Challenge of change

About 25 years ago I lost my father to cancer.  While he’d been sick for a while, losing a parent is something that nobody can truly understand unless they’ve gone through a similar loss.  Before he passed away, my wife and I took him down to Atlantic City, one of his favorite places.  We went down in April, in the hopes that it would be quiet and calm.  It was!  But along with the quiet, were temps in the mid-’40s and winds in the 20-30 mile an hour range.  As we were walking on the boardwalk, I could see he was having trouble moving.  I asked him, “dad, do you want to go back?”  He said, “no, I’m so grateful for both of you taking me here!”  To this day, I always remember that day.  It was a moment that I believe changed me for the better.  

Making a significant change in our lives is one of the most daunting tasks we can take on.  Whether it’s related to our health and wellness, always a huge one.  Or, something much more intrinsic, like our overall outlook on life.  In my opening paragraph with my father, the change was how I viewed being grateful and keeping an open mind.  Before he passed away, I wouldn’t say that I wasn’t grateful or didn’t care.  I’d like to think I’ve always loved teaching and have been a positive person.  But again, this time was different.  

So how do we make a change in our lives?  That’s been written about hundreds of times, with many self-help books and Ted Talks.  Both are really valuable, and I strongly suggest taking advantage of them if you get the chance.  While I won’t delve too deep into the topic, below are a few ways that may be helpful.  As always, I welcome your feedback and hope you find the words useful.

For me, the initial reason for the change was realizing that I’d actually taken for granted my father and all of the positive things he did in life, and all that he stood for.  Your reason will be different, but we generally do need a reason for the change to happen.  Think again about all those people who get on a fitness and diet kick.  Those reasons are usually obvious to see and usually fail for more reasons than I can list in this writing.  But changing our attitudes is much more complex.  We’ve often built traits and quirks over many years, and as the old saying goes,  “it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks!”  But it isn’t impossible! 

I’ve longed believed that the 1st step to change and the most important is knowing “why” it’s important to us.  Again, I’ll relate back to wellness.  One of my friends recently had a heart attack.  His “why” seems pretty simple, “he wants to see his children grow up!”  When our “why” isn’t a life or death choice, but rather how we live our lives, it’s paramount to reflect on that “why” and take stock into how implementing it will help us, and maybe those around us.  As another example, if your change revolves around listening more intently, the “why”  could be that we view the opinions of others, their happiness, and desire to be heard as a key to our own growth.  Once you know your “why” it makes taking on the next step much more attainable. 

When I help people with fitness and wellness, there are many consistent messages that I’m hoping they understand. Step number two in the change process is realizing that it won’t be smooth sailing all the time.  No matter what you’re trying to change, habits are hard to break even if you think they will be easy.  Whether it’s listening, as I listed above, or a multitude of other changes.  We must be patient and persistent with our desire for change to be lasting and permanent.

As a person who has exercised for 40 years, it’s part of who I am.  With that said, I’ve gone weeks without exercising seriously, maybe even a few months.  But I’ve always gotten back to what I love.  My final step for this post is to never stop moving forward.  You don’t necessarily have to have a full tank of gas all the time, but you will have to fill it up on occasion.  Even the most steadfast of individuals have to recharge their engine before the car (their body or mind) breaks down.  

Here is a final quote to ponder – “change doesn’t have to be something to fear, but rather a chance to embrace the positive change that it has on our lives and those around us!”

Start with a conversation!

My family was getting ready to go on our yearly vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, one of our most favorite places. If you’ve never been there, I’d highly recommend it! Prior to the trip it was necessary to mow the lawn as to avoid knee high grass upon our return. As I was mowing the lawn, I saw one of my neighbor’s who lives down the block. A.J., one of my students was standing outside on the sidewalk with a gentleman I’d never seen before. A.J. and I would always chat about fitness, and I love his passion for trying to improve his wellness. Taking a break from the lawn, I decided to strike up a conversation. It’s one I won’t long forget!

My family was getting ready to go on our yearly vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, one of our most favorite places. If you’ve never been there, I’d highly recommend it!  Before the trip, it was necessary to mow the lawn to avoid waist-high grass upon our return. As I was mowing the lawn, I saw one of my neighbor’s who lives down the block. A.J., one of my students was standing outside on the sidewalk with a gentleman I’d never seen before. A.J. and I would always chat about fitness, and I love his passion for trying to improve his wellness. Taking a break from the lawn, I decided to strike up a conversation. It’s one I won’t long forget!

A.J. and I was chatting about fitness and how he was proud of the gains he’s witnessed since Covid-19. I could tell he made progress and mentioned how happy I was of his improvement. He smiled and thanked me for the compliment. At that point, he introduced me to his Uncle, whose name was Everett. Over the next hour or so, Everett and I chatted about life, making the world a better place, and just the importance of a conversation. A summary of our chat is below. I hope you like it!

Everett told me that he had three older kids; two sons, and a daughter. You know a person is proud of their children when they pull out their wallet and show you pictures. He spoke so highly of his children and the progress they’ve made with their jobs and the relationships they’ve built. Even when he described some of the problems that they’d had in the past, it always finished with a smile and genuine spice of happiness. As he was chatting away, I realized that talking has never been a weakness of mine, but Everett put me to shame in the best possible way.

After we discussed our jobs and other pleasantries, the conversation came around to the challenges many of us face when dealing with people from other races and nationalities. Everett spoke at length about his time in the Air Force and Navy. He described how being one of the few African American men in his unit brought challenges that many of us will never deal with. In his words, “I recall clearly one of the white soldiers telling me, I don’t like black people!” Everett told him, “we don’t need to like each other, but we are in the same company, so let’s just find a way to get along.” In another instance, he described how some of his cohorts were these rather large gentlemen who stated clearly that they didn’t like him. Luckily for him and those large gentlemen, Everett was an outstanding artist who loved to draw. That love of
Art served him well as his brief explanation helped me to understand.  He mentioned that he used to paint on the duffle bags that all soldiers were required to carry.  A few of the men who weren’t initially fond of him, became enamored with his creativity.  He ended up working on many of their bags and even went deep sea fishing. (Not exactly his cup of tea as he told them before jumping on-board!) 

Following our chat about his time in the military, we jumped to our current crisis.  As I’m writing this, the clarity of our words and how we spoke to each other hasn’t been matched in any conversation about race I’ve had in past years.  What struck me as so meaningful isn’t that we agreed on everything, but rather our willingness to listen, question and ultimately see another perspective that maybe we hadn’t looked at before. We both talked about the one thing that helped us to see differents viewpoints and more importantly the value in a respectful and positive conversation.   It was our deep desire to listen! Instead of interrupting each other and making sure that only our voices were heard, we took the time to look at each other, smile, nod and make it clear that we cared.  

No matter what our views might be, having a positive, honest conversation with others is paramount for any meaningful change to happen.  While the progress we are making with many issues in society is real, for those changes to continue we all must be willing to give others a voice.  I’m thankful for the time that Everett and I had together.  Even though it was short, I now consider him a friend.

three months of reflection

Craig Shapiro – @Shapiro_WTHS –

Many of us in the field of education look at the end of the year as a way to reflect upon the many outstanding things that happened in our school and classes. It’s rewarding and fulfilling to know we’ve made a difference in the lives of students and their families. This year feels completely different; at last for me! During the last three months COVID-19 has thrown us through a tenuous loop of stress, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness. I’ll be the first to admit that initially it was new, challenging, and even I dare say, “fun” doing lessons online. But that was short lived. I quickly realized how much I missed being with colleagues and most importantly students. I’m guessing that I’m far from alone in these feelings. Think about this; most of us went from teaching in a classroom one day, to not seeing that class again for the rest of the year! The emotional turmoil that places on students and their families is not something we should take lightly. I believe, even all that’s gone on recently that we can always find at least a few positives. All of us, whether in the education field or not, need to find a little bit of sunshine. We need that for ourselves, our friends, families and our students. Before we know it, the Fall school year will be starting again. We have a choice to solely focus on everything thing that’s gone wrong, or to make the choice of finding those few bright spots.

I recall about ten or so years ago, there was a huge push about introducing technology into education. For many of us it’s transformed our field in outstanding ways. One thing always struck me though. People would say, “we don’t need teachers anymore! We can have online learning and use computer programs instead.” How wrong they were! Rarely do we want to use absolutes in education. It rarely works, and it usually ends up causing more harm than good. In this instance though, I feel comfortable writing that a large majority of people who thought technology was the sole answer for educating kids, now realize the true importance of having a teacher in a classroom. From building collaborative lessons, to greeting students at the door, playing music in class, having conversations about life, and most importantly building those incredibly positive relationships, it seems clear that the IN-PERSON teacher/student connection should never be doubted in the future. Certainly technology is amazing in many ways. But because of Covid-19, we now realize that anyone who spends their time in school, is much better off being there, than being totally dependent on remote learning. To me that’s a huge POSITIVE!

Okay, I’ll admit it! I’m biased towards the field of Health and Wellness. It’s been a huge part of my life since I was 13 years old, and still today shapes who I am and what I believe with respect to being healthy in mind and body. Covid has forced us to address our own wellness. The very nature of being confined to one space isn’t healthy for any person. Students, more specifically thrive on moving and activity. In the past there have been many states and districts that have cut wellness programs, along with other speciality areas. It stands to reason that hopefully they now see the power and necessity of getting our students active, eating healthy, building connections and using reflection as a tool for personal growth. The numbers of teens who mentioned to me that they have really learned to appreciate exercise, meditation, reading, and “finding out who they are” was astonishing! Even better, many of the responses were not done with a prompt. Students would just write for the sake of expressing their feelings. More than just students, I’ve spoken with parents who’ve gotten on the wellness train. Maybe it’s because their children are required to move. Whatever the reason, it’s caused a huge uptick in wanting to be healthy. Being home has created huge gaps of “nothing time” as I call it. It means sitting around and doing “nothing!” Luckily, people have gotten outside when possible, instead of being bogged down. When school does go back to normal (whatever normal might be) at least we know that wellness is on the radar for students and their families.

Before our graduating seniors were done for the year, I was fortunate enough to speak virtually to a large portion of them. It seemed important to talk about connecting with friends and family. As a parent of two older teens, there have always been a million reasons (excuses) why we couldn’t spend quality time together. While some are reasonable (my daughter being away at school) others are simply about not making things a priority when they should be. As an example, I know that the conversations with my son and daughter during the day are something like, “what did you do today?” The outstanding response of “school, it was boring” would usually follow. Now things are different. Last week, the four of us actually went on a walk together! Sure, during the walk there were moments where I wanted to pull every last piece of hair out of my head. Buy hey, at least we were together! After those energetic walks, it was usually a choice of about 100 board games that had collected inches of dust from the last use about 15 years ago. Of course my family learned that I can’t draw a stick figure, and having me as a teammate meant conceding defeat before the game started. But again, at least the time was fun and engaging. You see; the moments we spend together as family and friends can easily be taken for granted. Now we can reflect on the true value of those amazing connections that shape our lives.

While all of us are unique in many ways, Covid-19 has forced us to be grateful for those things that we rarely think about. Like friends, family, kindness and just being together! Even with so much anxiety and pain in our country, seeing how resilent people are is nothing to take for granted. In the normal haze of society, so much hope and positivity gets lost for a million reasons. Actually, it’s just easy to keep going without truly seeing all that life has to offer. For some perspective, about 25 years ago I lost both of my parents at a relatively young age. Up until that point, I rarely took time to understand the power of being grateful and also showing others gratitude for all they do. Now many of us are looking for those moments where being grateful and showing gratitude matter. Sure, there are huge inequities in society. I’m not so naive to think otherwise. But before the last four months, it seemed like we would just go on about our daily lives without really thinking about how we can make a difference for our friends, family and others we might not even know. It feels and looks like our world is finally starting to see the power in respect, empathy, kindness and loving each other for who they are, not for who they are not.

Not everyone will see things as I do. That’s okay! We don’t all need to see the world in the same lens. But if we can at least look for those small positives, it can and will help us to be a little happier, healthier and even make positive change for society. Let’s DREAM BIG together!