Leading Community Development

The funny thing about developing a community is that it throws a wrench in the whole “work life balance” conversation.  My job is literally to facilitate the development and growth of a community, specifically at Inspire Academy, a community that grows and learns together.  Guess what happens when you foster the conditions that result in a living, breathing, dreaming community?  Friendships are developed.  Real, deep friendships, focused on a common mission, and everyone realizing their full potential.

Do I work with some of my closest friends?  Absolutely.  Were they my closest friends before the work or would we find ourselves in the same place without the work?  Probably not.  One of our staff norms at Inspire Academy is to unite around a shared vision and serve a common purpose. This is what a meaningful life is made of.  So, yes, many of my closest friends are work friends…friends I met through the work.  They’re also life friends because we’ve structured our lives around the work and around community.  People are drawn toward community, and I am no exception.  My community brings me joy and friendship.

So how do we turn off the work in a situation like this?  Some would say we never do, but that is not entirely accurate.  We make sure that we turn off the parts that drain us, the parts that are taxing, the parts that we just need to get done.  We turn those parts off but continue in the relationships and the joy-giving parts of the community.

We’re all in this together, friends.  Let’s make sure work/life balance is related to setting tasks aside, not people.


Assessment and Joy

These two words don’t go together…just ask anyone who works in education.  So how do we bring them together?  Outcomes.  What?  Outcomes, aren’t those assessments?  Maybe…but let’s dig a little deeper.

I’ve spent hours recently aligning State Standards (things the State determines every child should learn) with the State assessment (the way the State measures if every child is learning these things) and determining which of these things our teachers should prioritize with students.  (After all, none of us can be good at everything!) 

As I did this, I got excited. What if our kids could actually do all of this?  What if my standards aren’t too high, but actually reasonable?  High standards ignite hope because they represent belief…belief that we can prepare kids to reach new heights, belief that teachers can empower students with knowledge and skills, belief that we are more than our critics believe we are.

What if standards, and assessment of how well we’re meeting those standards, could serve as a catalyst of belief and hope instead of a catalyst of condemnation and criticism?  What would this look like?

We need more joy in education.  We need kids to believe that we believe they will lead our world to new accomplishments.  We need teachers to believe that it is possible for kids to break the painful patterns they have inherited.  We need teachers, administrators, and parents to spend time getting to know each other as fellow humans in this journey of life.  What if parents, teachers, and administrators actually became friends and co-conspirators for a stronger community together?

We’re all in this together, friends.  Let’s assess progress to ensure the outcome of a meaningful path for each student as they do what we all do, find their way through this life in a way that brings meaning and joy.

Evening in Missoula: A Sabbath Reflection

A week and a half into our Sabbath Year grand finale trip, we ran into a curveball. We had planned to drive up the east side of Glacier National Park and camp on the east side before driving west through the park on our way to Seattle. As we began more detailed planning, we found out that only vehicles much smaller than our beloved skoolie are allowed on Going-to-the Sun Road, the only road through Glacier National Park, so we began looking at a route further west to take us from Yellowstone to Glacier on the west side of the park. This would enable us to explore the western areas of the park that our bus can handle. While looking at the map to reroute our trip, I noticed a city named Missoula within reach.

As most of you know, I’m a tea drinker, specifically herbals. One of my favorite teas is “Evening in Missoula.” I hoped that my tea was named after the Missoula I found on the map because any city with a tea named after it has to be magical. I decided to spend an evening in Missoula because, if nothing else, being able to say I spent an evening in Missoula would be enough to bring me joy.

Honoring the cycle of Sabbath is about taking time to pause, be in the moment, and enjoy rest.

So off we headed to Missoula. This is typical Sabbath Year behavior for me…some people call it “whimsy.” Following the breezes, following the heart, pursuing joy and restoration. We pulled in late at night, parked the skoolie, and went to sleep. It was too late to officially count as spending an evening in Missoula, so we planned to stay through the next day so that I could satisfactorily check an evening in Missoula off my list.

As we awoke the next morning, Andrew asked me what I wanted to do. My list was pretty simple: find a teashop and spend an evening in Missoula. Well, Missoula did not let us down. We found multiple teashops, breweries, and distilleries, along with a downtown arts and music night complete with over a dozen food trucks.

Missoula was not perfect; it had a visible homelessness problem, and the city’s punitive approach to the problem was also quite visible. But for me, this was a helpful reminder that there is work to be done in every city…even a city with an herbal tea named after it!

We started our morning at some beautiful, riverfront playgrounds and parks. We rode on a carousel that was constructed by a man with a dream who rallied community members to raise funds and donate volunteer hours to make it happen. School children raised over a million pennies toward the project. All the horses on the carousel were hand carved by volunteers. This is, indeed, a city where dreams are valued. We watched people get in their wet suits and go surfing on the rapids in the ice, cold river. (Surely, this is more dangerous than surfing in the ocean, as rapids in a river are caused by rocks, right?!?) We took our dogs with us to all the parks, something we couldn’t do in the national parks.

By early afternoon, we decided it was time to put the dogs back in the skoolie and pursue lunch at a local place. We found a brewery, and it was already past 3:00, so we enjoyed wings and a ridiculously large portion of loaded nachos at happy hour prices.

Next, we walked to what looked like the best teashop within walking distance, Liquid Planet. Surely, if this is the right Missoula, they would have my tea, “Evening in Missoula.” Oh. My. Goodness. Liquid Planet was amazing!  They had oodles of varieties of bulk teas and bulk ingredients to make your own teas. They had so many wines, including some local, sulfite-free, organic wines. They had bulk hot cocoas…a spicy and a mild. They had all the things, so we bought our boys some coffee drinks (a rare treat for them), and I took my time enjoying all the things to kick off my evening in Missoula.

Next we went to a distillery. God bless the Wild West, where we can enjoy wineries, breweries, and distilleries with kids in tow. (It felt like being back in Europe, in an odd kind of way. Random fact: did you know that alcoholism rates are higher in places with historical Puritan prohibition values than in places where alcohol has always been an accepted part of the culture?)   It was here at the distillery that we all sat and talked and laughed and realized that we prefer the urban life to the rural life, even though the national parks are beautiful.

After the distillery, we headed to the park with the outdoor music and food trucks, the same park as the carousel. In only a few short minutes, we decided that summer in Missoula is quite different than summer in Muncie and headed back to the bus for some extra layers. It wasn’t long before we were back in the park, bundled up for a summer evening in Missoula and enjoying music and good food.

 I didn’t find any gluten free, warm desserts in the food trucks, so we made one more stop at Masala, an Indian restaurant, for some delicious rice and coconut fudge with saffron to take back to the bus.

After a cold walk in the rain (Ya’ll, the northwest is fun to visit, but I could not live in a place where summer is this cold and rainy!), we drove the skoolie to the Cabela’s parking lot, turned on our fireplace, and settled in for the night, calling our evening in Missoula complete.

I needed that evening in Missoula before I was ready for more wilderness adventures. May each of you follow the breezes more, follow your hearts more, and pursue joy and restoration more. I know I hope to do more of this during the weekly Sabbath cycle that continues beyond the Sabbath Year. A little bit of rest, a little bit of “whimsy,” provides the energy and sustainability for the adventures of our life work.