The Magic Of Education

This has been one of those years where I have crossed many of the items off my bucket list. Being part of a team that hosted a TEDx event, delivering a talk of my own, becoming a published author, and the accomplishment I am most proud of, sending my oldest off to college a happy healthy, kind soul. A son I helped to successfully raise despite dealing with the trauma of losing his first father when he was barely five years old. Being part of his life and helping to guide him into a confident and good-natured young man successfully transitioning into adulthood is one of my greatest joys.

This year I am better than any of the previous 46 others at making decisions based on what is better for “all” than just “me”, I am better at finding joy in helping others, better at managing my anger, my immaturity, my desire for vengeance.

I know this to be true; I believe I am improving as a person, yet why is it that I still feel like an imposter, like I have so much more improvement to make? Why is it that I am always looking for the “next thing?’

Why does my mind still spin and spin and have trouble finding the “Stillness” that Ryan Holiday proclaims is the key to contentment and to living a good life?

Why do I still worry about what others think?

Worrying that the first paragraph will sound like a dreaded humble brag.

That I will fail my family, my friends, those who believe in me.
Am I alone in these insecurities?

Do others feel like they are spinning and spinning and running out of time as the years go quicker and quicker?

Holiday suspects that it is not “us” that makes it difficult to have clarity, to see what is truly important; it is not “us” that is not contained in the now. Rather, it is the seven-year-old version of us that is starved for acceptance, for love, for peace, for safety. He points to the damaged child inside all of us that drives us to destructive decisions or even more tragically missing out on life, on what is right in front of us by burying our heads in our phones, work, or other addictions.

Ryan Holiday’s theory can seem pessimistic at first glance, but it is not, because he offers a solution, one that like many of life’s truths is simple, so basic yet so very difficult to grab hold of.  The solution offered was taken from the Late Gary Shandling, a man who despite a troubling childhood and obvious flaws was always working to be a better, kinder, more selfless person:

  • Give more
  • Give what you didn’t get
  • Love more
  • Drop the old story

Is there a greater calling in this world than to ease the pain of others, to brighten a day, to provide a moment of joy?

I want to be that type of person. I want those working in my District, in education to be that type of person for our kids.

I want to:

  • Be kind
  • Be a good listener
  • Smile more
  • Be generous with compliments
  • Inspire others
  • Forgive easily
  • Demonstrate empathy

Simple steps, ones that can not be debated will lead to positive outcomes, yet too often I fail. Even with the best of intentions the best me always seems to be just out of grasp.

I strive to be the type of person my grandparents would be proud of, the type of person who makes those around him better, makes a better day for those I come in contact with. I want to be virtuous, to make the right decisions to follow Maya Angelou’s advice, and to “do right”. I find it so frustrating that it has proven to be much easier to say than it is to do.

That seven-year-old inside me still wants recognition, wants to be liked, wants to be safe, wants acceptance, wants to be revered, to be loved.  What from my childhood damaged me so much that I can’t be who I truly want to be?

Do I have stories? All of us do, all of our students do, all of our co-workers do.

That is why those who work in education have such an important magical job.

Schools, teachers, administrators, bus drivers, secretaries, and custodians can be the love, kindness, the safety that kids need to drop that old damaging story.

It is not just the students who come from poverty or wear their anger on their sleeves that need our love and kindness.  It can also be the ones who seem spoiled, who seem entitled, who seem like they have it all. The ones that some flawed educators like me have thought “need to be brought down a peg.”

The reality is that sometimes those kids need us just as much, if not more, than students whose heartbreaking stories are easier to recognize.

All kids need someone to believe in them, so they can become the best version of themselves that they can possibly be.

They need someone to show them love and kindness so they can become people who make decisions based on what is right not on what makes the most money, gives instant gratification, is the easiest.

All kids need us, especially the ones who are:

  • Angry
  • Violent
  • Neglected
  • Spoiled
  • Arrogant
  • Smug
  • Poor
  • Classified
  • Disrespectful
  • Damaged
  • Sick
  • Hurt
  • Whinny
  • Annoying

That is what makes teaching so hard; the kids that need us the most are often the most difficult to show love and patience.

I know from experience; I know because I was one of those annoying entitled kids who wore my father’s ability to intimidate as a badge of honor, who capitalized on my mother’s position as the secretary for the superintendent to my advantage, I am sure to the chagrin of my teachers.

I can imagine teachers’ reactions when they saw my name on their class list.  “Shit, I got Felicello this year, he is such a pain in the ass. He never shuts up, can’t sit still, and what a spoiled brat!” “Yeah, I got him too, now we have to deal with that nut Frankie, and Barbara thinks he does no wrong.”

What many teachers didn’t know was that I was just an insecure seven-year-old kid dealing with family issues, personal issues, confidence issues.

I would like to cast blame but can’t because I know something now that I didn’t then.  My teachers were just like me trying to navigate life and repair the damage caused by the obstacles life threw at them.

Mary Lou Kownacki was on to something when she said “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story. ”

We have heard it in business, we have heard it in schools, we know it to be true in families “It is all about relationships.” In my experience, no cliche is more true.  The best leaders, the best teachers, the best principals, the best superintendents take the time to develop relationships, to master the art of connection.

It seems so simple:

Take the time to get to know the people you work with, the students you are shaping.

  • Do not take poor behavior personally
  • Be more about people than product
  • Be more about kids than curriculum
  • Give kids what they need even if others want their pound of flesh

It is so simple in theory, but as we know what seems obvious to the logical mind is not always as easy to put into practice because we are messy, emotional humans.

I ask you to consider joining me in the struggle. The struggle to be a better leader, a better educator, a better person.

I challenge myself and other educators to take the time to get to know the story of all the students we work with, even the annoying ones, even the angry ones, even the spoiled ones, and, yes, even the ones who push us away because the ones that are the hardest to reach are the ones that need us the most.

It is that magical moment when we realize we made a difference for a child, (a child others viewed as a lost cause) that we can truly experience the happiness that makes our emotionally draining work more than worthwhile. In fact, it not only changes the student’s lives it changes ours as well.

I am challenging us to go beyond the students we serve, to take it a step further, get to know the story of the other brave souls who dedicate their lives to the field of education.  Even the ones who may have been written off long ago as negative, nasty, egomaniacs, selfish, or uncaring.

They may have just lost their way, they may just need kindness, support, someone to believe in them. It is easy to forget we were all a scared, damaged, unsure seven-year-old kid in need of love.

That little person still lives in each and every one of us, rearing its insecure little head from time to time.

When we show our colleagues the love we want them to show our kids our students benefit, and the adults do as well. We have the opportunity to use our educational magic powers to change a life for the better.

No one got into education be a terrible teacher or administrator yet we all have days when we feel we are.  Let’s work to not only make a difference for our students but for each other as well.

If we do our best each day to “just do right”, if we forgive ourselves and others when we lose our way, if we work to support each other, empathize, show kindness, I  believe a tipping point will be reached in education and something magical will begin to happen.