What if….

A question I have regularly been asked since I entered district-wide leadership is, “What if…?” You can always tell how someone is feeling by what comes after “What if…?” I used to get a lot of “What if you came into my classroom and I wasn’t where I was supposed to be in the curriculum?” or “What if you came into my classroom when it was noisy and loud?” I’ve shared with staff who ask that it would be tough for me to know what was happening in the class or why unless I asked learners these questions:

  • What are you working on?
  • Why are you doing it?
  • How will you know when you hit mastery?

When learners can answer those questions, they usually have opportunities to take ownership of the process of their learning at some point during the instruction. Our time in classrooms needs to be spent making sure our learners always know what they should be doing, but even more importantly they should know why. This may mean there are times when the teacher is doing whole group instruction, and the learners know why. It may mean that the learners are all working on prototypes of a super cool project, and the learners know why. Sometimes it means the class is taking a mindful minute or in a community-building circle, and the learners know why. 

We now have many teachers asking a new kind of “What if…?” They are starting to ask things like “What if my learners took their learning outside the walls of our school?” “What if my learners go well beyond the standards for the grade level?” “What if I had learners run businesses and take their work public by connecting to a community agency or a local business?” “What if I took extra time at the beginning of the year, semester, or week to focus on my relationships with learners while creating a community in our classroom instead of focusing on content?” That one is my favorite question as we know how essential it is for everyone that our learners have meaningful relationships with one another and with staff, which takes time. In a community where the relationships are well-developed, the learners and the teachers are more likely to take risks that result in a deeper understanding of content.  

We have a flexible learning community at one of our intermediate schools that is an incredible example of what happens if you ask a new kind of “What if” and get a lot of support to try new things. We have over one hundred twenty learners in grades six through eight who spend their time with four core teachers and a variety of support staff in one large classroom for all of their core instruction. The teachers within the community are amazing educators who are always willing to take risks and create deep and meaningful relationships with learners that are inspiring. They presented at the 10th Annual National Convening on Personalized Learning with some of their learners on how important it is to have relationships and community before you introduce content. I get to speak to learners in this community often, which is always a great experience for me as they can always answer what they are doing and why. Each time I am in the room and look around at the beautifully organized chaos, I reflect on the power of the fully inclusive community they have created.  

They serve learners with significant special needs who were previously placed in restrictive placements, learners who have had involvement with the juvenile justice system, learners who are identified as Gifted and Talented, and everyone in between. We have had some of their learners present at our leadership meetings, to our high school staff, and at our public meetings to inform our community about the work we are doing in our schools. Each time, they speak with such confidence about their community and the power of the authentic, cross-curricular work they do within it. Their community hosts many visitors from within and outside our school district. Each time the learners are able to share something about a high-level project they are working on either on their own or with others that is meaningful to them and created a deep understanding of a standard.  

I recently asked the teachers to send me some testimonials from learners to share with our school board and our broader community. What they wrote was personal and so powerful. I’ve read them many times now and each time am blown away by the impact we get to have on the lives of young people with the work we do each day. Here are a few things they shared:

“I feel there is a lot more room for your own personality. You have three grade levels and over 100 people but you are able to find someone with the same interests to make you feel unique but also cared about. The teachers run the classroom to know that bullies are not allowed and differences are embraced. We have students with many characteristics and struggles, including students from other countries, but you wouldn’t know it. Everyone feels welcome. It’s a great place for people who are different, like me, because I feel like I can be myself and still be cared about. We are a great classroom full of many different people that make us so great.”

“I do more of my work than I ever did before. I also have a better handle on my emotions. I think this is because of the relationships that I have built with the teachers. Because I have been with my teachers for so long now, they really know me and I really know them. I am not perfect and still get into trouble sometimes, but I am much better.”

“My favorite project to work on NHD (National History Day) because I was super passionate about my project which made it way easier get information about it because it wasn’t something boring that was assigned to me. I had choices in what I wanted to learn. Also it made it easier to present because you will feel proud about your creation.”  

The school has moved this year from one of these learning communities to four with a plan to continue to grow. I get to support the teachers and leaders who have created this amazing community as well as the others who are trying to create more learning opportunities like this one. I always want to be sure I recognize the amazing work of our teachers and find ways to continue to help them grow, which has also shifted my own “What if…” questions to one big one. “What if we ensured that every learner has the same experience as the learners in this community with the right support for the leaders and teachers?” We are starting to see many pockets of success similar to this one across our district and can’t wait to continue to support more by asking all kinds of “What ifs.”  

Is Your Mind in the Moment?

“True happiness comes from bringing all your attention to whatever you are doing right now.” -Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is happening around us. We are a mindfulness district, which means that all of our teachers have been trained in the practices and teach mindfulness lessons to learners through either the classroom teacher or the school counselor. Our goal is always to be sure our learners have a wide variety of tools to use to regulate their emotions and learn how to be fully present. Many of our teachers use a mindful minute to center the energy in the room before they begin a lesson or an activity. They have access to tools like breathing balls and chimes to use in classrooms. In addition, many of our elementary classrooms have Peace Corners. It is a space within the classroom filled with mindfulness and sensory tools with QR codes to short videos that teach how to use each tool so that learners can independently take a break as they need one. Many of our learners are now able to go to the Peace Corner, self-regulate, and return to class activities very quickly. It sends the message to them that we all need a break sometimes, and it is okay to take one when you need it to get recentered and ready to learn or collaborate with others.

We offered mindfulness retreats to our teachers last year on a few Saturdays to help them learn self-care strategies and often use mindfulness tools to start staff meetings. We always want to be modeling with adults what we want for learners in classrooms. We try hard to have our leaders in our schools with our teachers and learners as often as possible, so we only meet as a whole team (Principals, Assistant Principals, District leaders, and instructional coaches) once a month for about two hours during the school year. We used to try and cram as much information into those meetings as possible, jumping from one topic to the next each month. This year, we are trying to model iteration and reflection, so we switched the meetings to be an opening with some new learning, usually from learners or teachers talking to us about their experience in our schools. We spend the rest of the time in collaborative groups reviewing the professional development plans that are embedded in our school improvement plans to make sure we are continually reflecting on what support our teachers and learners may need. The teams add elements to the plans based on ideas from other leaders or from the time we use to reflect on their new learning.

Frequently, our leaders are running out of the meetings at the end as they need to get back and do lunch duty or have teacher and parent meetings. Schools are really, really busy places, and often the leader needs to be reminded to take time out of that busy day to connect to people and make time to be truly present with them. We ask our teachers to use their time to foster relationships with learners and create classrooms that are authentic communities. As the leader, do we do that enough with staff? I am working on putting down the laptop or the phone when someone comes to talk to me so I can give them my full attention, but it is a work in progress for me. We are all always trying to do so many things at once; we sometimes forget to be mindful of the interaction that is right in front of us. It may be the moment when a colleague, friend, family members, or learner needed to connect, and our distractions may have us missing those crucial moments. It takes practice and reminders for me to be sure I’m staying in the moment and not too quick to move on to the next thing or check my latest notification on my phone or computer.

We recently had the opportunity to participate in the first session of a new leadership series from Youth Frontiers called Geometry of a Leader. Our principals, assistant principals, and some district leaders came together to learn, listen, and practice being present with one another. We spent time reflecting on how we could be more present with all the people in our lives, including our staff and learners. It was a very powerful few hours of practicing our listening skills with one another and listening to some beautiful live music from one of their staff musicians. We took the time to be connected to one another and made commitments to what we will take back to our schools. We talked about mindfulness, its importance in leadership, and left with four keys to presence:

  1. Turn your body towards the person.
  2. Make and keep good eye contact.
  3. Listen to understand.
  4. Give the person your full attention.

To some people, it may sound silly that we need reminders to do these things when engaging with someone, but I certainly do. “Do you have a minute?” is something I get asked many, many times each day. I am not 100% sure how everyone else defines a minute as often I am needed for much longer than that, but my new commitment to others is to say no when I really don’t have the time with a promise to follow-up when I do. It is when I try to squeeze in the time for someone when I am in the middle of something else that I am the least present. I need to be mindful of that all the time.

Many of our leaders have sent feedback on how much they enjoyed the retreat, how they have started to use the four keys, and the impact that is having on their relationships with staff. Principals need time to learn and reflect just like everyone else. We are excited to see how the next two retreats on humility and courage influence our leaders and help them grow their skills. Presence, humility, and courage are such vital skills in leadership that help us to focus on who we are as well as what we do.

“If we don’t take the time to be human with each other, our humanity will fade away.” Our retreat leader repeated that phrase several times, and it stuck with me. Human connection is so essential in the work we do in schools. We know it should drive everything that happens in classrooms, but we also need to be sure it drives how we lead and what we model each day.

All Hands on Deck

“Building innovative organizations will take all of us working together. This is not about a “top down” or “bottom up” approach as much as it is about “all hands on deck.” And it is possible.” I love this quote by George Couros from The Innovator’s Mindset as it speaks to the work we are trying to do as an organization. We currently have pockets of innovation happening all across our eighteen schools and are working to understand how to scale that work across every classroom and school with the help of everyone involved. It really does take all hands on deck focussed around the same vision, a culture that celebrates those already doing new things, and one that encourages others to learn together to start to try.   

It is usually easy to know how people feel about something and what they need if you ask them. Recently, we invited in a panel of teachers who are starting to do more learner-centered, project-based learning to share why they do what they do and what support they need from their leaders at the school and district level to feel successful. What they shared was inspirational and also gave me a lot to think about.

We first asked them to describe a time this year where they felt successful with a project or with trying something new in the classroom. They talked a lot about the high level of engagement with projects and how, with multiple opportunities to succeed, all the learners did so. They spoke of the doubts they felt at the start and how their confidence and the confidence of the learners grew throughout the experience. They each described how they were a part of building something with their learners that produced a high level of understanding of a key concept. The excitement on each teacher’s face as they described their relationships with learners, the authentic work they produced together, and collaborating with other teachers was awesome.

Each teacher identified time as the main challenge, which was not surprising and something that we are all always working on. Our current schedule at our secondary schools is not very learner-centered, so we have created some flexible scheduling options and pilots for next fall that we hope will better support cross-curricular creation in classrooms. At our elementary schools, we have been able to add some non-student days to the calendar for our next school year that are specifically for teachers to plan with one another. We can’t make more time in a day, but we are certainly trying to be as smart as possible about how we use it so we can best serve our learners and support our teachers. 

Professional learning opportunities in and out of our district were what they saw as key to a shift of practice. They named a class we offer after school for teachers on deeper learning, an internal site visit to another classroom that we do on district-wide professional development days or an external site visit to another district as the most powerful professional development they have had. We’ve worked to make our professional learning for teachers model what we want for learners in classrooms, so the feedback that it does was encouraging. We are now trying to plan more opportunities in the summer to continue to support that work, which will keep us very busy this summer, but we’re excited that we have so many teachers wanting to continue to learn together.

A critical element for each teacher was that we stick with the work we are doing now to embed the deeper learning competencies across all our schools with the freedom to implement them in a way that best meets the needs of the teachers and learners in each school. They felt strongly that this work is meaningful to them and is creating space to empower learners, so they asked us to make sure we stay the course. We are working on our next five-year strategic plan for teaching and learning that changes the language from College and Career Readiness to Life Success through College and Career Readiness. We also are proposing a goal that is not based on a test score, but instead on creating authentic learning experiences using the deeper learning competencies with public demonstrations of learning and measures on how our learners feel about school. We want our teachers and our community to know that is the work we are committed to for at least the next five years as we know it takes time and consistency to make a shift of practice a reality.  

The next thing the teachers asked us for was to be sure we are meeting people where they are and providing differentiated support for each teacher to help them grow. This is the one that has me thinking a lot. We have added layers of support this year with external coaches from a school that has been doing project-based work for a long time and have started to use a human Likert scale to let people know it is okay to be where they are as long as they are continuing to grow in their practice. We have built in more collaboration among teachers from across our district during our district-wide professional development days and asked teachers to take a leadership role in planning and delivering learning opportunities on those days. We have optional book studies with really open discussions led by all of our staff. Is all of that enough to help people feel safe to start to try and continue to grow? Are we creating enough opportunities for teachers to learn from one another to make sure it is all hands on deck?

Lastly, they asked us to make sure we recognize and celebrate when they try something new, whether or not it was successful. One of my favorite quotes is from Nelson Mandela, “I never lose. Either I win or I learn.” That is how we want our teachers and learners to feel with everything they attempt. We selected five teachers to be on this panel, but could have chosen many, many more. It is exciting to see how many bright spots we have in each school. We will continue to push everyone with the right support to be sure they can and do try new things.

One of the teachers shared a story that was particularly inspirational to me. She talked about how she felt extremely burnt out at the end of last school year and had started to doubt education as a choice for her. She went on a site visit to a school doing project-based learning, took one of our after school courses, and decided to give it a try. She teaches five and six-year-olds who wanted to learn about careers in our community. They made a box city to represent what they had learned and worked in teams based on the career they chose. They then presented their box city to family and community members in a public showcase night. She said, “It wasn’t like we had them memorize what to say. They did it themselves and could really talk about what they had learned naturally. It didn’t have to be perfect; we just had to try.” She shared how highly engaged the learners were and how excited they are to start their next project. I asked her how her burnout was feeling now. With a huge smile on her face, she said, “Burnout is gone!”

As we build a culture that supports trying new things, developing deep and meaningful relationships with our learners, and exploring teacher and student passions, we want every teacher to feel so inspired. When they do, with the right support from us, imagine what happens for every learner.    

Telling Our Story

Everyone is an expert on education as everyone went to school and many people have children in schools. However, school is starting to look different in pockets across our nation as well as all across our school district. School was created on a factory model that has not seen a significant change in many, many years, and has created equity gaps, especially for black and brown learners and those with disabilities. The needed skills for success in our current world are different than what was required for the industrial era and continue to change all the time, but school is not always designed to teach the needed skills. In our district, classrooms are becoming deeper learning experiences that are founded in creating a sense of belonging through the relationships we make with our learners. Teachers and students are discovering their passions and getting the opportunity to explore them through cross-curricular projects with public demonstrations of learning that receive feedback from peers, community members, and families. We needed to find a way to communicate this shift in our practice to our greater community, document our progress, and provide clarity for all staff on our why as some of our schools are further along in our deeper learning work than others.

As we started to learn how to best tell our story, I read a great blog post from IDEO. In it, Jen Massaro shares five tips for storytellers. The first one is to determine the big idea. We needed to be able to define what equity means and how the implementation of the deeper learning competencies is what we hold in common to achieve equity. However, this may look different at each of our eighteen schools based on the needs of the learners in that community. We often think about equity in terms of outcomes and gaps, but equity at its core is not about measuring the outcomes. If we wait until we see the results of standardized tests, graduation rates, and discipline data, it is too late. Equity is about giving every learner the same opportunity at the start and not making assumptions about their abilities based on what we know about learners from their backgrounds or the labels we use in schools. We create equitable opportunities when we believe in every learner and know them well enough to create authentic learning that is connected to our greater community and driven by their passions and interests. When that is EVERY learner’s experience in school, we don’t create equity gaps. That is the big idea of our story.

Jen’s next tip is to get outside your comfort zone. My work provides me many opportunities to learn new skills, but I had no idea how many I would learn when we started working with the Urban Misfit Ventures. We were looking for a partner to tell our story that is driven by purpose and community, which is exactly what the Misfits embody. They started the company as an opportunity to connect to their passions and create, which is exactly the experience we want for our learners in schools and makes our partnership a great fit. They are interested in our shift of practice and tell us all the time that they wish high school would have given them the chance to explore their interests through projects. We have learned about storyboarding, editing, guiding interviews, directing, how much teachers are not used to being on film, and how challenging it can be to get small children to articulate what they are thinking in a few sentences or less. Fortunately, they are patient with us and believe in many chances to iterate as we try to capture each school’s story in less than seven minutes.    

As IDEO storyteller Neil Stevenson says, “Storytelling is like sculpting, where you carve away to reveal something beautiful.” Becoming a sculptor is next. It took us many tries and the opportunity to learn how to be film critics to keep carving away at the interviews and the footage until we found the beauty. As district leaders, we get to see and know the inspiring work our staff and learners do every day, but capturing that in a short video was a challenge. Every interview and piece of footage is meaningful, so deciding what to keep and what to cut has been tough.  

The fourth tip, empathize with your audience, is one that is really important to us. We have made some concerted efforts to listen to our learners more often. When we do, they tell us the same two things that they want and need from us in school. They will regularly tell us that they want to be known. Being known verses being seen is a powerful concept to think about and is especially important as our world becomes more virtual and less connected to one another. Learners and their families want to feel deeply connected to their school and be known for who they are and what they have to offer to our world. The other thing they usually say is that they want school to be interesting, which does not mean learners do whatever they want. It means that school helps them to discover their interests and inspires them to solve problems. Their connections to each other and feeling inspired are what change the learner experience and create equity.  

The last tip is to practice, practice, practice, which is true of anything you want to do well. Over the next couple of years, we will be making a video of each of our schools, so they each have the chance to tell their story of equitable opportunity through deeper learning. We have grown a lot since we started making our first video, which is exciting to see. It is also why it is so important to continue telling our story over and over again. It gets clearer each time we do, and the learner experiences get deeper, more connected, and more meaningful with each iteration. Capturing our story as we go helps us to see where we have been and how much progress we have made in a short time. We are also using the videos to connect our schools to share the great work going on at each, which can be a challenge in a large district.  

We don’t have it all figured out, yet, as it is a feat to scale change in a public school district of eighteen schools. However, we have found some things that are working really well to humanize education and change the learner experience that we are proud of and want to share. Here is the video that tells our current story at Franklin Elementary West Allis, WI, with more and more to come for our learners.

One Step to the Right

I read a great blog post by Mandy Froehlich called Three Ways Resentment Impacted My Engagement as a Teacher. She felt disengaged by education at one point partially due to resentment. She felt resentment towards herself, other teachers, and especially people with different jobs within the organization. She shares how she learned to move past it to a healthy place. “The biggest favor that I did for myself in this area was to let go of the resentment and begin working on who I wanted to be. I could sit back and see if it would happen to me or I could make tiny changes that would eventually add up to bigger ones. I had to understand that someone else’s success or talent did not diminish my own. On the contrary, keeping those people close enhanced any growth that I was trying to accomplish.”  

I always enjoy reading Mandy’s blog as she is very real about many of the struggles we all share, but this post really resonated with me given the work I get to do with and for our teachers. As a district, we are dedicated to providing equitable opportunities for all learners by embedding the Deeper Learning competencies across all disciplines in a way that makes the learning authentic and personal to the learner and the teacher. Part of my job is to guide our professional development plan to make that happen and, within that, create a space for people to feel good about where they are in their practice so they can best learn from others in and out of our district. We want our teachers to recognize what they already do well and learn how to make a shift of practice that will better empower our learners and close the opportunity gaps that currently exist.  

While we have committed to holding the deeper learning competencies in common across all eighteen schools, a school’s or teacher’s pathway to get there is based on their learners and their school community. Our goal is that each of our eighteen schools will become a deeper learning school within the next three to five years wherein the learners can be self-directed and connected to our greater community as the wall-to-wall, every day experience. We want all eight thousand of our learners to feel a sense of belonging that makes them want to contribute and create while becoming problem solvers, collaborators, and communicators who can demonstrate their high levels of content mastery through authentic learning experiences. Clearly, this is a massive task that requires a lot of professional development, reflection, and growth by everyone in our organization. It also takes time and focus, which is why we have set that goal over multiple years and developed processes and systems to support school teams as they work to figure it all out. It is also why we are careful to add tools and resources when the evidence tells us they are needed versus introducing any new initiatives.  

We now have many teachers across our district accomplishing learner-driven, authentic, cross-curricular experiences in really profound ways. This work is creating access, especially for learner groups that have been historically marginalized, to close the opportunity gaps frequently created in schools. It takes a careful balance to celebrate those early adopters and ask them to share their stories with others who are just starting to do the work without creating the resentment Mandy spoke about in her post. We have more and more teachers ready to share their journey and present at our professional development days each time they get the chance. It is incredible to see how many of our teachers are feeling the confidence it takes to try things, grow, and share, but it also starts to become self-doubt for some who are not there yet. We don’t want them resenting others who are simply further along in the process. We want everyone to do exactly what Mandy said, to make tiny changes that eventually lead to large ones by getting to see a colleague who happens to be one or several steps farther along in the work of becoming a deeper learning classroom. 

As a district leadership team, we work with teachers from each of our eighteen school sites to get input on where teachers are and what they need from us next for professional development. We hope that this helps our staff not to resent the jobs we hold and better understand that our jobs as district-wide leaders are about supporting learners and teachers. We will spend some time at our next professional development day sharing how innovation through embedding the competencies leads to equitable opportunities for all with our secondary teachers as the feedback we received from this group helped us to see that that part of our work is not clear yet. They understand we want to create equity for all learners and that we want our classrooms to be authentic and innovative, but they do not yet see the connection between the two. What we thought we were going to do on that day is really different than where we started, which is better as it means we have listened to what our teachers need and adjusted the plan to meet those needs just like we ask them to do with learners every day. 

The feedback was also an opportunity for me to reflect. I needed to realize that while I live and breathe equity, inclusion, and learner empowerment work every day through my social media feeds, books I read, my professional network, the podcasts I hear, and the conferences I attend, not everyone else has the same level of exposure. It was unfair to expect that all our teachers, some of whom have not yet had the same opportunities through professional development to see those connections, are ready to take the next steps. I am grateful that we have created a space where teachers felt comfortable being honest with us about what they need. It gives us the chance to clarify that it is not equity or deeper learning it is equity through deeper learning. When every learner has strong relationships with staff and sees meaning in the learning, we have created a pathway to equitable opportunities.  

We use a human Likert scale to help our leaders and our teachers in our professional development planning group see where they are now and how they are moving. We stand next to signs that say “starting to understand deeper learning as a pathway to equity”, “doing deeper learning activities as a pathway to equity”, “an equitable deeper learning classroom”, or “an equitable deeper learning school”. The language has evolved to be more explicit about our purpose each time we ask people to place themselves on the scale down a hallway or across a room. It puts a visual to the idea that it is perfectly fine to be somewhere on the continuum as long as you are on it and always moving one step the right by trying small things that turn into big things with the confidence to know we will support you as you try. We need to continue to make it clear that we expect all teachers are connecting to learners on a deep level and creating authentic learning experiences that provide opportunities to demonstrate rigorous skills in content mastery, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, and self-direction. We also need to continue to provide as many professional development opportunities as possible for teachers to learn how to do that so that they don’t feel resentment towards anyone who may know more right now. 

We have worked hard to shift some language from “the” district to “our” district. We are in this together and want people to know that and feel a sense of belonging to our why that makes it more comfortable to learn from a teacher in another school or at another grade level. I appreciate this quote by Dennis Waitley, “Success is not a pie with a limited number of pieces. The success of others has very little bearing on your success. You and everyone you know can become successful without anyone suffering setbacks, harm, or downturns.” We all need to concentrate on the small things we can learn from one another that make us one step better instead of waiting for the grand moment when everything will change. If we wait too long for that to happen, we will miss the thousands of chances we had to take the small steps that can help us feel successful in our work no matter what anyone else is doing. 

The “A” Word

The first time I heard the word Autism I was teaching Early Childhood Special Education at an elementary school in Kapolei, Hawaii. It was very early in my teaching career, and I moved from teaching students with significant Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities in a self-contained setting at a middle school to teaching three and four year olds with various special needs in an inclusive setting with a Head Start class. Some of you may be thinking, why in the world would anyone move from Hawaii back to Wisconsin? That is an excellent question that I have asked myself regularly from November through February each year since, but my family is in the midwest. Family is more important that constant sunshine and living a few blocks from Waikiki Beach (at least that is what I tell myself :)).

As I reviewed the records of the students I would serve that year, I read about a young girl who was diagnosed with Autism. This was 1996, so it was long before Autism was as well known as it is now. It was also my first encounter with a learner who had the diagnosis. On our first day of school, her mom explained that she had echolalia (a new term to me at the time) and was a runner (another new term to me at the time). I quickly learned that echolalia meant that she repeated everything that was said all day long. Now, if you can get a picture of how much talking you do to a room of three and four-year-olds, you can see where someone following you around all day and repeating every word that you say is problematic. I also quickly learned that being a runner meant she takes off without warning and runs to anywhere and everywhere in the school and even out into the street. I had done all of my student teaching and my first couple of years of teaching working with older children who had a lot of mental health issues and behavior challenges, so this experience was certainly going to be a challenge.

I went home the first day beyond exhausted and started doing my research. This was at the time of dial-up internet, so getting access to information was not as easy and quick as it is now. I read lots of books and went to conferences. I used everything I had learned about shaping and helping learners control and change their own behavior to apply whatever strategies I could. I did not realize what I was doing at the time as there was not as much research available then about the science of the brain, but since I have learned about brain mapping and how you can create new neural pathways that make sense with where we found challenges and successes that year.  

After the first few weeks of school, I realized that one of us was not going to make it through the school year if something did not change, and the four-year-old was winning. I started working closely with her parents, her doctor, other staff, and anyone else I could ask about strategies to help. We made visuals for everything and eventually trained her to follow cues to tell us what she needed instead of running away. The key to success was being more consistent in my practice than I had ever been before and making sure as a team we all used the same language and the same cues whenever we worked with her.  

We ended up having a great year. She learned how to respond to real questions instead of repeating others, she told her mom she loved her for the first time (That was a great day!), she was able to play with others at recess with laughter, and she taught me a ton. I learned new ways to problem solve and how to see behavior as communication in a different way. I always understood that behavior was communication, but I was used to a lot of angry, acting out behavior. This was new stuff for me and helped me to see learners from an asset-based lens. This little girl, who happened to have Autism, had so many incredible gifts to offer the world; she just needed us to look for them in really unexpected ways. Although I went back to the mainland at the end of that year and back to working with older students, I have never forgotten all that she taught me that year and still talk about it almost twenty- five years later in sessions about how to work with children with unexpected behaviors in the classroom.

Since then, I have worked with many students who are on the Autism spectrum and their families. I know even more now about the communication, academic, and behavioral needs of these learners and have continued to learn so that I can help our teachers and leaders have the best skills to include them in every setting. I’ve learned about the entire spectrum and how varying the needs are across it. I know that if you know one learner with Autism, you know one learner with Autism and that what works for one rarely works for all. When I served as the Coordinator of Special Education for our school district, we started one of the first Autism specific programs for high school students in our area. We worked with grants and research organizations to get additional training for all teachers in understanding how to connect to and include students on the spectrum in meaningful ways. I have been able to support amazing teams of teachers and speech pathologists to develop a high school course based on the work of Michelle Garcia Winner in Social Thinking. Since then, our speech pathologists have expanded the work to running groups at most of our schools for students with special needs. Over the last two years, they have also trained many regular education teachers and school counselors to work with ALL learners on lessons in Social Thinking combined with the Zones of Regulation strategies from a very early age. Our goal is always that ALL of our learners can see their own place in a group, learn how to identify their needs, and learn strategies to feel empowered. When they understand their own social interactions and emotions, they are more likely to find a sense of belonging within a group and therefore want to contribute and create.

With all that I know now, you might be surprised to find out that it took me almost three years to use the word Autism in reference to our son, Nick. Our Nick has Autism, ADHD, and Dyslexia, which has turned out to be an opportunity to learn everything that is important in the world. Although professionally I knew a lot when we realized he was on the spectrum, you forget everything you know as a mom. It took me a long time to accept his diagnosis and talk about it with others. In a class for pre-service teachers at a local university, one of my students recently shared that one of her learners has “no support from home. His mom didn’t even come to his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting.” I have been really open about Nick, his diagnosis, and why school getting it right is so essential in our class. My response that it took me three years to say the “A” word when it came to my son shocked her, and it made me realized I should talk about that more.

I have been open about sharing many of our success stories and what we have learned in the last several years both at work and with my family and friends. I don’t always talk about the time when we lived in a world of grief for what he might not become or denial that others just didn’t know him well enough. If that is how I felt with years and years of professional experience, how does someone feel who is trying to navigate an impossible system of medical care with no background or connections to resources to find the right support within the system? If I find IEP meetings ridiculously intimidating when I ran them for many years, how does it feel to be a parent without that background knowledge in a room full of experts talking about what is wrong with their child and our plan to help? I have the support of family and friends who stick by me even when I am not in a place to receive that help. I have access to resources through my professional networks and the privilege of being able to get him to multiple therapies and services each week with the support of my husband and extended family that not everyone has. We recognize that and are thankful for it every day. We certainly don’t have it all figured out by any means, but we have found some alternative therapies that are game-changers and were able to move him to a school that we thought was a better fit for him where he is thriving.

When I think about why I was so afraid of the “A” word, it comes down to not wanting him to be seen as his disability before someone gets to know him as a person. I had accepted that he has special needs for years, but I was really fearful of the “A” word because many people want you to know everything they know about Autism before they ask you or him one question about Nick as a person. He has this amazing, gentle spirit and sees the world in a really beautiful way. He just doesn’t show that side of himself to many people, which also took me a long time to realize as I have always been one of “his people” and made some assumptions that others were having a similar relationship with him to the one that I have.

My fear that his relationships would be defined by his label impacted me and kept me from teaching him to own who he is and express how he thinks differently about the world, why, and what he needs from others for a long time. I feared that others who have sympathy for him instead of empathy and therefore not hold him to the highest standard or simply ignore him if they didn’t understand the disability and that he is more than his label. He has made me a better educator and leader, as I am much quicker to try to see everyone and every situation from an empathetic lens. I don’t always need to be able to understand why someone feels a particular way to recognize that those feelings are real and take that into consideration with a response or some support. In the role I get to serve in now, our experience in supporting him helps me to know why every classroom needs to be a place where every learner feels embraced as part of the community, appreciated for the gifts they bring, and given opportunities to create in ways that connect to who they are even if who they are is different than what we would typically expect.

At the end of the day, we all have to remember that we are each doing the best we can. We each have different levels of education and life experience that contribute to who we are and how we respond to the next challenge life throws at us. People expected my acceptance to be different based on my experience, but it was not. I love my children as much as my parents loved me and as much as the parents we serve love their children. Those without the skills to navigate the system or the background to know what to do to support their child who learns differently in school love them just as much and really do want the best. They may just have a harder time showing it and being vulnerable enough to share their story with us. Given how long it took me to share mine, I get it.

Baking Day

I love this time of year for many reasons, but one of my absolute favorites is baking day. I really enjoy cooking and baking and use my time in my kitchen to process my thoughts and sometimes fill the time when I can’t sleep. Baking day is the one day a year where my family clears the house for an entire day, and all I do is bake for about twelve straight hours while I watch holiday movies or old 80’s movies in the background. I always appreciate my time with my family and involve my kids in baking and cooking whenever I can, but this is one day I take entirely for me. My family, my neighbors, and my colleagues also enjoy baking day as they are the recipients of all the treats. Each year I make some tried and true recipes that are staples, and then I try some new ones to add to the displays for our holiday meals and gifts to neighbors and friends. When I am stressed out at this ridiculously busy time of year, I look for recipes on the internet or in one of my many cookbooks and focus on the joy others may feel depending on the choice and the outcome of the recipe.  

Baking day needed to look different this year as we are moving to a new home. I struggled at first to make it the same experience. When I thought a lot about why the day is so important to me, I actually thought about what we want for learners in our schools. Putting together the display of all these baked goods is like a great Design Thinking experience. The book Launch by AJ Juliani and John Spencer is one of my go-to resources for helping teachers learn about Design Thinking. In this post, John Spencer explains the core steps to the Design Thinking framework they share in Launch. The first one is to Look, Listen, and Learn, which is precisely what I do when I am getting ready for my big day. I remember which treats each member of my family likes best and go to the second step to Ask Questions about what new recipes I should try. I know my brother loves Oreo truffles, my sister-in-law loves butterscotch cheesecake bars, and that everyone enjoys the lemon sandwich cookies, but who knew my nephew would absolutely love coconut macaroons. Once I learned that about him, those became a regular on the holiday baking list.  

The next steps in the Design Thinking framework are to Understand the Process or Problem and Navigate Ideas. This is where I got stuck this year. My process for solving the problem of getting multiple batches of ten different desserts ready to go needed to look different, and it threw me off quite a bit at first. Once I started to navigate ideas on how to solve the problem in a way that made the experience equally enjoyable and meaningful for me, it was not that hard to find a solution. I ended up having to break the day into a couple of half days and evenings and get others more involved. A big challenge for me was finding enough time, which is continuously our challenge in education. I needed to stop trying to find more time and instead use the time I had in a new way that still allowed for the same outcome. Navigating ideas on how to set things up in a new kitchen to make sure I could be efficient with the time I had and still be relaxed to not feel under a time crunch was a challenge, but one that I was able to overcome with the help of getting ideas from others. I also had to let go of some things I would normally do that just did not get done this year, which was okay as it allowed me not to feel stressed by something I usually enjoy so much.   

Being okay with things not being perfect, having to go back to a creative process many times, reaching out to others for support, and eventually working it all through to create something beautiful is what I hope our learners are experiencing every day. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. If that is what we are trying to do all the time, we will for sure be disappointed. What I love most about baking at the holidays is that I make the time to be creative and try new things which may not always work, but sometimes do. I don’t worry about it all being perfect and I get to learn a lot about a new ingredient or baking process through trial and error. I can also tell when I am distracted or other stressors are coming into my brain as recipes that I have made many times don’t work right or taste off. This is true of our learners as well. When they are experiencing tough times in and out of school, things they may have always been able to do well may not go as planned. We need to help them recognize that it is okay and that they should take the opportunity to try again just like I do when I throw out a batch of something and start over.    

New recipes often don’t turn out right the first few times or are just not good. Continuing to try them gives me the opportunity to practice the next two steps in the framework- Create a Prototype and Highlight and Fix. I appreciate the iteration that baking frequently takes. I may need to try a recipe multiple times, adding a little of this and removing a bit of that until I get it just right. The process of documenting what went well and how to adjust helps achieve a product I am proud to share with others. Some recipes are also just not tasty, even when I get them right. I have to accept abandoning an idea that doesn’t work and moving on to the next one.  

Launching to an audience, the last step in the framework, is the most impactful part. I look forward to the end of our Christmas Eve meal so I can bring out the tray of desserts that I have worked so hard to produce. People will tell me how much they are looking forward to tasting their favorite recipes and then give me feedback on any new ones. This was my tenth year of launching my work on Christmas Eve, and it was fascinating to see which desserts come back from year to year as I get good feedback on them and which ones drop off or I make for different audiences as they may appeal to others more. The process of preparation and research, being creative, iteration, and then the launching means something as it helps me to get better each time I do it. I bake all the time throughout the year, but this is a time of year when I do it more and with a real purpose to connect to one another and make memories that carry me forward to doing it all over again on such a grand scale the next year.  

If we think about our most successful moments, they are when the experience is personal to us and our strengths, has an impact on others, and allows us to use a creative process to work through multiple iterations of what we are trying to achieve to get it just right. Baking day, even this year when it needed to look different, does that for me. While it doesn’t solve any major problems in our world, it makes lots of people including me really happy, which is never a bad thing.

Inspiring Hope

Inspiration and hope- two such beautiful words that many of our young people don’t encounter enough. The advancements that technology has brought to our world have been amazing, but just like with anything else there are always two sides. Our young people now live in a world that is superficial and disconnected from others too much of the time. They spend hours on devices that have actually changed the way the brain works, both in significant ways and in ways that have created new challenges. One of the biggest challenges is the feeling that is presented on social media that everyone’s lives, except mine, are perfect. Social media has also very sadly become an easy platform for criticism and bullying as it can be anonymous, and that somehow makes many people feel they can and should be mean to one another. Mental health challenges have significantly increased in recent years, and in 2017 suicide became the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four, some of which has been attributed to the use of social media. The lack of hope that our young people feel is a problem we all need to solve, but we also need to be far more proactive than we have been in our approach to a solution.

Two years ago, we had two learners from our school district commit suicide. The impact of those moments on their families, our staff, other learners, and our community was devastating. Our number of suicide risk assessments has also doubled in the last four years, which is scary. We spend a lot of time reflecting on what we can do to help promote more hope and mental wellness for our learners’ verses always waiting to intervene when someone is at a crisis point. Last year, we shifted our work in Social Emotional Learning to be focussed around building resiliency skills from young ages including trying to get staff and students to see working through issues of anxiety and depression as a demonstration of resilience instead of a deficit. We all experience anxious and depressed moments. Some people’s brains are wired to feel those much more intensely and more frequently than others, so they need additional support to work through them some of which may require outside intervention. We need to make it okay for our learners to admit when they are struggling (both with the small things and the ones that can be debilitating), knowing we’re here to support them and that we all believe they can make it through when they get stuck. We added another layer of support a few years ago with licensed therapists from outside agencies in every school so our learners have access to weekly therapy at school through their insurance. These are all things adults are doing for learners to reduce the stigma of needing support for mental wellness and make care accessible. We were still looking to find a way for young people to be involved in promoting mental wellness and finding new ways to support each other. That is when we found Hope Squad.

Hope Squad is a peer support program where learners are nominated by their peers and then receive special training in understanding the signs of suicide and depression with tools to refer their peers to adults for help. In almost all cases of completed suicide, the student told someone first that they had a plan. Unfortunately, the person they likely told was another child who did not know what to do with that information. When we met some Hope Squad members from another school district, we were so impressed by how empowered they felt to help others. They were from all different social groups, a big part of the nomination and selection process, and they were able to share how they look out for other Hope Squad members and all learners in the school. They watch for people sitting alone and make sure they reach out and include them. The learners all still have their primary social groups, but Hope Squad became a bridge to be sure everyone has someone, and people are simply kinder to one another. When we heard those learners share how inspired they felt from their participation in Hope Squad, we moved from a small pilot to implementation at all six of our secondary schools at the start of this school year.  

Our Hope Squads meet during advisory either daily or several times a week. They receive training in the signs of suicide and depression and Question, Persuade, Refer. The training includes some clear expectations that the learners are not counselors and are not providing any kind of counseling. Instead, they are looking for signs that others are at-risk, strategies for reaching out and providing friendship to everyone, ways to get others to seek help from adults, and strategies for self-care as they are the students that are chosen to share in someone else’s struggle. The advisor also gets training in not only how to implement the lessons but also in their own self-care and how to make referrals to licensed mental health professionals as needed. We had a wide variety of staff choose to become advisors including one of our cafeteria leaders and a school secretary as these are often the people kids are reaching out to along with their teachers and counselors.  

I had the privilege to attend the roll-out of the Hope Squads at one of our intermediate schools. It was incredible. The learners, proudly wearing their Hope Squad t-shirts, went to each advisory in their grade level and explained what the Hope Squad is. One student told the rest of his peers that he was not sure why they nominated him, but now that they did, he was not going to let them down. He is a student for whom school is not always easy. His nomination meant a lot to him and empowered him in a new way to connect at school. The Hope Squad members told their peers how we all have bad days, we all need someone to talk to, and we are all going through things that we can talk about. They said things like:

  • “We get training to be the eyes and ears of the school for kids who are having a hard time. You can tell us if you know someone who is.”   
  • “If you are feeling down, we can report it and help you with a problem.”
  • “We can keep each other safe.”
  • “If you have a problem, you can come to us because sometimes it is hard to talk to teachers and adults. We will make time to help you.”

One learner asked a Hope Squad member if they could only talk to him on days he was wearing his Hope Squad shirt. He enthusiastically replied, “No, you can talk to me anytime. I just can’t wear the same shirt every day. You can also talk to me online if that’s easier for you.” Watching our learners try to turn social media into a way to connect with one another positively at eleven and twelve years old gives me hope.  

Our other schools have reported how honored learners and their parents have been to be nominated and chosen by the advisors for Hope Squad. They are all taking it seriously and actively planning Hope Week activities and kindness events for everyone. The advisors shared how empowered the students feel to be leaders within the school, which is really awesome as some of the learners who were chosen are not a part of clubs, sports, and activities where those leadership opportunities usually surface. 

There are great stories from all over our world about young people who are solving the major problems facing us. While I always love reading those stories, we also have to remember that it does not always have to be a world-wide solution to be a huge deal. We had a learner refer someone who was cutting for help to their advisor within the first couple of weeks of starting our Hope Squads. The learner was brave enough to reach out for help, another learner listened, and everyone knew what to do. Our learners are ready to build hope and inspiration even if it takes doing it one peer at a time, which is a pretty major problem to help solve and one we can all easily work on every day.  

Happy from Giving Thanks

Each November, we attend a community breakfast of thanks and giving. Last year when I attended the breakfast, a speaker talked about the value of practicing gratitude. His message hit home for me. I have always been thankful for the advantages in my life and have always been big on saying thank you. His message had me thinking about true gratitude. Do I notice enough when people come into my life who help challenge my thinking or add something to my life that I had no idea was missing? Do I do enough to show my appreciation when someone goes out of their way for me? Do I show my gratitude for the work I am able to do, or am I too focused on the wrong things? Do I take time to be grateful for the small things instead of always looking for the big ones? Do I think about gratitude more often than one week of the year in November?

I started doing some research about gratitude and found many articles and great blogs on how it can actually make you happier and is a pretty simple thing to do. As a special education teacher for many years, I learned to live in a world of small miracles. My learners and I spent a lot of our time together talking about where each individual skill was growing, measuring progress in small steps, and taking time each day to recognize and celebrate the small wins along with the big ones. As adults, we don’t do that enough for and with ourselves and each other. We tend to measure our progress in major milestones instead of taking time each day to reflect on a few things we did well and be grateful for who and what we have in our lives. A year ago, I started spending time thinking about and writing down things for which I am grateful. It was not hard to find them when I started to look and most of them ended up being small things that helped my day take a slight shift for the better, even when it was a good day.

My job is intense, I teach part-time at a local college, and I try my best to be a good wife and mother who volunteers at the school events and helps when I can with all the extra-curricular activities. People often say things to me like, “I don’t know how you do it all.” To be really honest, I never have any idea how to respond to that statement as I do not think I am actually trying to do more than anyone else nor could I do it all if I want to do any of it well. I just do the best I can each day and wake up the next day and try to do it all a little better than the day before. On my drive home, I spend some time appreciating what I could and did get done. Many others do some of the things I attempt to do way better than I can, which I try to celebrate with them. I forget to turn in permission slips and sometimes we are late to school because that was just the morning we were having, and that is okay. Practicing gratitude helped me let go of the things that didn’t go well and value the ones that did more. The one answer I often give to that statement that is very genuine is that I have amazing people around me who work with me to get things done and remind me how to worry about being my best self instead of what anyone else may expect of me. At the end of each day, my husband and my kids always come to mind first, but it is also often my work family that ends up in my thoughts.

Recently, I had a tough couple of weeks between some big things happening at home and work. Whenever I hit a rough patch, I try to slow down and take inventory of all the positives I have in my life. I usually spend a couple of hours at the Hallmark store choosing just the right card and write notes to people that I am grateful are a part of my journey. In the midst of my tough weeks, we needed to interview for a new member of our team as we have a support staff member who is going to retire soon. Our interview questions were interesting, to say the least. We asked how you respond when there are seven of us who all have different needs and communicate in different ways (some of which are only through GIFs and emojis) and who may all need something done at once. We asked how much structure you need in your day as ours rarely starts and ends the same way. We asked how the person will balance multiple projects at one time and shift course quickly if a school has an immediate situation that needs all of our support. We asked what brings you joy and how we can support you when you get stuck. We laughed at some of the questions as we asked them and the stories we told to explain the work we do. At the end of all the interviews, we had several people who were excited to take on the job. They each shared how they felt a really positive vibe from our team and talked about how amazing it must be to support great work in schools so children get the best opportunities in life.

It was just the moment I needed to remind me how incredible my job is and how lucky I am to get to do it with each of my teams. I really don’t see my job as one I “have” to do. Don’t get me wrong, there are parts of it I do not love that are things I “have” to do. However, my primary job is to support teachers and leaders to ensure they have what they need to create equitable opportunities for all learners that go well beyond high school. That’s the job I get to do each day on behalf of many learners, especially those who need school the most as poverty and trauma have denied them some opportunities outside of school. I am grateful each day for parts of my job. The day of the interviews, it hit me exactly how grateful I am that I get to do the whole thing. It is not the easiest job out there, but it is one that gives me a sense of purpose and reminds me each day what matters most.

At the breakfast this year, the speaker again talked about gratitude. He said, “It should not be Happy Thanksgiving, but instead I am happy from giving thanks.” I am happier when I give thanks for what I have and what I get to do each day at work and at home. What I am most grateful for each day is always the people I have in my life and the relationships I have with them as they matter and make all the difference.

The Power of a True Community

“There is a yearning in the heart for peace. Because of the wounds and rejections we have received in past relationships, we are frightened by the risks. In our fear, we discount the dream of authentic Community as merely visionary. But there are rules by which people can come back together, by which the old wounds can be healed. The purpose of Community Building is to teach these rules- to make hope real again- and to make the vision actually manifest in a work which has almost forgotten the glory of what it means to be human.” 

     -M. Scott Peck MD, author of The Road Less Traveled

This statement is the vision of a community building workshop that I had the opportunity to participate for three days last week with staff, parents, religious leaders, law enforcement, and other community members. It was an emotional experience wherein we shared our own stories and heard the stories of others so we could learn to empathize and grow together to build a stronger community. At the end of three days, I felt exhausted and completely exhilarated at the same time. We found connections with one another that we had no idea were there and learned to sit in silence with each other at times to make space for everyone to process and feel. We all entered the experience having no idea what to expect and getting little to no direction from the facilitators, which was really frustrating at first and made total sense by the end. After the three days, we were tied to one another with a tight bond that helped to heal some wounds and certainly made me feel hopeful about how we can make those same connections in classrooms and with families. 

After the first day of the workshop, I went to teach a class for pre-service teachers at one of our local universities on inclusionary practice for children with special needs. It was the first night of face-to-face class as the first half of the course was held online. As I drove there, I could not stop thinking about the vision of our workshop. Our classrooms and schools need to be places where we make hope real again and remember what it means to be human. We have to be less focused on finishing a textbook or getting through our curriculum and more focused on making sure our learners feel a sense of belonging and that they are a part of something important at school that translates into skills in life. 

As the college students entered class, I shook each person’s hand and introduced myself, which seemed to surprise them. Many of them spent a few minutes before class expressing frustrations about challenging students they encountered in their student teaching placements. As I listened to the challenges, that vision again came to mind. We started class by talking about empathy and why it is so essential when working with each other and all learners, but especially those who have disabilities or those who are disconnected from school and life. We spent a lot of time that first night talking about creating community in the classroom, how to help learners find access points to grade level material, and the importance of making sure content is driven by student interests.  

I invited a math and a special education teacher who co-teach at one of our high schools speak to the class. They talked about how much easier teaching is when you have a true collaborative partner and ways they have found to connect the material to some of the most challenging learners. They shared stories about the successes they have found in developing relationships with learners by knowing their interests and their future plans.  I asked them at the end to share their favorite part about teaching. They each talked about the sense of purpose they feel in giving back and connecting with the learners who need school the most as sadly they do not have the opportunity to make those connections or feel that sense of community anywhere else in their lives. 

By the time our class had ended and the last student left over an hour later, I had gotten the chance to hear about what many of those students are going through while attempting to complete college, successfully student teach, and have lives outside of both. Many of them have partners and children as well, which makes it all even more complicated. I made some adjustments to the syllabus that night as I learned what the students wanted and needed to know. I added opportunities to learn about Restorative Practices to help create a sense of belonging in every classroom so learners want to be there and want to work hard. 

We often focus on creating relationships between our learners and ourselves, but do not always work on the relationships they are creating with one another. A restorative classroom starts with community building circles through which we can learn about the learners and they can learn about one another by asking a series of progressive questions. They start with low-risk questions about superficial topics such as, “What is your favorite ice cream flavor?”. As learners begin to trust one another they ask high-risk questions like, “Describe a time you acted on your core values when others did not.” Circles can be used for relationship building or academic activities by asking questions related to content.

After students get to know one another through circles, it evolves into opportunities to support one another and eventually repair harm within a classroom when something goes awry. Restorative Practices are a way for learners to own their actions, take responsibility for them, understand the impact of them on others, and learn from mistakes to do better next time. Classrooms that are genuine communities are full of learners who are far more willing to try and fail as they know they have the backing and support of everyone else in the room. In our classrooms and schools that have embraced the restorative model, learners are able to host circles to help each other reflect on their reading at age seven. They are able to mediate whatever happened at recess without the teacher. They are able to keep everyone in classrooms and communities because they have the skills to work through conflict together within the class instead of heading to the office. We want learners to feel the same level of connection and trust with one another that I felt after three days in a room with people I did not know very well at the start so they can own every part of the learning environment.

I sent my college students a new syllabus later that night with a couple of the assignments removed and a new one to bring back to class the next week. I asked them to do empathy interviews with at least two students with these questions:

  • Tell me about a time you were successful in school.
  • Tell me about a time you struggled in school. What did you do?
  • What are three words you would use to describe this class?
  • What is one thing you wish teachers knew about you?

I cannot wait to see what insight this gives them about their learners and what we can do next week to continue working on how to create classrooms that are real communities where learners feel safe and inspired.  We get to try “to make hope real again- and to make the vision actually manifest in a work which has almost forgotten the glory of what it means to be human.”