It is Natural to Feel Like You Are in Over Your Head

Jeansley“If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” – T. S. Eliot

There have been many times in my life that I have felt like I was involved in something that I was not capable of handling.  Whether it has been teaching, becoming a parent, playing live music, or doing a live radio broadcast, there are inevitably going to moments that I have no clue how I am going to make it through the situation I find myself in.

Thankfully, I have some friends who know a thing or two about taking risks, and trying new things, and they have encouraged me to recognize that it is not always a bad thing to feel fear when you are doing what you love.  Following our hearts can seem like a risky endeavor in our world.  Many of us have been conditioned to believe that being in control is the ultimate goal, and following our heart often means letting go of control.

Sometimes the dreams that we hold in our hearts require us to expand our ideas about who we are and what we are capable of.  We might not realize how much we can accomplish until we find ourselves involved in something that takes us beyond our current ideas.  For example, there was a time when the middle school lunch group was lucky to attract five students.   It was an intimate setting, all of us seated around a small table, with a neatly organized agenda for each meeting.  The challenge for me was encouraging other students to join us.

Recently that has changed in a big way.  While it did not happen overnight, there are now days when up to fifty students, sixth through eighth grade, come together in the meeting room to play games, laugh, and even sing together.  This is fantastic for my program, and for the students who are able to gather and make new friends.  The group is a place for creating relationships and support networks that are invaluable as our students navigate the sometimes bumpy seas of middle school.  The challenging part for me has been rethinking my role in the group, and discovering ways to effectively organize and direct the group.

The good news is that, after some anxious moments and careful reflection, everything is moving along smoothly.  The students are happy, and albeit a little loud, the group has been going along without a hitch.  The key was relaxing my own expectations and beliefs about what was possible and opening up to a greater vision.  In my case, it was sink or swim, because the group had expanded and it was up to me to learn how to expand with it.

Following our hearts is a bit like walking a tightrope.  Sometimes we have to take one step at a time, with our eyes resolutely focused on the goal that we are moving toward.  If we waste time looking back, or looking down at what might happen if we fall, we are likely to have a temporary feeling of overwhelm.  We might question what we were thinking by embarking on the task in the first place.  All of this is normal.

It is helpful to remember that there are safety nets to catch us, if we are willing to use them.  These include friends who will encourage us, inspiring books, and practices such as prayer and meditation.  Even if we fall, and we will, we can dust ourselves off and climb back up the ladder to try again.  This has been repeated throughout the ages by those who have gone on to achieve great things by following their heart.

So take inventory of the adventures you are currently on.  If you are feeling like you are in over your head, take a breath.  When we take the time to refresh our mind, we naturally float to the surface and see things more clearly.  By lightening up our thinking we remember why we have chosen to do the things we are doing.  We see the bigger picture, and we gain inspiration for the road ahead.  In fact, if you are feeling overwhelmed by whatever you are doing at the moment, it is okay to do a little happy dance.  There is a good chance that those feelings are indicating that you are heading in the right direction.

Photo (Top):  Don’t be afraid to get in over your head.  The benefits of following your heart are worth it.  Jeansley Jean Baptiste, 6th grader at Culver City Middle School, is a great leader, and an asset to our ever-expanding lunch group.

Edward Biagiotti is the Inclusion Specialist for Culver City Unified School District.  He is also co-host of the popular radio show, Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed, to find out more go to www.DarrellandEd.com

 

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Sometimes You Have to Get Fired Up

Hana“Don’t try to be somebody else.  You have to be yourself at all times.” – John Wooden

Over the last few weeks I have been changing my tune in some of the lunch groups that I run for the district.  I noticed that some of them had become rough around the edges.  There was less collaboration and more people talking over one another.  I had to admit to myself that it was not feeling good.

I was starting to feel frustrated and resentful with these particular groups.  I was not sure what to do with those emotions.  I did not want to take my frustrations out on my students and yet I felt compelled to let them know that I was not happy with what I was seeing.

The solution I came up with was to allow myself to have my emotions, and communicate them to the group, without becoming a victim in the process.  Rather than tell the students that their behavior was causing my emotions, I let them know that I was feeling frustrated and that I could not tolerate the way they were behaving.  I ended the groups a few minutes early and let them know that we would try it again next time.

Some of the students pointed out that they were not the ones who were causing the disturbance.  I quickly, and sincerely, told them that I acknowledge and appreciate them for being so cooperative.  I let each of them know that my frustration was not directed toward them, and told them to have a great week.  They went away feeling seen and heard.

The students who were acting in disruptive ways also had interesting responses.  Some of them lingered afterward, attempting to joke about the matter, or make some sort of contact with me in a loving way.  For those students, I allowed them to help clean up the room if they wanted to.  I could feel that they needed some kind of resolution with me.  I sensed that they were apologizing in their own way.

In the end, I was able to sincerely thank the students for helping with clean-up.  I let them know that I hoped the rest of their week would go well, and that I expected the best from them.  The experience taught me something.  It is important to honor myself and my emotions, as much as I honor my students.  If we ignore what is going on inside of us, it is not helping anyone.  By calling on the best in ourselves, we are also calling on the best in the people around us.

One thing that helps when we are feeling overrun by life is to find healthy ways to express what is present.  The unhealthy way is to let it all boil over and blame the people around us for the way we are feeling.  It is unhealthy because we quickly find that the others are unaware or unequipped to do better than they are doing in that moment.  This is especially true with children.

When we find a place to let out our emotions in a way that we feel heard and supported, something else happens.  We emerge feeling rejuvenated and empowered.  Sometimes our emotions simply need to be heard.  If we are able to express our bottled up emotions and thoughts, we will discover that there is wisdom underneath the frustration.  In fact, the frustration is an indicator that we have not been paying attention to our inner guidance.  Our emotions are like smoke signals coming up from inside, inviting us to slow down and check-in.

Too often, we mistake the fire within us for some form of mild insanity, or selfishness.  What I have come to realize is that our inner fire must be harnessed, and then focused in a healthy direction.  Like the warrior, or the athlete, preparing for a battle or the big game, it is healthy to get in “the zone” and then go to work.  This applies to the classroom, to parenting, and to relationships of all sorts.  The best part is that people of all ages respond positively when we are sincere, inspired, and enthusiastic about life.

If you are feeling bogged down by frustration, it is time to tap into that fire.  Find out what is really bothering you.  Talk to someone who will understand and encourage you, without getting caught up in the details.  If you are not comfortable sharing your emotions with others, you can write it all out on a piece of paper.   Once you pull your emotions out into the light, they will automatically begin to change into something useful.  When you feel that fire burning in a healthy way, the world will respond to you differently, and you will have more fun in the process.

Photo (Top):  Get fired up!  Honor your emotions, and bring your enthusiasm to everything you do.  Enthusiastic students like Hana Varsano, a fourth grader at Farragut Elementary School, make it easy for me to get in the zone and go to work.

Edward Biagiotti is the Inclusion Specialist for Culver City Unified School District.  He is also co-host of the popular radio show, Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed, to find out more go to www.DarrellandEd.com

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Sometimes You Have to Adjust Your Perspective

Melisa“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.  Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” – Marcus Aurelius

I was speaking with a colleague who was having a challenging moment.  She was doubting whether or not she was in the right profession.  It seemed to her that things were not going well because of some feedback she had received.  I reminded her that I have been in the field for 18 years, and the trickiest part of the job is learning how to take care of yourself in a way that allows you to continue to do the work that you love to do, even when things are challenging around you.

Many people who are attracted to working jobs that focus on service also happen to be very sensitive.  It is our sensitivity that allows to connect easily with others.  This sensitivity also makes it easier to understand and feel what someone else is going through.  These gifts make sensitive people perfect for jobs that involve helping other people.

On the other hand, because sensitive people are able to feel so much, it is easy to get weighed down.  It is easy to mistake other people’s feelings for our own.  Once this happens, it can become a negative spiral.  Thank goodness, there are people around us who have been down this road before and can point us in the right direction.

I have been blessed to work alongside many veteran educators.  There have been times where their input has been the just the boost I needed to keep going.  They have helped me remember that this job can be tough and that it is important not to take the words, and sentiments, of the people around us, personally.

I can remember sitting with the Director of Special Education, Jo-Anne Cooper, after a meeting.  I was feeling like I was not doing a very good job on the case because the meeting had some contentious energy and I was internalizing it.  Ms. Cooper reminded me that she was once a Speech Therapist.  She let me know that the way I was feeling was natural and that it was important to let go of those doubts as soon as possible.  Her understanding, and encouragement, were just what I needed to get on with my day.

All of those moments of doubting myself in the face of challenging situations have taught me to be good to myself, even when it is difficult to do so.  The greatest people in any sport, or profession, have had to face their own doubts and limiting beliefs, in order to come out on the other side.  In his first year in the playoffs, Kobe Bryant shot five consecutive air-balls in the fourth quarter of an important game.  That temporary failure inspired him to come back stronger the next year, turning into the Kobe Bryant that Laker fans now embrace and celebrate.

It is always the voices in our own head that matter most.  When the voice in our head turns into one of self-criticism, that is when we must take inventory.  It is important to slow down in those moments and remember what is real.  We are all worthy of our own respect.  We are worthy of love, simply because we are here on this planet.  When we take the time to remind ourselves of these simple truths, the rest of our lives will fall into place along those same lines.

If you are feeling stressed, and less than qualified for the job you are doing, or the relationships you are involved with, take a moment to check-in with yourself.  Acknowledge how you are feeling and then shift your focus.  Is there someone you know who you can talk to, or an inspiring book you can read?  Choose anything that will remind you that you are better off than you are currently believing yourself to be.  You can start by reminding yourself that you are alright, and that you are worthy of your own respect.  Once you establish a loving connection with yourself, new ideas and insights will begin to come forward.  From there, you can take any action that might be required, and you can rest assured that you are headed in the right direction.

Photo (Top):  You are perfect for the job!  Don’t let the voices of doubt get in the way of doing the things you love.  Melisa Torbati, Instructional Assistant, does what she loves and our students benefit from her gifts and talents.

Edward Biagiotti is the Inclusion Specialist for Culver City Unified School District.  He is also co-host of the popular radio show, Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed, to find out more go to www.DarrellandEd.com.

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Stay Open for the Miracles

GRacie“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

This week I was reminded that wonderful things are happening all around us.  Our job is to keep ourselves open to witness and appreciate them when they occur.   With all the negative news, and sources of news, that vie for our attention, it can be challenging to keep a positive and hopeful attitude toward life.  It is important to remember that what we focus on grows in our experience.  The more we look for, and find evidence of bad news, the more disheartened we become, and the easier it is to find more to feel bad about.

The good news is that we can also choose to focus our attention on the positive things that are present in our lives.  When we do, we feel our mood lift, new ideas start flowing through our mind, and we start to see more evidence of things to feel good about.  This concept of choosing where we put our focus is the basis for the practice of meditation.  Meditation brings relief because we are taking our mind off of the thoughts that keep us stuck in patterns of negativity.  The same is true for prayer, or reading inspired material.  These activities give us a way to consciously refocus our mind in a direction that works for us.  This is also why these activities are so effective when used as a jumping off point for our day.

When we start our day with a refreshed outlook, everything else goes along more smoothly.  The morning commute is more enjoyable, as well as time with family.  This holds true for me when I sit down with a group of young people.  If I have taken the time, in advance, to get my mind positively focused, I find it easier to focus on the job at hand.  This includes listening and appreciating my students more fully, looking for solutions rather than harping on problems, and being able to provide my students with effective strategies that they can apply in their lives outside of our groups.

The best part about keeping ourselves attuned to the positive aspects of life, is the little surprises that happen along the way.  We make new friends wherever we happen to be.  It might be a shared laugh, or holding a door open for someone.  Something as simple as a shared smile in passing creates a lasting impression and a more joyful life experience.  These little things dramatically improve the quality of our lives as we practice maintaining a positive outlook.

This week, Laura Tollefson, an experienced and dedicated teacher at El Rincon Elementary School, shared a marvelous example of a small miracle of kindness that brightened everyone’s day.  As the school was completing their APEX Fun Run, in which the students were required to run or walk laps around the track in support of health and fitness, one of Tollefson’s students was on the sidelines. Having arrived late, Gracie Sauer was seated in her wheelchair, observing the event, and wanting to have a go at the track.  Mirella Villalta, Instructional Assistant, explained to me that it was the PTA President, Summer McBride, who stepped in and made sure that Gracie would have her opportunity.

What happened next had everyone in tears.  The announcer from APEX let everyone know that they had a special guest.  As Gracie rounded the track in her motorized wheelchair, the rest of the students gathered around, ran beside her, and cheered her on.  What started out as a challenge had turned into an amazing experience for Gracie and everyone involved.  It is events like this that keep life exciting and inspiring.  These are the reasons why it is wise to practice looking for the positive in every person and situation we encounter.  We never know who or what might turn into a “golden link in the chain of our good” to quote Florence Scovel Shinn.

Perhaps there are certain areas of your life that have become drab.  Maybe you have lost your sense of zest and inspiration, and have been going along with the emergency brake on.  Instead of breaking down, I suggest you give your mind a break.  Find some quiet time to relax and breathe.  Focus on your immediate surroundings for a few quiet moments.  Next look for things in your life that you can be grateful for.  It will not take long for the list of positives to grow, and the list of concerns to shrink.  From that place of relief and appreciation, new ideas and new solutions will come more easily, and in the least expected ways.  Do not be concerned if your mind returns to its normal habit of thought when the exercise is over.  The more you practice, the easier it will become.

Photo (Top):  When you look for the good in your life, you will find it everywhere.  Gracie Sauer, a fourth grader at El Rincon Elementary School, stepped out boldly and started a chain reaction of joy.

Edward Biagiotti is the Inclusion Specialist for Culver City Unified School District.  He is also co-host of the popular radio show, Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed, to find out more go to www.DarrellandEd.com

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You Are Your First Order of Business

Kathleen“People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.” – John C. Maxwell

There are times when all of us lose track of our enthusiasm.  With all of the stories that are out there about our world, and the stories we tell ourselves, it is easy to get turned around.  It is important to pay attention to the way we feel because our feelings are the first indicator that we have lost touch with our goals, and are likely wandering down dead-end roads in our mind.  When this happens, it is imperative to our success that we take some time to take care of ourselves.

Like the passengers on an airplane that is forced to make an emergency landing, we must put our own oxygen mask on first.  Then it is easier to help the people around us do the same.  If we attempt to help others before we have taken care of ourselves, the help we offer might be compromised.  This is particularly true with regards to our attitude.

We have all experienced servers at restaurants who take our order, and deliver our food, yet seem burdened by the process.  The effect of that attitude can put a damper on an outing.  Similarly, when we interact with people out of a sense of obligation, rather  than joyful giving, we might not like the feedback we get from those we are working with.  If, on the other hand, we take the time to get ourselves in a good state of mind, then our day, and the responses we receive from those around us are likely to be much more positive, and appreciative.  It is a simple concept, yet one that is easy to overlook.

This week I was asked to talk to a student who attends one of the lunch groups I facilitate.  He was in the middle of a challenging morning.  The young man was refusing to enter his classroom and had been threatening to spray his teacher with the janitor’s cleaning supplies.  When I asked him why he was threatening to spray people with cleaner, he shared with me his frustrations regarding being told what to do, and with having an adult follow him around to help him all the time.  I could hear how challenging that was for him, and could sense his relief as I listened with an open ear and an active appreciation for who he is.  After a short conversation about the best way to proceed in order to have a good day for himself, he entered the classroom and got on with his day.

One thing that helped me to effectively connect with this student was the fact that I had spent the morning getting my own head moving in the right direction.  Prior to our encounter I was at a meeting and was experiencing doubt about myself and my value to the team.  Rather than dwell on the negative, I slowed down, and started appreciating myself, as well as the people around me.  It did not take long before I had a refreshed outlook and was contributing constructively to the group.

That boost in mood was still with me when I was asked to talk to the young man outside his classroom.  I had compassion for the young man because I had just applied that same compassion to myself.  I had let go of my own limiting beliefs and made a conscious choice about what kind of day I wanted to have.  After having done this for myself, it was easy to extend that same love to him.

If you are feeling stressed at work, or at home, take some time to take care of yourself.  Notice where your mind is dwelling.  If it is going in a direction that does not feel good, slow down, and look at the world around you with new eyes.  Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are alright.  Next, find some things to appreciate about yourself and the people you are working or living with.  Notice any improvements in your mood and appreciate them as well.  It will not take long for your ship to catch the current of life and start sailing in the right direction.

Photo (Top):  Help yourself so that you can help others.  Kathleen Arena, RN, FNP, Nationally Certified School Nurse, has been a nurse for 36 years.  For the past 12 years she has been helping our students get back on their feet, and back on the road to success.

Edward Biagiotti is the Inclusion Specialist for Culver City Unified School District.  He is also co-host of the popular radio show, Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed, to find out more go to www.DarrellandEd.com.

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Find Out What Works For You

IMG_4925“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.” – Lao Tzu

This week was business as usual.  Running lunch groups, checking in with students, and taking on surprises is par for the course in my job.  Although it has taken me time to clarify and develop as an educator, some things remain the same.  My primary focus is to do what I can do to prepare for the job at hand, and then show up and enjoy the experiences as they unfold.  I enjoy interacting with all of the different people, and learning about myself along the way.

Although we all have much in common, we are also different in our own ways.  Discovering what inspires you and in what ways you excel is a key part of being alive and successful.  I recall reading a book by Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.   One of the things that Covey discussed was the importance of building on your strengths.  If we spend too much of our time focused on what we struggle with, we neglect the very things that we do well.  Conversely, if we focus on the parts of our job that inspire us, then we gain energy to either handle the challenges, or enthusiastically enlist others who are better equipped to do those jobs.

Everyone is motivated differently.  Some people perform best when they are laughing and joking, while others prefer silence and a more intensely focused environment.  In the same way, some people prefer language that is direct and to the point, while others learn through poetry and abstractions.  The most important thing is that you know how you learn, and what inspires you.  When you have this level of self-awareness you perform more efficiently and effectively and you are better able to access whatever support you might need along the way.

Working with our students, I am always making mental notes about what motivates them each as individuals.  I have found that a student who is meeting his individual need for inspiration and motivation, performs better in every area of their academic and social world.  Too often, we build our world around meeting other people’s needs without taking into account our own.  While it is noble to be of service, I have found that true service comes from a heart that is overflowing with the enthusiasm that comes from being self-fulfilled.

I was recently working with a student who was feeling creatively stifled.  This student did not feel that he was being heard by the adults in his life.  The effect of that sense of imprisonment was draining his motivation and he was not performing up to his potential in other areas of his life.  Together we started to recognize the importance of advocating for one’s self, and finding ways to get our needs met.  Our conversations were the starting point for prioritizing those things that would inspire him, and provide him with more energy to focus on the things that mattered, such as doing well in school.

If you are feeling unheard, or unsatisfied in your own life, it is time to slow down and take inventory of what naturally motivates you.  Are you spending enough time doing the things that you love to do?  In what environments are you genuinely inspired?  Make a list of things that bring you joy, and that ignite your creativity.  When we are creatively engaged with our lives, in ways that have meaning for us, there is a ripple effect in every area of our lives.  You are worth the time it takes to nurture yourself.  The results will benefit those around you and might inspire them to do the same.

Photo (Top):  Doing what you do best is the best thing you can do.  Actress Michelle Allaire, owner of S & W Country Diner in Downtown Culver City, enjoys serving up her best for audiences and customers.  Stop by for a delicious meal, served with a smile.

Edward Biagiotti is the Inclusion Specialist for Culver City Unified School District.  He is also co-host of the popular radio show, Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed, to find out more go to www.DarrellandEd.com

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Sometimes a Little Faith is Required

IMG_4747“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary.  To one without faith no explanation is possible.” – Thomas Aquinas

This week I had an amazing experience outside of the District Office in Culver City.  I had successfully completed most of my duties for the day and had a hunch to stop by the office to check-in before heading home.  On my way over I was feeling tired from the day’s activity and decided to take a minute to get centered before going in.  I had some inspirational material and read a few paragraphs in my car.  Then I got out of the car and sat on the curb to watch a few minutes of an inspiring video on Youtube.  As I sat, intending to lift my mood, someone approached me.

What first appeared to be a stranger looking for directions, turned out to be Artist Krista Machovina, a fan of the podcast I co-host each week, Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed.  Machovina recognized me from the promotional material and had sent us an inspired letter over a year ago.  I told her about my reason for sitting there at that moment and we both lit up.  Machovina, who lives in Echo Park, just happened to be in town with a colleague who had just delivered a talk at the Culver City Elk’s Lodge.  The two had randomly stopped to get some ice cream and the only parking available was across the street from the District Office.

It is these small miracles that I rely on to give me an inspired lift as I move through my day.  It is my experience that they always show up, in the least expected ways, when I am doing my best to follow my heart, and follow through with the life I have chosen to live.  The fact that a fan of our podcast, who I had never met before, happened to show up at the exact moment that I was intending to generate inspiration was remarkable.  Needless to say, I walked into the office rejuvenated and full of life.

It is easy to get in the habit of being pessimistic.  If we are not paying attention we can fall into the trap of expecting the worst, and getting it.  The world is full of stories that can lead us down the road of despair and overwhelm.  I frequently meet students who are stuck in that very rut.  When I talk to them, no matter what solutions I offer, they are likely to end our conversational with a statement such as, “Knowing me, this will never get better.”  The good news is that our attitude is something we really do have control over.

I speak from experience in this area.  I used to derive some form of satisfaction from being right about how bad things are.  Inside I felt hopeless and believed that positive thinking was delusional in the world that we live.  Along my path, working with children, and working with myself, I have learned that the opposite is true.  There is always an abundance of good going on around me, and there is always much to be grateful for.  It is my job to find those things when my mind gets derailed by fear and doubt.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.  When I focus my mind in the direction of the positive, experiences like the one I mentioned at the beginning of this article come along and refresh my faith in life.  The best part is that we get to choose to be receptive to these moments of grace in our lives.  Had I ignored the way I was feeling or ignored my hunch to go the district office, I would have missed out on a chance encounter that turned my whole day around.  I could have commiserated with others about how worn out and tired I was feeling from my day of teaching, and would have found many who would agree with me and feel sympathy.  Instead, I was blessed with an unexpected experience that left me feeling great.

Think about parts of your own life in which you have been expecting the worst, or doubting that anything good is possible.  Even if you are skeptical, try shifting your mind into appreciation for all the good that is going on.  Read something inspiring, watch a funny video, take your dog for a walk.  Raymond Charles Barker recommends saying aloud and with conviction, “I have decided to be happy.”  I actually used that suggestion outside the District Office, and it worked.  Give it a try, if only for 5 minutes, and see what happens.  You might stumble upon a better than expected outcome.

Photo (Top):  Don’t stop believing!  Taking an inspired step in the face of fear is the first step toward success.  Artist Krista Machovina brings her inspiration to life, on an off the canvas.

Edward Biagiotti is the Inclusion Specialist for Culver City Unified School District.  He is also co-host of the popular radio show, Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed, to find out more go to www.DarrellandEd.com.

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Do It For the Love

IMG_4578“I’m here everyday.  Why?  Not because it’s my job, but because I love it.” – Eric Foster, 8th Grade Social Studies Teacher, Culver City Middle School

The quote at the top of this week’s column has been my inspiration for the week.  It was a statement made by a teacher, without prompting, and with heartfelt conviction.  As I reflected on what Mr. Foster said, it was like a light shining on some of the challenges I was experiencing with regards to my work in our district.  It is easy to get so caught up in the “job” that I forget about the part that really matters to my students.

Like Foster, I do what I do because I love it.  I feel drawn to my students because I enjoy being in their presence.   Every day that I go to work, my students inspire me and make me laugh.  When I am done working with a student, or a group of students, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction and well-being.  Sometimes, however, I lose sight of that and become stressed over the “job” part of what I do.

When I say the “job” part of what I do, I am referring to the administrative work, the meetings, as well as moments that I question myself based on whether or not I am meeting the approval of the people who work above me.  This type of thinking, when done from a place of fear, has a tendency to drain me of the inspiration and energy that I need to complete my everyday duties.  They also make it difficult to effectively reflect on the job I am doing.  If I get stuck in that type of thinking, my job becomes more of a mental exercise, rather than a worthwhile endeavor that benefits others.

While I appreciate the benefits of working for a public school system, including the income and stable employment, it is only a part of the reason that I do what I do.  I also choose to do my job because it feeds me on a deeper level.  The more engaged I am with my students, the more joy returns to me.  There is an inherently reinforcing aspect to connecting with, and encouraging, our students.

Taking Mr. Foster’s words to heart, this week I realigned myself with the love I feel for my job as the Inclusion Specialist for our district.  I carried that enthusiasm into the lunch groups I facilitated and into the meetings with colleagues.  I felt reinvigorated and refreshed.  As a result, I had some wonderful experiences with students, parents, and co-workers.

What I experienced this week was a great reminder that inspired connections between myself and others are what my job is all about.  When I enthusiastically greeted my students, I felt sincere gratitude toward them for being in my life.  That feeling allowed me to be firm with them when it was required, and laugh when it was to time to laugh.  I could sense that my students were equally appreciative of my place in their lives.

I was reminded of this as I was leaving Lin Howe Elementary School after a day of lunch groups.

During one of the groups, two students had engaged in an insult contest.  Rather than joining in their power struggle by condemning them both, I remained neutral and focused on the activities at hand.  I continued to enthusiastically remind them that I expected the best from them and that they might even become friends as the year went on.  By the time the group finished they were peacefully participating with their peers, and went off to join their respective classes.  Leaving the school that day, one of those students ran up to me and gave me a hug.  I could feel the unspoken “thank you” in his action.

Perhaps you have gotten stuck in the “job” part of your life in some area.  Now is the perfect time to reset.  Find the aspects of your job or relationships that bring you satisfaction.  What is it that inspires you during your day?  Connect with those things that feed you on a deeper level.  Make a list of those things and read it whenever you can use some inspiration.  With this simple activity, you will find renewed energy to effectively complete the more mundane activities of life.   You will also find greater enjoyment while doing the things that you love to do.

Photo (Top):  Do what you love, and love what you do.  Eric Foster teaches 8th Grade Social Studies at Culver City Middle School.  He brings his love to the classroom everyday, and his students can feel it.

Edward Biagiotti is the Inclusion Specialist for Culver City Unified School District.  He is also co-host of the popular radio show, Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed, to find out more go to www.DarrellandEd.com

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When Your Mind Gets Lost, Follow Your Heart

IMG_4276“Listen to advice, but follow your heart.” – Conway Twitty

This week was a bit challenging for me.  I started to feel overwhelmed by my job, by what I am being called to do in the lives of our students.  My mind started to race with questions about my own qualifications and abilities.  Even though the thoughts did not last very long, while they were present I did not feel good.  Over time, I have learned to slow down and take some quiet moments to shift gears when my mind gets lost.  It is at those times that I have found value in getting back to the heart of the matter.

Within all of us there are things that bring inspiration.  The more we listen to that inspiration, the more amazing life becomes.  Along with the joy of doing what we love, and daring to follow our heart, we will encounter fears and doubts.  You see, our mind is not designed to see how things are going to work out.  The mind, when left to it’s own devices, simply sees what is in front of it, and attempts to make judgments and decisions based on the facts.

The challenges of living from a purely mental perspective arise when fear and doubt enter the picture.  If we are not practiced at self-reflection, and paying attention to the way we feel, then it is easy to become stressed out.  Bringing our heart’s intelligence into the equation is crucial in those moments.  By getting centered in our heart, we tap into a more universal, and less conditional perspective of what is happening.

In my case, I was able to awaken my love for the students that I work with.  As I sat, and took some deep breaths, I remembered how many other times I had felt exactly the way I was feeling at that moment.  I reminded myself that things have always worked out in better than expected ways.  The trick is to relax my mind enough to refocus it onto the possibilities, and all the good that is happening, and take the focus off of the factors that I cannot control.

This skill is vital to anyone who wants to pursue their dreams and live an inspired life.  There will always be times when we cannot see how we will possibly be successful.  We must find ways to anchor our faith in the unseen possibilities, and in the unprecedented experiences that await us on the road ahead.  This is the difference between living life with vision, and simply reacting to what is going on around us.  If we want to experience new outcomes, we must be willing to keep moving through the unknown, until it becomes known.

Many of my students face situations that they do not feel equipped to handle.  Together we uncover hidden strength, and new ways of looking at things, that empower them to move forward confidently, and successfully.  Even the students who appear not to be listening, or who are openly rebel against us, are secretly paying attention.  They are wondering if we, as adults, have the courage to see through the fear, and recognize the potential.

One of my students was putting on quite a show at the lunch group this week.  He was pouting and shouting about anything and everything.  When I half-joking applauded his efforts, and let everyone know that he is a fantastic actor, he was not happy.  He dug even deeper into his performance and stormed out of the room.  He told me that he was not coming back to the group, ever.  As he left, I reminded him how much I appreciate him.  I was not sure how sincere he was in his pledge to never return, though I had a hunch to stay put.

Thankfully, the young man returned two minutes later.  I welcomed him back, and to my surprise, he was relatively cooperative for the remainder of the group.  By pointing out that he was acting, instead of taking his tantrum seriously, I was honoring him as the creative person that he is.  I was grateful that I had listened to my heart and that it worked out for everyone.

Perhaps your mind is telling you limiting stories about what you are capable of.  If so, take some time to reflect on what inspired you to do what you are doing in the first place.  Get back to the heart of why you chose your profession, or your relationship with a particular person.  If you need to make a change, you will access some solutions that you might not have thought of if you continued to react out of fear.  You might find that all you needed to do was give yourself a break and reassure yourself that you are capable of whatever you set out to do.  Either way, you will benefit from listening to your heart.  What you find will add richness to your life and all of your relationships.

Photo (Top):  If you are feeling overwhelmed, remember to check in with your heart.  There is always a way through.  Denise Neal, is a Culver City resident, who listens to her heart and let’s it shine through her smile.

Edward Biagiotti is the Inclusion Specialist for Culver City Unified School District.  He is also co-host of the popular radio show, Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed, to find out more go to www.DarrellandEd.com.

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Expect the Unexpected and Enjoy the Ride

Alana“To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.” – Oscar Wilde

Nothing seemed to go the way I thought it would last week.  I was excited to get started with all of my lunch groups, looking forward to seeing all of the familiar faces.  In the previous weeks, I had checked in with my students, letting them know we would be getting together and making the necessary arrangements to reconvene.  Then I remembered we had Monday off, and on Tuesday I came down with a fever.

At first I felt frustrated and stifled by all of this.  Then I slowed down and took care of myself.   I decided to see what I could learn from the experience.  During my down time, I was able to reflect on my job and my relationships.  I was able to take stock of my emotions.  I thought about what I have learned from past years and found greater peace and confidence for the year ahead.  This detour turned out to be a valuable one after all.  On Thursday and Friday, I was back on track at Culver City Middle School and La Ballona Elementary School.

Emotional confidence is equally important to mental confidence.  When we feel good about life, and trust that unknown occurrences are actually working out on our behalf, we begin to see things through a different lens.  Rather than threatening our plans, unexpected events are part of the plan.  They add depth and learning opportunities to our day.

Engaging life with our mind and appreciating our emotions is all part of being alive.  It is especially important when we encounter surprises.  By honoring the way we feel, we get to learn more about who we are, and we are better able to relate to other people.  In fact, successfully relating to people requires that we know how we feel and what we think.  In this way we avoid engaging in mental battles.  We gain the flexibility required to embrace our ever changing world and all those in it.  We are able to reach a place of understanding that is built on respect.  When we recognize everyone as equal partners in this life, and listen with an open mind, new ideas are born.  The community experience deepens, and the best in everyone comes shining forward.

Many amazing young people are stuck in feelings of despair.  Often times they do not fit into the expectations of the world around them.  The first step in connecting with these students is to listen intently.  By seeing that spark within them, while listening to the ways that they are struggling, it is easy to find compassion within ourselves.  This compassion is just as much for us as it is for them.  We will see parts of ourselves that are still healing, that want to be heard and embraced.

By recognizing ourselves in these students, and then affirming that we hear where they are coming from, amazing things happen.  Many of these students are waiting for someone to take a moment, to stop asking the same old questions, and to start seeing them as valuable for being who they are.  This is where we find the truth.  We are all in this together.  Each one of us is whole and perfect in our own way.  When we honor ourselves as such, and find ways to share our gifts, then we are truly living.

It is wonderful to visit a school, run into a student who was struggling in the past, and see that he is now having fun and enjoying his time at school.  It is a reminder about what can happen when we are willing to drop our concrete plans and open up to the unexpected.  There is always something wonderful trying to happen.   Sometimes we have to be willing to look for it, and trust that it exists.

Think about an unexpected situation that you are facing.  Ask yourself what you might be able to learn from it, and how you might approach the situation differently.  It starts with being curious about what is possible.  As always, I recommend making a list of the good that is coming from the seeming obstacle.  Taking the time to appreciate the positives will help you build momentum and enthusiasm for the road ahead.  The sooner you turn the unknown into something exciting, the sooner you get to enjoy the ride, and that is what it is all about.

Photo (Top):  Relax, you never know what good might come from those unexpected events.  Alana Shapiro, Instructional Assistant, has been bringing out the best in our students for the past 16 years and has seen her share of surprises.

Edward Biagiotti is the Inclusion Specialist for Culver City Unified School District.  He is also co-host of the popular radio show, Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed, to find out more go to www.DarrellandEd.com.

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