulation, just as Regina had to practice controlling her learned impulses to use dark magic to get what she wanted and instead operate as part of a family.  When we get caught up in labeling children as one thing or another, we miss out on the complexities of them as individual, precious human beings.

How can you help children practice new skills rather than relying on old negative behaviors that have worked for them in the past?  How do you honor children as complex humans?

Love is All We Need

When you get right down to it, love is the essence of everything good, nourishing and uplifting in life.  So maybe the Beatles and Mary J. Blige are right–all we need is love.  I’m not talking just about romantic love with a partner, but the close relationships you enjoy with other family members and friends.  Love is more an experience, and a state of being rather than an action.  We often stop ourselves from giving and receiving love out of fear.  The fear of what another person will think, of being rejected, of getting hurt, and on and on.

When we let these fears rule our lives, we are pushing away love, holding it at bay.  We can choose to act lovingly towards others regardless of our fear.  We can even love another in the face of unloving behavior from them.  It all comes down to choice.  You have the power to determine how much love you want to receive by how much love you share with the world.  It’s time to move away from fear and insecurity and toward love.  Here are some tips to bring more love into your life:

1. Start by loving yourself.  If you can’t love you, how can you let anyone else love you?  Take some time today to appreciate who you are–the miracle of you.  Acknowledge the body parts you love and ask forgiveness from the parts you habitually criticize.  Love those parts instead.  Pay attention to your unique qualities, skills and knowledge that make you amazing.

2. Practice being loving, no matter what the circumstances.  Talk gently to people–the way you would like to be addressed.  Use kind words, stay positive and do small acts of service for others.  This demonstrates your appreciation of each person you interact with and starts a ripple effect of love.

3. Forgive people who aren’t acting loving toward you and move on.  You don’t have to condone their actions, or agree with them.  But don’t hold on to negative thoughts about them or about yourself.  It is  a waste of energy.  Bless them for doing the best they could with the limited skills, resources and knowledge they had in the moment.

4. Play with a dog.  Dogs are nature’s models of love–we can learn a lot from them.  Spend some time with a furry friend and relish in the joy and love they bring with them.

5. Be present.  Notice the world around you.  Look at the people you pass, the trees and bushes as you walk, the colors of the sky, the lighting and shadows in your office.  Just be in the moment and appreciate that you live here, now.

Bring some more love into your life, and spread the love to others.

Raise Your Vibration

What messages are you sending out to the universe?  Are you putting clear intentions out followed up by taking action, or are you living in fear and scarcity, cancelling out any positive intentions you set?  We are all made up of pure energy at the subatomic level, and this energy is vibrating at a particular speed.  This vibration varies based on the input–our thoughts and emotions–that are dominant in our bodies.

The lowest vibration emotions are fear, despair and guilt.  Even anger has a higher vibration than fear, because you are more likely to be moved into positive action when you are angry.  Disappointment, irritation and boredom and moving closer to center, with satisfaction, enthusiasm and excitement on the other side of center.  Passion, joy and gratitude keep moving up the ladder, with love being at the highest vibration.

The other thing to note is that you attract and are attracted to things and people who are vibrating at a similar level to you.  You can’t attract the things you want if you are not a vibrational match for them.  You can’t hang out with high-vibration people for long if you are not also vibrating at that high level.

So, when you raise your vibration by focusing on love and gratitude, you begin to shift the things and people that are attracted to you.  You can also raise your vibration by putting good fuel into your body in the form of high-vibration food as close to its natural, organic state as possible, and drinking pure water.

The point is to focus on being in alignment with what you want to attract into your life by raising your own vibration to match the energetic vibration of your desires.  So give up fear, despair, and anger, and move toward joy, gratitude and love to raise your vibration.

Living History

While visiting various cities and historical monuments on an epic road trip in 2012, I was struck by the contrast to my school history classes.  Seeing sites like the Kearney Archway, the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the Statue of Liberty and the Boston State Houses all helps bring a sense of reality to the past.  When before, it was a meaningless and confusing jumble of names, dates and places, now I have a frame of reference for events I’ve learned about.

This makes me wonder how we can bring history to life for today’s students.  How do we connect these facts of the past to their lives?  For example, I was struck (and a bit embarrassed by my consumer nature) when looking at an old covered wagon that took entire families’ belongings on an arduous journey into unknown territory.  I had just completed a move of my own, following the Oregon Trail backwards, with possesions for just myself that would easily pack four covered wagons!

What are the connection points with the diverse and unique students learning history today?  We know that we must learn from the past in order to prevent repeating the same patterns over and over.  I think this is one of the core needs in reforming education–connecting academic content to the everyday lives of people, now and for their future.  Knowledge then becomes applicable and relevant, and even better, engaging!


Practice Saying No

It is important to most of us that we are liked by others–we want to belong and feel good in our relationships.  This has a frequent side effect of saying yes to people and activities that are not aligned with your goals, purpose or values.  Sometimes we get to the point where we’ve said yes to so many things, just to make other people happy, that there is no time left to do what makes us happy.

Enter the art of saying “no.”  You don’t have to say no forever, just no for now.  You can be nice about how you say no.  Use phrases like, “That sounds like a great opportunity, I’m just going to have to pass right now.” or “I really appreciate your asking me, I’m just not available to help with this right now.”  Avoid making excuses.  Just say no, and stop talking.  You can even refer the asker to another person you know who might be more available or interested.

As you practice saying no, you will find your time opening up and shifting to your own priorities and values.  When you give up pleasing others at the expense of yourself, you’ll find yourself more focused, energized and optimistic.  And, you leave yourself room to say yes to the really amazing opportunities that come along!


One of the most toxic things we can do to ourselves is to hold grudges or hold onto negative thoughts about or towards another person.  We usually feel that we are somehow hurting that person who hurt us by spending a lot of time and attention in negative ways toward that person.  Or sometimes, we just keep reliving the trauma or incident and being angry over and over again.  Who does this really hurt?  That person?  No, they are usually off doing their own thing completely unaware of the stress and negativity you are under due to their actions.

The only person you are hurting is yourself.  Wouldn’t you rather be free of that old issue, let it go, and move on with your life?  Anger and hate are like a poison to our bodies, both physically and psychologically.  When you are willing to forgive the other person for what they did, and truly let it go, ongoing health problems can magically disappear and you will often begin to feel better emotionally.

So, are you willing to let it go?  Are you willing to forgive?  Forgiveness is not condoning the actions of the person, it is merely saying “I know you were doing the best you could with the limited skills, knowledge and abilities you had, and I forgive you.”  It doesn’t make it okay, but at least you don’t have to keep wasting your time, energy and thoughts on that person.

So go ahead and forgive them.  Then forgive yourself, too, for whatever you need to be forgiven for.  You are an amazing being and you deserve to have happiness and joy in your life.

Following the Signs

In life, we get lots of feedback to let us know when we are on the right track or if we are off course.  These signs can come from the external world, such as comments from people in your life and obstacles coming up as you try to make things happen.  They can also come from inside yourself, as a gut reaction, an intuitive response or just a sense of knowing what to do or not to do.

We’ve all have those signs show up.  The ones that warn us we are going off course are yellow alerts–just little warning lights that come up over and over and get stronger and stronger if we ignore them.  Sometimes it feels like we’re being hit upside the head with a 2X4 when we get some feedback!  If it gets to this point, you can likely look back at your life and see other more gentle alerts that were there all along but you didn’t pay attention to.

We also get lots of small alerts or green lights when we are on the right track.  Sometimes these are even harder to see, because we write them off as luck, or happenstance, or serendipity, not as clear messages from the external world or our own intuition to point us in the right direction.

So how can you use the alerts and signs you are given more effectively?  Pay attention.  Notice when something comes up related to a question you’ve had or a problem you are trying to solve.  Thank the source of feedback, out loud or just in your mind.  Don’t write it off as chance–if you act as if these bits of feedback are intentional signs, you start to see more and more of them.  And that gets you to using your internal and external guidance systems in ways that catapult you toward your dreams!

In the Mood

Have you ever waited to do something until you felt you were in the mood?  Or declined to do something because you weren’t in the mood?  What determines our mood?  We usually think it is our circumstances, something outside of our control.  But in truth, what decides our mood is us.  We have the opportunity to choose our response at any time to any situation we face, changing the mood we experience.

You may have heard stories or experienced times when two people were in the exact same event and responded completely differently, resulting in a different mood.  For example, if you are stuck in rush-hour traffic, you can choose to enjoy your favorite music, audio book or program while driving and have your car stocked with snacks and something to drink, knowing you are going to be spending a long time in the car, often not moving.  Or you can get angry, reacting to the situation, blaming the other drivers, honking your horn and working yourself into a state of stress and increased blood pressure.  The same situation, two different responses.  Do you imagine your mood would be different if you chose the first response rather than the second?

It really is up to you to choose your mood.  People can be happy for no reason, and as Marci Shimoff says, there’s no reason not to be happy most of the time!  So next time you’re not in the mood, decide to change it and see what happens!