I'm grateful for the opportunity to host a Master Class on the topic of Strengths Based Leadership on Wednesday, April 19th from 2:30-4:30 pm during the BOOST Conference. In nearly 20 years of learning from and working for Gallup, I can't think of a more exciting and impactful topic to share with conference attendees this spring.
Gallup research proves that people succeed when they focus on what they do best. Each person has natural patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that can be productively applied. Knowing your unique strengths and putting them to good use not only feels good – it has been proven to meaningfully improve performance in a variety of ways, as recently summarized at Strengths-Based Employee Development: The Business Results.
More than 15 million people have taken the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment since it was introduced several years ago. Learning about your strengths results is certainly a great experience, but it's simply the first step in a development process that continues well into the future. Strengths-based development continues beyond the identification phase as individuals take steps to integrate their strengths awareness into the way they view themselves. From there, real behavior change results in performance improvement across a variety of life and work domains.
This Master Class is for you if you've never learned about your own strengths and would like to take the first step. It's also for you if you've already learned your strengths and want to learn from others along the journey. We will discuss best practices from educators within the room and across the country, leading to tangible takeaways that you can apply with yourself, your colleagues, and your students!
Hope to see you on April 19th from 2:30-4:30! Click here to register!
Author and Masterclass Facilitator: Tim Hodges
The students in our programs come from diverse backgrounds and face unique challenges in navigating the world they are growing up in. It is a privilege to be their guide in this journey called life. Many of the students we have in our programs are having experiences that may be similar to the staff working in our programs. The true challenge is being able to create an environment that supports the staff and students to feel emotionally and physically safe and not just survive but thrive in spite of whatever obstacles they may face beyond the walls of the space on a campus. This challenge needs to be met by reflecting and expanding your awareness as an educator and then demonstrated through your leadership. The key is to ask yourself – What is your identity? How does that allow you to connect with your staff and your students? Do you have an implicit bias that influences your attitudes or interactions with those that differ from you? Do you lead from a place of compassion?
In looking at my own journey, I have discovered that my own identity is "under construction". My grandfather came to this country from the Azores Islands off the coast of Portugal. He worked hard in seeking the American Dream. He did not teach us the language and we were exposed to very few elements of Portuguese culture. Although there was clearly a disconnect, he always said how proud he was to be Portuguese. While my mother is Portuguese, my father is a mix. I was raised without a clear connection to my Portuguese heritage through customs and traditions and only knew that the rest of what made me who I am was a mystery. There was never a discussion about what made up my cultural heritage. I will admit that this is something I have only recently begun to delve into and reflect upon. In 2014, I was asked to be part of a group of strong talented leaders who are women of color. As the women shared their stories I realized that I have not had many of the experiences they have faced. I am fair skinned so most people cannot typically identify what my ethnic background is. I have been asked if I am Native American or Asian, and then there is the comment, "well you are white – right?" The fact that I can pass as white has sometimes afforded me privileges in my life that I have come to realize through listening to the stories of my sisters. They have experienced blatant racism and discrimination based on the color of their skin. I truly have not. Through participating in the Sisters Inspiring Change, I have deepened my journey of self-discovery. This journey of self-discovery has empowered me to encourage others to dig deep to their roots since our identity shapes who we are and allows us to connect with others. It has helped me better understand how different life experiences can be from one person to the next and understand the importance of our roles in shaping the lives of the young people we work with.
I am sharing this very personal journey to urge you to examine your level awareness and compassion. In my experience, I have witnessed that awareness when teamed with compassion can be empowering. As educators and ambassadors of youth development we have the privilege and the power to continue to support the young people in our programs and support the staff to realize and share their own cultural identity. We can do this by serving as an example to those around us and through being mindful and intentional about the environments we create for students and staff. Now, more than ever, it is important that our programs serve as a safe space for young people where they are valued, accepted and celebrated for who they are. This can only be achieved if the staff in our programs have the same opportunity. Finally it is important to remember that each one of us has the power to make a positive impact. It is imperative that we engage in reflection to identify how we as individuals can create a ripple effect that supports not just one but all.
For breakfast I had a banana & protein shake.
With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, life can become overwhelming. As youth workers we want the young people we work with to embrace the positive messages of the holiday season, be it gratitude and thankfulness to knowing that they are loved and cherished. While we go the extra mile at work to ensure our youth enjoy their holiday season, we may also be stressing about our personal schedules and responsibilities around the holidays. How will I find time to purchase all those presents, not to mention wrap them, attend the overabundance of holiday parties, prepare a turkey, bake the cookies, and still enjoy what the holidays are meant to be?
Enter, the Power of Positive Thought!
The power of remaining positive, whatever the situation, can never be underestimated. The true test of an individual to remain positive is when challenges become difficult. Remaining positive keeps one's mind in the right state of balance and often opens resolutions to the problems at hand.
Embracing the Power of Positive Thought is a mindset that can be found at any moment, and turned into a habit. Here are some ways to embrace the Power of Positive Thought:
Shift Your Thoughts
Be conscious of your thoughts. The moment you realize you are diving into frustration, distress, or low self-esteem – shift your thoughts, think about something completely unrelated. This breaks the pattern of negativity. We have the ability to control our thoughts and think for ourselves.
Find the Lesson
No matter how unfortunate a situation may appear, recognize the beautiful lessons waiting to be discovered. You may have made a mistake, but now you can accept it and continue, knowing that you will make a different decision in the future. Understand that every problem is a learning opportunity in disguise.
Attitude of Gratitude
You cannot be both angry and grateful at the same time! Start counting the blessings and miracles in your life, start looking for them and you shall find more. You think that you don't have anything to be grateful for? You are alive and breathing! Realize how fortunate you are and all of the abundance in your life.
Positive Affirmations & Visualization
Practice seeing yourself in a positive and confident light. Try it whenever you have a few minutes. Self-affirmations (list of positive statements about yourself and your self-image) are another simple and powerful tool to train your subconscious to see yourself in a positive light. This is important, as many of us can be extremely hard on ourselves!
Inventory of Memories
Keep an inventory of memories that can immediately make you smile. Recall occasions where you felt happy, appreciative and cheerful...when you were at peace with the world. Whenever you are in a negative frame of mind, reminisce on those happy moments to bring a balanced perspective to your situation. You realize that what appears negative today will change tomorrow. Nothing stays the same.
Whether you are positive or negative, the situation does not change. So, we might as well be positive, right? As with any habit, the habit of embracing the power of positive thought in all situations takes practice and a commitment to take control. Start small, paying attention to your emotions, and you have to start by wanting to change. Keep going at it, and you will gradually become a positive energy source for the others around you!
Source: Think Simple Now
For breakfast, I had creme brulee coffee with almond vanilla oatmeal!
Learning doesn’t always have to be teacher led. There are other models that create authentic experiences for students and are closer to what they will experience once they are finished with school. Last spring, a group of high school juniors came to me, wanting to explore the intersection of art and technology using both paper and sewn circuitry. I had never worked with either before but was excited to learn these tools myself, so I eagerly agreed to the project. Tinkering alongside your students might sound scary, but it's a great way to model the learning process. For the first few weeks we met and played with materials, using online tutorials and YouTube videos as resources. My students constantly looked to me for answers and I enjoyed their continued surprise when I responded by saying that I had no idea how to do something. I would ask them what they needed to know and how they thought they could find answers. My students quickly learned to ask thoughtful questions, and which online sites were good resources.
When we tried things and they didn’t work they way we hoped my students would get frustrated. Again, they would turn to me to solve the problem. Although I genuinely didn’t know how, it was uncomfortable for me not to provide answers. Often this would happen at the end of our time together for the week. I found they needed time to process failure. But soon, they would be back in my classroom sharing their strategies for figuring out where we had gone wrong and eager to dive back in. I could see the shift as my students discovered that learning is a process that is fully engaging and that they could be in charge of their own journey. They became the leaders of our inquiry, and I a true co-participant. Their self-confidence grew and they wanted to take what they had learned and share it with others.
We teamed up with a first grade class at one of the elementary schools in our district. The first grade teacher didn’t understand circuitry, but when we talked about the possibilities, she was excited. Her students had collaborated on stories, which they wrote and illustrated on iPads. Each group then identified their main character and the problem they had to solve in the story. Their art teacher helped them make their main characters into stuffed felt animals in his class. And then my students arrived. Every Wednesday, for six weeks, my students would leave high school and travel to the elementary school across town. Each teamed up with a group and taught them about electricity and circuits. Then they helped them plan and draw their circuits. Each stuffed animal would have one object that when attached by snaps would complete the sewn circuit and light the tiny LED. The younger students were excited and couldn't wait for Wednesday afternoons when the “big kids” came to their classroom.
My juniors loved working with the younger students but were nervous about being considered the experts in the room. We talked about how it feels to be the teacher and how teachers aren't really the holders of all knowledge anymore. If students can use YouTube and other online tutorials to learn, then what is the role of the teacher? The model of learning together, teacher and students participating in the journey side by side, is important today as more and more content is available online. By modeling the learning journey, being vulnerable and admitting that something is hard, but persevering through the struggle, teachers can teach the most valuable lesson there is: that all learning is a process. It's not linear. It can be bumpy, frustrating and discouraging, but ultimately worth it. Modeling the tools to get through the hard moments is valuable but also creates a different kind of bond with your students. They know you're in it together.
Our young students finished their light-up stuffed animals and presented them at our final celebration by proudly reading their stories. My students became masters of their own learning journeys and felt the power of sharing that process with others, both young and old.
For breakfast, I had oatmeal with raisins and coconut milk!
Follow Lisa Yokana on Twitter @lyokana59.
The impact of yoga and mindfulness for children has become a topic of research and discussion. The findings in many studies are that yoga supports children with focus, concentration, self-regulation and coping with stress. Children and adolescents are faced with more stressors than ever before such as the pressures of standardized tests, social relationships and peer pressures, less time for physical activity, more time in front of technology devices (which can agitate the nervous system) and an overwhelming amount of sensory stimulus in the world around them. Yoga is being incorporated into school and after school programming for children in order to create a calmer and peaceful environment for learning. While there is no question that the practice of mindfulness for children has great benefits, what about the educators who work with children in the school and after school settings? Educators face the pressures of standardized testing, compliance with Common Core standards, managing children with challenging behaviors without the proper training and support, limited staffing, high expectations from parents and/or administration and overwhelming amounts of paperwork. Often times educators have a tremendous amount of dedication and commitment to the children they work with but become burnt out from high levels of stress, little recognition for their tireless efforts and a feeling of being overwhelmed with the many challenges and frustrations they face as educators. What happens to educators when they become overstressed and how does that impact the children they work with? The impacts of stress not only affect our physiological state but they also impact our mood, behavior and overall functioning in life.
When we are in a constant state of stress we can develop health issues to include digestive disorders, autoimmune conditions, heart conditions or a general sense of a lack of well-being. We can become agitated, angry frustrated, depressed or anxious and may be triggered more easily. Often times high levels of stress can lead to more impulsive or destructive behaviors such as over-eating, drinking, isolating from others, developing unhealthy relationships, inconsistent sleep patterns and a lack of self-care.
In order to teach healthy minded children, we must have healthy minded teachers. As educators we create the space for our students. If we are in a stressed or agitated state, this is the energy we bring to our students and this is the overall tone we set for our classroom or program environment. In reality, we have very little control over the "system" in which we work in and more often than not we may not be able to change the people or circumstance we are in but we can change the way in which we react to the stressors in our lives.
Here are 5 Stress Management Techniques for Educators to bring more peace and calm to themselves and the students they work with.
1. Begin and end the day with the mantra – "I am grateful for"
We can often get caught up in all of the injustices of our life or the things that are going wrong and causing frustration. When we remind ourselves of what we have to be grateful for it shifts our attention from what is lacking to what we have to be thankful for. Even the smallest statement of gratitude can shift the energy from negative to positive. Practice this mantra as you are driving to work and before bed each day. There is always something to be grateful for! Celebrating even the smallest accomplishments of your students or the children you work with can be a reminder to you of just how important the work you do is.
2. Check in with your BODY and focus your attention on your BREATHING
When we become stressed we can tend to move into more of a chest breathing which can escalate the sympathetic response or fight/flight/freeze response. Although we do not have control over circumstances in life, we can control our breath. When you start to feel a sense of agitation or anxiety, check in with the sensations in your body, then take 3 deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the nose (or out through the mouth if that is more accessible). When you breathe in feel a sense of expansion in the diaphragm and the areas of your body where you feel tension, when you exhale release the tension with your breath.
3. "Check In" and Do a simple Yoga Pose
Doing yoga does not mean that you have to take an hour to go to a yoga class. One or two poses a day can keep us in tune to the tensions in our bodies. When we become stressed our bodies are often the first to respond to the stress by tensing or holding stress in certain areas of the body. Often times due to a combination of stress and poor physical posture from working at a computer or sitting at a desk, many educators experience back pain, neck and shoulder pain and/or tension headaches. Here is a simple yoga pose that can help alleviate tension in the body, release stress and soothe the nervous system.
Seated forward bend: Sit on the edge of your chair in front of a table or desk. Make sure feet have contact with the floor and knees are at a 90-degree angle (if not place a book underneath your feet). Lengthen your spine as you lean forward and place your head on your desk/table (a folded hand towel under the forehead is suggested). Make sure the back of your neck is long. Bring awareness to the space between your shoulder blades and breathe your breath deeply into the backside of your body between your shoulder blades (breathe in through nose and out through nose or out through mouth if that is more accessible). With the inhalation, think of expansion and with the exhalation release tension and worry with the breath. Stay here for at least 5 breaths.
4. Take your breaks!
Each system is different in terms of how many breaks you are allotted in a day and for how long but the reality is that often educators choose to work through their breaks, including their lunch breaks. The reasoning often being, "I have too much work to do". The truth is, no one is going to tell you to take your breaks so it is in your hands to take that time to reset. Leave your classroom or program environment and have your lunch outside or in another space away from your "work space". These moments of "resetting" are crucial to the restoration of the body and the nervous system. Taking a break away from your workspace for lunch or snacks also supports a more mindful experience with eating which supports healthier digestion.
5. Ground Yourself
This may sound funny but it can be quite effective in reducing stress. Make a commitment to set aside 5 minutes a day to take your shoes off and stand in the grass or on the earth barefoot. There is a reason why we call the earth the ground and why we use the word "grounded" to describe a feeling. Anxiety and stress is what we call Vata energy. Vata energy has an airy quality, which is in constant motion. By taking our shoes off and connecting to the earth it creates a greater sense of grounding, provides proprioceptive feedback to the nervous system and literally "roots" us and offers a more stable and grounded sense of being.
Try to make these activities and integral part of your day and practice them daily. It takes time to establish a routine but continual practice will eventually make your routine a habit. Notice how you are feeling before starting your routine and check in with yourself a week later to see if there is a difference in your mood and energy. Then notice if this daily routine has affected your interactions with the kids you work with or others in your work environment. Notice if this calmer, less stressed version of you has a more calming effect on the children around you. Better yet – teach your students or the children you work with some calming activities and practice them together! You'll be amazed what a difference it makes!
For breakfast I ate an Acai bowl with fresh strawberries, blueberries, gluten-free granola and shredded coconut for breakfast!
Photo credit: Tim Hardy
Sometimes you fail at work.
Sometimes, it's a loud and epic fail—like losing your company millions of dollars or insulting your biggest client or spearheading a product that flops. Those definitely suck, and sometimes cost you your job or your reputation.
But sometimes... and I think more often, the failure is much quieter. Sometimes, you fail to understand the importance of an issue with a co-worker. Sometimes, you fail to communicate a need properly. Sometimes, you fail to listen.
I fail all the time at work. I've occasionally had the big loud flopper fails... but most often, I fail in the quiet ones. Lately it seems I've had a bunch of those, and just recently one where my failure hit me square in my face as I watched the disappointment in the face of another. These are the failures you feel in your gut.
The thing I've noticed about those failures is they usually start with me becoming Very Defensive and Sure of My Rightness. As I get older, I am starting to realize that defensiveness is usually a clue that I'm actually quite wrong. Defensiveness is just my body's initial fight against the inevitable need to confess that I messed up or that I don't know or that I need help. And if I can identify that quickly and let my defensiveness go, then I can get to the apologizing and fixing much faster. Usually this plays out in the middle of the night... the 3:00 am restlessness where I have an inner fight in my mind, debating the half of my brain that Firmly Declares that I've Done Nothing Wrong with the half of my brain that urges me to Give It Up Already, You Know You Screwed Up.
I know that the hardest part about failing, for me, is the feeling that goes with it—more than the actual failure itself, it's the feeling of guilt... the feeling of I'm A Horrible Person and Not Deserving of Love!...which is ironic, because when I feel that I've been failed by someone else, I usually love them much more if they can just confess to screwing up—confess to being human and flawed. Why is it that we appreciate the humanity in others but try so hard to hide it in ourselves?
As "role models" for young people, it is especially imperative that we model not just good behavior, but that we also model how to handle imperfection—our own imperfection. We have to show our shortcomings, and show how to navigate through them. We have to show them that being human can feel yucky sometimes when we don't show up with our best selves, but that can also be the beauty of life, because in those moments we have the opportunity to deeply connect with someone else.
I have to go now... I owe a co-worker (or three) an apology.
How can you own up to a quiet failure today?
For breakfast I thought about having a healthy quinoa/egg/spinach dish, but I failed and instead had coffee and half a stale donut.
I had a few bonus nighttime moments recently, with the kids tucked in nice and early after a hearty weekend of family celebrations. I was excited because I was nearing the end of The Girl On The Train and wanted to finish it before leaving on yet another work trip. So I stayed up reading even though I, too, was absolutely pooped after our fun fun weekend. When I finished the book, I wearily made my way upstairs and nestled into bed—the pillow and sheets have never felt better; it was like they were a cool and welcome hug, beckoning me to finally close my eyes and sleep.
Literally thirty seconds after my head hit the pillow, my daughter came out of her room and into ours, struggling to sleep due to a cough and stuffy nose.
So much for the welcoming hug of sleep.
Since I learn this lesson over and over and over and over, I've decided the only possible solution is to remove stress from my life, period.
It's so simple, see. Because here is the most predictable pattern of life, as far as I can tell: The Thing I Planned To Happen + The Things That Happen Unexpectedly That I Didn't Plan For = The Way Things Actually Go.
And since The Way Things Actually Go often times always looks slightly different than The Things I Planned To Happen, I should just look forward to seeing the way things will actually go rather than stress about the way I planned things to happen.
It's brilliant, I tell you! Plane got cancelled and I'm stuck for hours? I certainly did NOT see that coming; that's so unlike the airlines—what delicious book can I find to make the time pass? The day of housecleaning I finally was able to schedule thwarted by a sick child? Well, let's put on some TV and snuggle up together. Who cares about that dust anyway, and who am I kidding that those legos would actually even stay put away? Presentation that I prepared for weeks gone amuck? What a fun opportunity to practice my improvisational skills and keep me on my toes!
Stress is just a perspective, it's occurring to me now. So I can choose to stress when things go differently than planned, or I can simply choose another perspective. And I'm no genius, but I do know this: energy is contagious. So if I work hard at practicing my stress-be-gone approach to life, chances are the people in my direct vicinity will feel that energy too... and maybe they'll allow themselves to be stress-free, too, even if just for a moment.
What perspective can you choose today?
For breakfast I had leftover tater tots. I mean, they're pretty much just hash browns, right? Also, a grapefruit.
With the holidays behind us, now is the perfect time to pause and ensure we're taking care of ourselves as we look ahead to all that 2015 has to offer. If you're anything like me, you ran yourself ragged in December. I was determined to take two weeks off at the end of the year, which meant the weeks between Thanksgiving and my break were a mad scramble to finish everything I possibly could to set myself up for success when returning to work on January 5.
I am proud of myself for actually taking two full weeks off. I did not check my work email. I did not prepare materials for a meeting I was helping to facilitate on January 8. I did not prepare materials for a training I was developing and helping to facilitate on January 14. I spent time with my family. I took naps. I caught up on house projects I'd been putting off. Even so, it took until the last two days of the break for me to focus on two things that I enjoy doing: reading (for fun!) and knitting (I finished these socks finally!). At that point I wished for another week off so that I could do a few more things for myself.
I've now been back at work over a week and it has been a whirlwind. I've been working nights and weekends to catch up for those meetings and trainings I didn't think about over my break, which now seems like the distant past.
So, I'm forcing myself to STOP. And sit. And read. For fun! To knit. To play with my son without checking my email or Facebook. To disconnect in a way that I need for my own self-care.
Now I'd like for you to STOP. And think: what do you need for self-care? Can you commit to making a little time for yourself to do the things you enjoy a little each week? Let's not wait until we have a break to finally get to the things we enjoy.
I'd love you to take this message with you the next time you're talking with your coworkers or the youth in your school or program. Instead of asking how someone is doing (granted, an important question!), ask instead what they're doing for themselves lately. Ask them when was the last time they did something they love. We all need to take care of ourselves so we can be our best selves for others.
For breakfast this morning I had a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries and strawberries, as well as a strong cup of coffee.
Recently I recovered from a pretty intense back injury. (I have accelerated degeneration in the discs of my upper back and lower spine areas). The injury prevented me from exercising for over two years. I consider myself a strong athlete and competitor in many sports. The news of my injury was hard to digest and felt terrible. When I incurred the injury, I was not only physically impaired but something happened to me mentally as well —my confidence went downhill.
I had a lot of recovery work to do. After over two years of physical therapy and a lot of patience, I was able to slowly navigate my way back into the physical fitness scene. But I noticed something new, an unfamiliar tentativeness. I became so anxious about aggravating the injury that I wasn't really committing to the workouts. I began to make excuses for myself ('just take it easy ' or ' I'm so tired, I better be careful' or 'it's ok not to do it today, you can try again tomorrow'). And then guess what happened? I knocked myself totally out of the game. I felt defeated and stopped trying.
This past summer, I climbed back on the horse. I had to explore new ways to work out. I had to commit to a softer exercise regimen. This was new. I could no longer run five miles, play beach volleyball three times a week, or take a kettle bell class. Instead I had to explore — find the challenge and threshold inside a slow yoga class, inside a boring swimming class or inside a repetitive spin class. It seemed to be working...kind of. But still, I noticed something else — I wasn't giving it my all. I was holding back. As if I didn't want to really be there. I was fearful. That feeling of tentativeness was still lingering. Even though my back was functioning at 95%, mentally I was not giving myself permission to move into the zone. Therefore I was not maximizing my potential. And that got me thinking about my job....
The parallel I am about to draw is between my fitness-life and my top capacity at work. Both appear different each year, quarter, month and day. And sometimes I catch myself holding back on the job. Obstacles, challenges and wins occur in my field all the time. The one thing that's constant is me. The values are the same — I am in career that I love and am passionate about. I also need to care about myself physically, love my body and stay passionate about my health in order to make an impact. Passion, love, impact.
Some questions that help me 'come back' when I have a block at work or when I am questioning my work habits or when I am not present 100% or when I feel like I am only half way there are: Am I thinking creatively? Am I speaking up in meetings? Am I supporting our mission to the best of my abilities? What more can I do? How am I serving youth thoughtfully? Where is my voice in the work we do — how can I be heard? Am I taking the right risks? How am I serving the cause and supporting the company? The questions go on. My mind races constantly. But these prompts get my wheels spinning.
Now when I am on the bike in my spin class, looking at the clock instead of focusing on my workout, I realize I am taking myself out of my own game – So I say to myself: "Julia! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR??? Let's fix this! The only way for you to heal and grow is to proceed with all you've got— don't hold yourself back anymore, work it out, stick with it, plow through, push for excellence! Find your maximum potential!"
My body will never be the same as it once was: young, strong and resilient. However, I keep learning (always a student) that it takes hard work to reinvent myself and still maintain impact and integrity. I have to do something each day, challenge myself and stop holding back. I may have downfalls, but my recovery has to do with how fast I stand up after being knocked down.
For breakfast I drank a protein shake with a banana, chia seeds, hearts of palm seeds, flax seed, almond butter blended with water. And a cup of coffee with low fat milk and Stevia. Cheeseburger anyone?