Making the Impossible Possible

This is my third season to coach Cross Country, and there is still absolutely nothing like the first meet of the season. This is the first time that even the returning runners get what I have been telling them from the very beginning:

You have to make the impossible, possible.

I tell them these words early and often to combat those two words that I hear more often than I like:

I can’t.

I remind them that not only can they run, they will run well. And yet, they don’t seem to believe me.

So I stand with them at the start line, convincing them that they will neither throw up nor die, and remind them that they can make the impossible, possible.

The start gun goes off, and off they go. And I wait at the finish line…

And here come the ones who said prior injuries would be an issue, who are way out in the front of the pack. The one who started running late, and hits the finish line passing two people at the last second. The never before runners who said they were scared they would not finish the race came flying across the line. The ones who are growing so quickly and are really starting to develop as runners, the ones who are looking for their niche, the ones who just wanted to be on a team, the returning runners who had a rough last season, all of them running to the finish. Running – not walking. And the one or two runners who you had been working with for weeks and had never completed a mile…not only did they run the entire mile, but they did it well.

All of these runners made their own impossible, possible.

This is the joy of this sport for me – showing these runners, from 6th grade to seniors, that they can run, and they can run well.

You cannot help but truly love that moment.

And you can’t help but truly love the high fives, selfies, and sweaty group hugs that come afterwards.

I’m looking forward to returning to school on Monday to watch them confidently walk into the building, the result of a lesson well-learned.

I am so blessed that they call me Coach.

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Because You Do…

I’ve made some pretty significant changes in my life over the past few years.  It was important to me to improve my health and the health of my family.

And I am often met with the well-intentioned question:

“How do you do that??”

Because I do.

It is not really a smart butt answer.  It is the truth.

If you want to make a change in your life, you have to DO something to make that happen.  It would be great if we wanted to change something and BOOM it happened.

But then again, given some of the things we have wanted to change on a whim, maybe that is not such a good idea…

The truth still is that if you want to change something, you have to DO something.  If I want to be healthier, I have to exercise, which means I have to DO something by showing up to CrossFit and doing something while I am there.  Not really just doing something, but working my tail end off.  I cannot just show up and expect something to happen; I have to be an active participant.

If I want to make smarter food decisions, I have to put down the boxes of processed food and pick up healthier choices.  I have cook meals each week from scratch.  And I have to prepare things ahead of time.  I have to DO something.

And if you want to change something, you have to commit to DO something.

The change will not be automatic, it will not always be easy, and there will be times when you will fall down.

Get up, brush yourself off, and keep doing something to move yourself in the right direction.

And at some point, someone will ask:

“How do you do that??”

Because you do.

Tell Me What I Did Right

I am just like most other teachers – harried, stressed out, exhausted, working under impossible deadlines with mountains of papers to grade, emails to answer, forms to submit, meetings to attend, and students to teach.  With all of the demands placed on teachers, I just as easily fell into the trap of grading, especially essays.  I spent long hours making comments in margins, writing some of the same things a squillion times on each set of papers, only to have all of my efforts ignored as students only looked at their grades and then threw the papers away or complained about their grades without even looking at the comments that I had taken hours to write.  Feeling frustrated and undervalued does not even come close to describing how I felt on those days.

And then something changed.  I was attending an AP workshop during the summer, and the presenter handed out a list of numbered comments to us.  These were comments that she typically made on papers, and instead of writing “Your thesis statement in unclear” or “The topic sentence is in the wrong place” fifty times, you could simply write a number, and students would have to refer back to the numbered comment sheet to understand what that number meant.  This numbered system also had positive comments to let the students know what they had done correctly.  She assured us, and she was absolutely right, that this method would cut our grading time, so that we could give more feedback more quickly to the students.

Awesome!  I was going to start using it immediately, as I taught both Pre AP and AP English at the time, and the grading was crazy.

Indeed, using this system did cut my grading time significantly.  But something else amazing also happened.  As I handed back papers, students stopped immediately digging for their grades.  They started counting their even numbers – the positive comments – to see how many they had, and what they had done well on.  Some would be thrilled that for the first time ever, they had received a “4” on their thesis statement, which meant they had a well-written thesis.  Some students would compete to see who could get the most even numbers.  They could finally have a paper back that not only did not look like I had bled all over it, but also let them know what they had done correctly.

You see, that is the trap.  As teachers, we are so crunched for time that too often we focus only on the things that were done incorrectly, and neglect to let the students know what they did well on so that they can do it again.  I had fallen in to that trap, and I am now so glad that I am out of it.

Because now, by and large, students keep their papers and refer back to them to see how to write something now based on the correct model that they already created.  Their questions are better, instead of why did I not get an A, it is now how can I improve this so that it is worthy of an even number.  And they are better judges of their own writing now, and base their evaluation of improvement on more even numbers, as opposed to less writing in the margins or a grade.  The focus is now in the right place – what did I do well.

As stressed out, harried, exhausted adults in this crazy messed-up world, we also tend to focus on the “what went wrongs” instead of the “what went rights” of the day.  We all need to take a time out from that, and instead of bleeding in the margins of the essay of our lives negative comments on all of the things that we messed up, we need to take a deep breath and start acknowledging what went right.  We all did something right that day; give yourself a break and a little credit.  Do the same thing the next day, and then the next.

When you start to look at all of the things that went right, it makes fixing the things that did not go right a little more doable.

Focusing on the positive makes the impossible possible.

Follow ALL of the Steps

It takes a series of steps to get from point A to point B.  That is also one of the hardest things for people to remember – that this is a process.  We do not immediately go from thought to finished product without some work in between those two; or quite frankly, quite a bit of work.

Still, one of the questions I get far too often is, “Do we have to follow all of the steps in order?”

“Yes, that is why I wrote them in that order.  And no skipping steps either.”

“You mean I have to do all of this?  Why can’t I just…”

“Negative.  Do all of the steps in order.  No other way around it.  Put in the work.”

In my classroom, I share my journey in CrossFit with my students, especially since it is so relevant to this particular question.  I explain to them that when I signed up for CrossFit, I did not walk in and immediately start lifting heavy weights.  I had to put in the work.  I had to do all of the things to build strength – some of which I DID NOT enjoy – so that I could do what I do today.  I have to continue to work to continue to improve, and keep doing the things that are my least favorite.  And this means doing all of the steps in order.

Students have to learn to be patient with the groundwork of learning.  Sure, they may not think that doing things such as writing in journals or following sentence patterns is a relevant part of the process.   They may not like critical reading and annotation.  There are days that they don’t like following directions.   But they have to put in the work, even the parts they deem yucky, to be able to produce a meaningful finished product that draws all of those skills together, and one in which they have invested the necessary time and thought to complete.

It is the same with any kind of learning or project or process in the adult world. There has to be groundwork. There are steps that must be followed in order so that the project can be completed.  Some of the steps will not seem very relevant, and some will not be in the least bit enjoyable, but they are ALL a part of the process.  Putting in the work is essential, but it must be the kind of work that produces not just any product, but a quality product.

This process is a journey – one which requires time, energy, work, and personal investment.  Enjoy it, learn from it, and be sure to stop and look at how far you have come.

It will be well worth it.

Lose the Negativity

We live in a world that thrives on the negative.  Media that glorifies all sorts of negativity – gossip, cattiness, cruelty, lies, and the downfall of different people.  People who gain their own power from being unkind to others.  Leaders without empathy or any thought for others.

And under all of this is selfishness – what is good for me is what is good for me and who the heck cares who I offend or make feel bad about themselves.

BUT

How could we change the world if we built people up instead of tearing them down?

How hard would it be to offer encouragement instead of pointing and laughing?

How hard would it be to specifically tell someone what they are doing well at that moment in time?

What kind of difference could we make?

The possibilities are limitless.

We need to start today…right now…one person at a time.

And let’s see what a difference this makes.

Other than negativity, what have we got to lose?

New Year and No New Me

Turn on the TV, and unless you are watching a movie channel, you are probably getting barraged with the same commercials over and over again.  Commercials about how you should invest in the whole “New Year – New You” idea and purchase whatever product it is they are selling.  Reading the newspaper yields the same results – grocery stores are pushing healthier foods and organics, gyms are running super cheap resolution specials, big box stores are pushing plastic tubs to organize your stuff, and there are entire sections of the paper dedicated to a healthy new you.

Let me clearly state that there is nothing wrong with making positive changes, but I don’t like the idea that I have to be a new me.

There are some things that I like about me just fine and am not inclined to change that.

Are there some things that I want to do better?  Sure!

But I don’t have to reinvent myself just because New Year’s Day rolls around.  And no one product, gym membership, or anything else will make that happen…especially in the short time periods promoted in marketing.

Making a better me will come from making one better decision at a time.  It will not all come immediately, and there will not always be a good decision, but it will come over time.

But with better decisions and work, change will come.

And I will not be a new me…simply a me who has made some positive changes.

Don’t Do Everything at Once – Just Do the Next Thing

New Year’s is rolling around, which means both looking back at the year that passed and making plans for the year to come.  And those resolutions…yikes!  We all want to eat more healthy food and less junk, exercise more…or just exercise at all, become more organized, improve time management…and the list goes on and on.  And for some, those resolutions will be completely shot by the end of the first week.  Why?

It is simple.  Too much too fast is too overwhelming.  If you want to succeed, you just need to do the next thing.

It was one of the best pieces of advice I received when I started Crossfit.  I wanted to be stronger, eat cleaner, and be a competitor within the next six weeks.  A little unrealistic?  Absolutely.  And those who were wiser said to me not to try to do everything at once because I would get freaked out and overwhelmed.  They were absolutely right.

I simply needed to do the next thing.  Become very consistent with training. THEN stay hydrated.  THEN begin to eliminate grains from my diet by changing one meal at a time.  None of this happens overnight.  As I worked, I had to focus on doing the next thing.  One good decision led to another.  And all of the good decisions I made were never to be negated by one or two bad ones.  This allowed me to be human.  I love that; I am allowed to be imperfect.

So if you are looking to make changes in your life, determine a realistic goal.  The heavy emphasis here is on realistic.  You will not lose 20 pounds in the next month, or clean the clutter out of your entire house and have everything properly filed in the next two weeks.  Be honest with yourself.  Then, break this down into a series of achievable steps.  If you want to become more organized with your time, start with something simple – perhaps finding an app that you will use and using it for a few days.  Then add from there.  Doing the next thing will help you build up to achieving your goal.

Do not doom yourself with a list of resolutions that serve no purpose than to overwhelm you and make you feel as if you have in some way failed.  No good can come from that.  Choose ONE realistic thing to do at a time, do it well, and then add the next thing.  You CAN succeed with that.

Just do the next thing.  Nothing more.