Monday, February 15, 2016

Learning to be Confident

A close friend recently asked me to teach her how to be confident.

"Uhmm," I replied, thinking to myself, "How do you teach that to someone?"

Not wanting to disappoint her, but not knowing how to respond, I made some vague comments about having a sweetheart who is confident, and having the ability to "fake it til I make it."

Days later I realized there is one thing I could teach this friend, one thing I do fairly routinely, which I'm sure helps me appear confident.

I accept compliments. 

That's it. I accept compliments. When someone says to me, "Thank you for the great work you did on that project," I respond with "You're welcome. I'm glad to be part of the team." Or I might say, "That's really nice of you to say. Thank you,"

What I try not to say is,"It was nothing," "No problem," or worse, ignore the sentiment entirely.

In accepting compliments, I believe I'm internalizing kind words about an accomplishment, an action I took, or a value, quality or skill I bring into the world. What I'm also doing is reinforcing the positive feeling the complimenter may have of me by validating that their statement had the intended effect of making me feel better about myself. And, because I'm not a narcissist, I'm also making it more likely that "pay it forward" and compliment someone else.

Do you accept compliments easily? If you don't, I invite you to try accepting compliments for a week - maybe a month - and see if you notice any changes. I have confidence you will.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"If I've done nothing else today, at least I can say I did _________________."

What do your daily routines say about you?

I don't think of myself as a creature of habit. I get easily bored with routine. I don't get up at the same time every day, I have at least three routes I take to the office, regular exercise classes have rarely worked for me, because I am loathe to put the same thing at the same time in my book, lest I decide I want to do something else instead. That's not to say I don't have things I do every day - start each morning with a cup of espresso, waste time on Facebook, cross at least one household chore off my never-ending "to do" list. 

While my routines create structure and fill my life, they don't offer me spiritual meaning. 

I've been slowly reading the book The Gnome Project. This is a self-help(ish) book about one woman's effort to create a daily practice by hand-felting one gnome every day. Early in this crafty memoir, the author writes, "I imagined that one would feel 'held' by that rhythm (of a daily practice), finding contentment and safety in knowing what was to come, perhaps an armor of protection (in an otherwise chaotic world)." 

The author, Jessica Peill-Meininghaus, goes on to recount that "some people say that having one thing you do with consciousness and purpose, every single day, will bring rewards." 

This notion of finding safety, peace in a daily practice is appealing to me. I've long wanted to have meditation routine. But I tend to use shame and "shoulds" to cajole myself into being still. Which doesn't work. Ditto for exercise, journalling, gardening, etc. 

At the start of the new year, I found myself reflecting on The Gnome Project and thinking about reframing my desire to meditate. What would change, I wondered, if instead of telling myself, "I should meditate today," I said, "If I get nothing else done today, at least I can say I meditated,"  


"If I've done nothing else today, at least I can say I said "I love you" to my husband,"


"If I've done nothing else today, at least I can say I ate healthfully,"


"If I've done nothing else today, at least I can say I made time to journal." 

These statements say so much more to me about a values-filled life than "If I've done nothing else today, at least I can say I made time for a cup of coffee, to crush some candy, to clean the cat box." 

When you fill in the blank, does it inspire you? If it doesn't what might you do to make changes that offer more meaning in your life? 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Snow Days

When I left for work this morning, it was pouring outside. Protecting myself with a rain coat, rain boots, and a golf umbrella, I thought of all the Chicken Littles who had cried about the "terrible storm headed our way." I thought all of the superintendents who closed school would be ridiculed for making the wrong decision. "Boy will they have egg on their faces," I mused smugly.

As I drove the eight miles to my office, I realized that I was the one who had egg on my face. During that 20 minute drive, the temperature dropped nearly 10 degrees, and the rain turned to sleet, which had turned to snow by the time I reached the office park where I spend 40 hours a week. And by the time I left the office, eight hours later? There were at least six inches of snow on the ground and the roads were a slushy, icy mess.

I used to work for a public school system just outside of Boston. One of my responsibilities was to coordinate the public announcements regarding the closure of school due to weather events.

As a result of these responsibilities, I was typically in the loop as the decision to close school was being made.

Here is how I remember it working with the superintendent for whom I worked:

Consideration 1: Safety Outside
If students and staff aren't safe, learning can't happen. The superintendent would begin listening to NOAA forecasts as soon as he got wind of  potentially disruptive weather system. He would then cross-check the forecast to affirm the trajectory and severity of the storm was verified in multiple sources. If it looked like it was definitely going to be bad, and would interfere with the safe arrival or departure from school, then either closure or an delayed opening/early dismissal was considered.

He didn't rely on meteorologists alone. Was the governor was going to call a travel ban? Was the local public transportation system, used by some students to get to school, be closed or delayed? These were also considerations, which meant staying in touch with state education, safety and transportation officials throughout the deliberations.

Consideration 2: Safety Inside 
We also considered the impact on on staff who who lived far outside of our community. Would the storm prevent them from coming to work, resulting in high absenteeism? This could create unsafe conditions for students once they safely arrived at school. If the answer was yes, then either closure or a delayed opening/early dismissal was considered.

Consideration 3: Follow the Leader
To be the only district that closes for a weather event that is a non-event opens one up to ridicule. So, the superintendent would consult trusted colleagues, particularly in the bigger or more respected districts nearby.

Consideration 4: Municipal Obligations
Municipal officials, particularly those who worked for the department of public works (DPW), also had to be considered. DPW needed adequate time to clear parking lots, sidewalks and entryways. While education is important, DPW officials typically had a first obligation to clear the streets and facilities for emergency responders, including the local hospital. If the volume of snow predicted was more than the DPW could clear before the start of school, then closure was considered. This involved countless phone calls with the mayor and superintendent of public works.

In the densely populated town where I worked, local residents were allowed to park in school lots during a declared snow emergency. This was the city strategy for keeping the roads cleared for plows. So, if the mayor was planning to declare a snow emergency, school had to be closed because there would be nowhere for staff members to park when they arrived at work. Which meant we had to stay in even closer touch with the mayor, who was undergoing his own deliberations.

Consideration 5: Convenience for Families
The decision to close school or to call for a delayed opening/early dismissal created hardships for many families, particularly those with working parents who had to scramble for childcare or negotiate alternative schedules or unpaid days off with their employers. This was a consideration not only in the decision to close school, but also in the timing of the decision. The earlier the decision to close could be made and announced, the less disruption for families.

Consideration 6: Meeting Mandatory Education Time
State laws and regulations required that children be in school for 180 days a year. The official school calendar included 185 days, to give wiggle room for up to five snow days. If there were more than five snow days in a given year, the elected school board was required to find time in the schedule to meet the mandatory 180 days of schooling. This might mean extending the school days, eroding previously scheduled holidays or vacation time, extending the school day, or even calling for weekend schooling. No school board wants to do this, because families AND the teachers' unions get up in arms about having their planned personal time taken back by the school district. Extra care was given if the decision to cancel school was going to eat into the legislated mandatory education time.

And once the decision was made, the communication plan had to be executed quickly. Where I worked, I had to alert the media so our closure or delay could be added to the lists that were published, read aloud, and/or scrolled at the bottom of a TV screen, These notifications were managed through phone automation, in which every district had a numeric code and pin number to gain access to the system. Once inside, you had to trust that the number you were choosing ("Press one for a complete closure tomorrow, press two for a delayed opening...") would be coded correctly so families who relied on the news for these announcements would get the right information.

We would then pull together the multi-lingual robo-dial announcement team, typically via conference call, to record the message that would eventually be pushed out to every family in the district. We experimented with pre-recording messages so we could just hit send when we needed to make the announcement, and found it was more effective to record each message separately so we could include the date of the closure. (Families who got the message via voice mail needed to have the exact date of the school closure recorded, so there was no confusion.)

Finally, I needed to update the District website and social properties with the announcement, and alert the City's 411 operators.

And this all had to be done rapidly, as there was no single source of information upon which families relied. The Twitter people would publicly complain if the announcement reached the television viewers before them, while the phone people would call the City's 411 system to ask why they had not yet received their robo-dial call when their neighbors had.


The decision to close school was rarely simple, although there were times when it was easy. There was always at least one constituency who criticized the move, one constituency that didn't think the message reached them quickly enough or in the right format. And, as a non-union school administrator, I nearly always had to go to work on those days when a snow emergency was called. Unless it was one in which a statewide travel ban was instituted.

When I was a child, snow days were so much fun. As a school administrator? Nothing but stress.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Why I'm Voting for Marco Rubio in the Massachusetts Primary

Super Tuesday is on Monday, March 1, 2016. This is when residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, along with those in eight other states, cast their votes in the Presidential primary election.

As a liberal pragmatist, I choose to be registered as an independent voter. This means I get my choice of primary ballot on election day. In 2016, I'll pick the Republican ballot and I'll cast my vote for Marco Rubio.


Because I'm afraid. I'm afraid of a United States of America in which Tea Party candidate Ted Cruz, or, God forbid, Donald Trump, is President.

It is impossible to escape the onslaught of political ads on television, the non-stop audio coverage on public and talk radio, and the news coverage painting the walls of Facebook, Twitter, and Flipboard.

As I listen to this coverage, the liberal in me hears the siren call of Bernie Sanders' supporters and their call for a 'revolution.' But we liberals had our revolution when it President Obama was elected. And now the pragmatist in me sees the writing on the wall. I predict that on November 8th the Republicans will have their turn at revolution.

So I'm voting for Marco Rubio in the primary with the intention of doing my part to try to ensure their revolution is not too extreme. (Rest assured, when the nation turns out to vote in the general election, I will choose whichever Democratic candidate is chosen by the people.)

Who will you pick in your state primary?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Why I'm Wearing Red to Work on Friday, February 5, 2016

My maternal grandfather was dead at 47 of a heart attack.
My paternal grandmother was dead at 54 of complications related to heart disease.
And my mother? She had triple bypass surgery in her early 60's, which I am certain prevented her own early death.
My family history puts me at higher risk for heart disease. This, combined with my educational and professional background in public health and medical care, helps keep me very aware of the signs and symptoms of heart disease in women. I keep an eye on my blood pressure, talk with my primary care doctor at least once a year about the state of my heart health, and strive to eat a healthy diet balanced by regular exercise.
Unfortunately, many people are not as aware - either of their own risk profile,  or the indicators of coronary heart disease and its relatives.
So, in recognition of the American Heart Association's National Wear Red Day, I will be wearing red all day on Friday, February 5, 2016.
But I'm not stopping there. The #pinkification of America has taught me that wearing a certain color isn't enough to make change. So I'm also helping to organize #GoRed activities at my workplace, like free blood pressure screenings, and I will be sharing content about heart disease and how it has touched me via my @GLKinder account on Twitter.
I invite you to wear red on Friday, February 5th in honor of all the men and women who have fought - or are currently fighting - heart disease. Please also consider taking a moment to explain to the people around you why you are wearing red on this day. Wearing red is great. Explaining WHY will help raise just a little more awareness about the need for better heart health care, which is even better.