life beyond the well…


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The Best Kind of Boring

Last week I had the opportunity to drop in to the 5th Grade Band Class.  My purpose was really just to quickly speak with the teacher, but since he was clearly occupied, I thought I’d sit for a few minutes and just observe the teaching and learning process taking place.

To be clear, I’m ever so slightly biased towards band/music programs.  I was forced to take piano lessons as a child, and the family legacy of playing in the band starting in middle school was incredibly strong.  My father was a percussionist in the marching band when he was high school at Hillside in the 1970s.  Simply put, I always knew that I was going to be in band- at least for a year.

Well, that year ended up being way longer that we all expected.  I spent summers going to band camp at UNC-G and made sure to register for band through middle school and high school.  I started out playing trumpet, but quickly moved to clarinet after getting my braces and struggling to get any type of sound out of my trumpet.

I’m digressing.

So, I’m in this band class, and the ENTIRE class is focused on getting the ALL of the clarinet players to get a sound out.  Some of the scholars are able to do this effortlessly.  Others are competing for front row seats on the struggle bus.

All the while, I’m watching our band teacher repeat the same process- sometimes with students individually, sometimes with the group.  He never raises his voice- he’s steady in his delivery of correction and also consistent in providing praise.  And as time passes, I watch these students get closer to the goal.

It was, quite simply, the best kind of boring.

Doing something over and over and over and over and over again- until the results came.  Accepting correction and praise, making necessary adjustments, and persisting until they reached the goal.  It made me mindful of the fact that while we often dislike the boring and mundane tasks, they can also produce the results that we’re searching for if we’re willing to accept correction and praise, make adjustments, and persist.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:9 NIV

Until next time…

Be encouraged! Peace and Blessings!


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The Best Thing I Heard Yesterday

“Today, I am here to be the best that I can be. To lift up our community, to be the best that we can be. To make each second count. To make new mistakes and learn from them. To support my teammates in our mission to make the world a better place. I am proud of my hard work, but I am humble. I still have a lot of work to do. Above all, I am grateful for those who have made my life better. I am ready to get to work.”

Yesterday, my school welcomed our 5th grade scholars for new student orientation.  I’m always excited to meet these students.  The beginning of the year, especially at for students attending a new school creates such positive feelings and I love the excitement and anticipation of things to come.  The “Back to School” time is one of my favorite times of the year.

We did a small group activity with students to help them understand the meaning of our school pledge. As we worked on the second half of the pledge, my group began to discuss people who have made their life better and I heard a sweet voice say this:

“I’m grateful to God because He has made my life better.”

This simple, reflective testimony made my heart smile.  It’s going to be a great year.

Until next time…

Be encouraged! Peace and Blessings!


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Today.

“Today, I am here to be the best that I can be. To lift up our community, to be the best that we can be. To make each second count. To make new mistakes and learn from them. To support my teammates in our mission to make the world a better place. I am proud of my hard work, but I am humble. I still have a lot of work to do. Above all, I am grateful for those who have made my life better. I am ready to get to work.”

Every morning, our students recite our school pledge, listed above. I’ve heard it so many times that I am also able to recite it. I have it posted in my office above my desk as one of many motivating reminders when I struggle to find or remember the meaning and purpose of what I do and who I serve.

Working with children is hard. Period. My office is nestled in a space where I have the joy of hearing our elementary students and our middle school students.  I never know from day to day what I might hear.  Sometimes it’s the joyful exuberance of second graders.  Other times it’s the patient instruction of our band directors. You just never know.

Earlier this week, I heard an exchange between a teacher and a student.  Apparently the student had engaged in some form of inappropriate behavior, and the teacher was insisting that the student apologize. The more that the teacher insisted on an apology, the more the student refused. Their voices escalated, and then I heard both the teacher and the student storm down the hall.

But it was what I heard later that really caught my attention.

Maybe 20-30 minutes later, I heard the same teacher and student having an exchange.  But in this case, the teacher was apologizing to the student for the way in which he spoke to him. While I couldn’t hear the entire exchange, I did hear the teacher say, “I apologize for speaking to you that way. I should not have done that…”

Teachers make mistakes too, ya’ll.  But what I love is that this teacher owned it, and showed his student the respect that we all deserve.  Even the smallest of us deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

I won’t say that my school always gets it right. But I will say that each day the students AND adults in the building commit to that pledge, and our community is better because of it.

Until next time…

Be encouraged! Peace and blessings!


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The Appointment

It’s not something that’s on my schedule.  If you were to check my iPhone and my Outlook calender, you’d notice that the space between 4:45pm and 5:00pm Monday-Thursday is always empty. It’s the end of the day, and during that time, I find myself doing two things: prepping for the next day and waiting.

Waiting for my appointment.

I don’t know when it became an “appointment”.  It kind of just happened.  She would get dismissed from her class and swing by my office before heading downstairs to get picked up.  Initially, it was just to ask a question about high school or college. But eventually it became more- the visits became more frequent and the questions (and conversations) became about life.  Real life stuff- the kind of stuff that can trip up even the smartest, most talented person if they aren’t equipped to deal with it.  She shares, and asks questions.  I listen- until she’s ready for me to ask questions or provide feedback.

After talking with Jesus, and praying with Preacherman, this is one of the best parts of my day. When working with students, you often wonder if you’re really impacting their life.  You wonder if what you do, what you say, how you teach and instruct is helping to move the needle; not just in the classroom, but outside of it as well.  Most days, I’m given this appointment- this 15 minutes to plant some seeds, water other seeds, and pull up some weeds in this student’s life.  It’s something that I cherish- and I’m grateful to God to be entrusted with this responsibility.  My life is better because of it- and I pray that hers is as well.

Until next time…

Be encouraged!  Peace and Blessings!


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Respond with Grace…

I really struggle with rudeness and lack of manners.  Working with students, I realize that these often provide the opportunity for teachable moments.  But when I encounter these traits in adults, it is a harder pill to swallow.  Mainly because there’s an assumption that as an adult, one would know how to treat other adults.  But I’ve come to realize that isn’t always the case.  And sometimes people DO know better, but something has happened that has broken their filter, and their ability to appropriately manage their behavior and their response is in flux.

My solution: respond with grace.

This is NOT easy.  When I’m mistreated or wronged, my natural tendency is to want to respond in the same manner- even when I know better.  Even when I know that responding in the same way serves only to escalate a situation that doesn’t need to be escalated.  Even when I know that what is really needed in the situation is grace, mercy, and love.

But what does that look like?

That looks like: utilizing manners. Being overly respectful. Not raising my voice. Choosing to listen. Choosing my words carefully. Making sure the other person is (and feels) heard and respected.

I’ve learned that in MANY situations- their frustration isn’t about me.  It’s about a million other things that have brought them to this moment.  And since it’s not about me, I can choose to not take it personal and to respond in a way that is totally about them- by extending kindness.

I am a product of grace and mercy.  Every day, God pours these two over me, in conjunction with his love and as a result, I have been blessed.  In tough and challenging moments, I am given the opportunity to share this grace, mercy, and love to someone else.

Who could use some of your kindness, grace, mercy, and love today?

Be encouraged.  Peace and blessings.


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First Day

It seems like every year the summer goes by faster and faster.  As a child, I enjoyed summers- they gave me time to read endlessly, play outside for hours, travel to see family members, go to camps to meet more new people.  Summer was a source of endless adventure, and I looked forward to it.

But…I also looked forward to going back to school.  I enjoyed the routine, I enjoyed the environment, and perhaps more than anything, I enjoyed learning.

I have spent all of my professional career in education, and I can honestly say that I STILL get the same emotions about back to school.  As much as I “needed” a break and a slower pace, after a little bit of travel and some extended quality time with Preacherman, I was ready to see the kiddos again.

Today, they were back.  And there’s absolutely no feeling like the first day of school.  This morning, I had the privilege to meet so many wonderful members of the Class of 2022.  This morning, I met so many little faces of hope, of possibility, of excitement; and I got overwhelmed with the same feeling I get every year when working with students: gratitude.

I am grateful that God called me to work in education.

I am grateful to have a job in education that I love and that contributes to my life’s purpose.

I am grateful for parents who trust me with their children.

I am grateful for previous students and parents who have shown me how to be better.

I am grateful for my current students who continue to defy statistics and prove what is possible.

I am grateful to work alongside (and to have previously worked with) some of the most caring, gifted, and talented educators.

Working education is tough. The days are long, but the years are short. It’s hard work, gut-wrenchingly tough work, that often times keeps you up far too late, or startles you awake far too early.  But it is SO worth it.  The time and energy spent investing in these lives is never wasted, and it is never in vain.  I can’t always see the results of the seeds that are planted, or being watered; but I can trust and believe God for the increase- in them and in me.

Day one down. 189 or so to go.

Cheers to the new year!


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A Full-Option Provider

I recently read the book “The Other Wes Moore” and it really got me thinking about education, “the system”, family, poverty, and the reality of life for so many of the students I serve each day, and many more across the country.

Here’s part of the description from the back of the book:

“Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence?”

Since reading the book, I’ve wrestled with that last question in the description.  Or with this idea, better stated by Moore:

“The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”

But what does that really mean?  And the truth is that I don’t know.  But I wrestle with it as an educator working to prepare students for high school and college, fully understanding the benefits that come from being in the “right” school (or the “right school for you”).  And I guess, if I think about it in the scope of my professional work, my goal is to, as best I can, ensure that my school is a “full-option provider”, meaning that when students leave here, they have the full-range of options at their disposal so that they can create the life that they want.

So that they can have a life of “want-tos” instead of “have-tos”.  So that they can choose instead of having it chosen for them.

And that’s all well and good, but there’s also the understanding that a wrong choice NOW (even as middle school students), can essentially wipe out their options, or reduce them to being so few that they may as well not have any. Today’s poor choices are a down-payment on tomorrow’s problems.

So, while I wrestle with that, I also wonder how do you teach students to make good choices?  Not only make good choices, but make good choices for good reasons? And if you can teach that, then that must be part of the teaching that is included in our school.

I wish I had the answers.  I so desperately wish that I understood what can sometimes seem to be a formulaic equation to success.  Oh, how I wish that I could guarantee that by doing these things and not doing those things, would put students on a path to success.  But it’s much deeper than that.  It’s cultural and institutional.  It’s family life.  It’s access (or lack of access) to resources.  It’s the fact that I’m trying to teach something intangible that an entire segment of the population never has to consider.  Because the truth of the matter is that for some students, a poor choice equates to an elimination of options, but for others, a poor choice equates to an litany of excuses followed by quick explanations and forgiveness.

So, you find yourself teaching contingencies.  You’re teaching “if/then” scenarios, to make sure that your students are always prepared.  You find that being a “full-option provider” also means teaching that you will STILL have to work twice as hard to get half as far. But not only that, you must do it every day.  There are no days off.  There are no shortcuts.  There are no excuses, because somewhere, someone is waiting to excuse your success as the exception instead of the norm.

As I wrestle with all of this, I find myself in a state of gratitude.  Gratitude for those who took to the time to teach me all of those things, to make sure that I had every option available at my disposal.  But also gratitude for the opportunity to mold and shape the next generation.  It’s something that I enjoy, and a responsibility that I don’t take lightly. May God continue to give me the strength and grace to serve these students, who are His children, in a way that glorifies Him.

Until next time…


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The Name Conundrum

What’s in a name?

The “name issue” is one that is frequently discussed among people of color (particularly African Americans), where we sometimes find ourselves confused and baffled by the names that our counterparts have chosen for their children to bear for their life (or until they are old enough to get a legal name change).

I remember being in college, and having two unique experiences in regards to “ethnic names”- one where a friend eloquently argued that “ethnic” names should be celebrated for their creativity as opposed to looked down upon; and another experience after research indicated that having an African American sounding name resulted in less call backs for job interviews. As an educator who has done the majority of work in schools that are predominantly African American, I have looked at many names on bulletin boards and class rolls and have been absolutely baffled by the names that I see before me- which in some cases, look like a random combination of consonant and vowels thrown together.

The struggle is real.

And I say that because it REALLY is a struggle.  The shift toward “ethnic names” is born out of the Black Power movement, and the desire for Blacks to distinguish themselves as separate from their white counterparts.  As our culture has evolved into one that is more “self-centered” where people desire to assert their uniqueness and individuality, I believe that reflection exists in naming trends also- but not just in African Americans, but in whites as well.  I believe this helps to explain names that are “common” (or more mainstream) but are spelled differently (i.e.: Lindsi, Lindzi, Lindsey, Lindsay or Madison, Maddison, Madisyn, Madyson or Erin, Aryne, Eryn, Eryne, Erinn).

Yet and still, there is still a difference that exists.  I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed in this article in the Daily Beast, and found this to really get at the heart of the issue:

“If there is a question worth asking about race and naming, it’s not “why do black people use these names?” it’s “why do we only focus on black people in these conversations?” Indeed, there’s a whole universe of (hacky) jokes premised on the assumed absurdity of so-called “ghetto” names. Derision for these names—and often, the people who have them—is culturally acceptable.

But black children aren’t the only ones with unusual names. It’s not hard to find white kids with names like Braelyn and Declyn. And while it’s tempting to chalk this up to poverty—in the Reddit thread, there was wide agreement that this was a phenomenon of poor blacks and poor whites—the wealthy are no strangers to unique names. The popular Netflix show Orange is the New Black, written by a Jenji Kohan (a white woman), was based on the experiences of a Piper Kerman (also a white woman). And in last year’s presidential election, nearly 61 million people voted for a Willard Mitt Romney, at the same time that the current head of the Republican National Committee was (and is) a Reince Priebus.” – The Daily Beast

I think that really hits the nail on the head.  The article goes on to equate the name issue to that of a racial caste system where blacks are at the bottom, thus explaining the extreme response to the name choices of people of color.

I wish that I lived in a society where I knew for certain that I could name my children with as much eccentricity as my imagination would allow without having to think about the effects they may experience later in life.  Unfortunately that’s not the case.  And the truth is that the issue is NOT with the name, it’s with racism.  I can’t “name my child” out of racism.  While a more “mainstream” name, might open a door, the racism on the other side could slam it shut.

What I can do, and what I’ve planned to do is this- name them whatever Preacherman and I agree upon.  And then educate them.  Teach them about the systems that exist that have been designed to keep them down as young people of color.  Teach them how to navigate a world where they will still have to work twice as hard to get half as far.  Help them to understand that because of your color, there will be people who will choose to view you as less than, but that is not the place from which you receive your worth or your identity. Help them to be thinkers and doers, who won’t accept the status quo, but will fight to change it.

All that said, I can be honest and admit that as an educator, I encounter these “ethnic names” and part of my heart breaks- because I know what the expectations of them are, and I worry about doors that may disappear or be totally locked shut because of something they had no control over.  And then I get back to work preparing them to exceed expectations on every level, doing the best that I can with my “generic” name to open as many doors as possible for them, so that they have one less hurdle in their way.

Until next time…

Be encouraged!  Peace and Blessings…


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Those We Don’t Know

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” –Hebrews 13:2 (NIV)

I recently started a new job, and have been working to meet students and their families, in addition to getting a good start on the massive amount of work that I have to do.  Preacherman and I work at the same school, so while students know me as “Mrs. Almond”, they also know me as “Mr. Almond’s wife”.

The other day, I was in the front office talking with one of our office assistants about a meeting that I was scheduled to have with a parent.  While there, I see one of Preacherman’s students who was signing in with her mother.  I smiled and greeted both of them, and the student smiled and waved back.  Her mother asked her who I was, to which the student replied, “Oh, that’s Mr. Almond’s wife, she works here too.”  The mother then replied, “Oh, I don’t know her”, and didn’t return my greeting or even continue to look in my direction.

I found this to be interesting and upsetting, mainly because I don’t believe that it is a requirement for me to know someone in order to return their politeness, or be polite in general.  But I also thought it was upsetting because of the example that it set for her daughter.  While I agree that we should teach our children to be wary of strangers, I also believe that we can teach them that we are kind and polite people.

However, this situation also made me reflect on how I treat people I don’t know.  This parent had no idea that I am the person who will be working with her and her daughter for the next few years to ensure that she gets into a good high school and a good college.  To the mother, I was just someone she didn’t know.  But how often have I just dismissed someone I didn’t know, who was actually appointed to help me get to the next level?  How often have I been less than kind, polite, or welcoming to someone who is new just because “I don’t know them”?

The truth is that it’s more often than I care to admit.  But, another harsh truth is that if we are going to be serious about doing the work of the Lord, we have to be mindful of how we treat others- whether we know them or not.  We are called to “love our neighbor we love ourselves“, and sometimes our neighbors are those we don’t know.  It doesn’t make them any less deserving to be shown the love of God and his kindness as others have shown to us.

Being in a new city, there are many people that I don’t know, and after this encounter, I feel especially challenged to demonstrate the love of God and his kindness in my interactions with those I don’t know- new coworkers, the cashier at Walmart, the family in the aisle with me at the grocery store.  If not me, then who?  If not now, then when?  More than ever people need to feel and see the love of God from and in others- and I want it to start with me.

Be encouraged!  Peace and blessings!

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” – Matthew 25: 35-40 (NIV)

 


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Two Years.

JB

Javaris Brinkley: 4.24.1994-3.7.2011

The days are long, but the years are short.

It’s still difficult to believe that you left us two years ago. It’s still hard to believe that you’re actually not here anymore. You know, now that your classmates are in college, it’s easier for me to believe that you’re on campus somewhere too; studying, having fun, learning, fulfilling your life’s potential and purpose.

But that’s not true. And there’s many a day where I gaze at the picture of you and your classmates in my office, which I keep as a reminder of who I love and who I serve and why I choose to do so in this way, and just wish that it were different.

But it’s not. And it’s still tough to deal with.

We (those of us who love you here- and there are far too many to name) have good days and bad days. There’s the happiness we feel as we think of how much joy you brought to our lives, but there’s also the sad reminder that all we have are memories.  We are able to fondly look at pictures of you, living life to the fullest; but we’re saddened because we didn’t know that our time together would be so short.

We think of you often.  I know I do.  I think you’d be proud of your classmates- they’re all doing so well.  The girl that you loved so dearly, she’s blossomed into an even more amazing young woman who is leading many with the same love and exuberance that made you fall for her in the first place.  She took it really hard- we all did.  But she dug deep, and there’s a light there that wasn’t there before.  Thank you for being her light.  The school where you spent so many hours of your most precious life- it too has blossomed.  There are now little ones on campus, not much younger than your baby sister; and they learn about you as they have PE class in the gymnasium named in your memory.  You were such a wonderful member of our Pride.  And an even more wonderful part of our lives.

A lot has changed in two years.  But one thing hasn’t- we still miss you.

Author’s Note: I also wrote a “One Year Later” reflection on missing Javaris. You can read that here