little bit of lagniappe

reflecting on everyday grace

Archive for the tag “education”

“To This Day”

My dear buddy Z just sent this spoken poem to me, and I sit in it, heavy with both heartache and hope, knowing deeply that my vocation as a teacher has far more to do with helping kids grow up, love each other, and find themselves, than it has to do with teaching them how to fix their fragments, place their commas, and locate their verbs.

The most important verb we need to know and do and be is LOVE.

May the “success” for which we strive and teach our children to strive be far more about filling this life — our world — and the hearts that stumble alongside us — with kindness, love, and true beauty.  How could we have been made for anything more…or anything less?


Orchestral landfills

I just read about and watched this moving piece about music springing forth from bits and pieces scraped from a landfill in Paraguay.  It’s a must share and a must view.

This is a masterpiece, and I cannot wait to share this beautiful lesson with my students this upcoming year. May it teach us to be more aware of our own daily waste — our treatment of trash. More importantly, may it compel us to be more aware of, as the video states, our treatment of people…ALL people.

God calls us to…

Bring in the “garbage.”

Make use of the neglected.

Pick up the forgotten.

Love the unloved.

Believe the unbelievable.

And dig our hands deeply into grace.



In the quiet of the evening as summer storms make their mark on my windowpane and water our thirsty earth, I am thinking about the power of quiet – both in the soft silence that surrounds, but also the book I have just finished by the same name:  Quiet by Susan Cain.  The subtitle of this notable read is The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, and it had this introvert hooked and fascinated.

Cain suggests that an introvert is the person “who recognizes him or herself somewhere in the following constellation of attributes:  reflective, cerebral, bookish, unassuming, sensitive, thoughtful, serious, contemplative, subtle, introspective, inner-directed, gentle, calm, modest, solitude-seeking, shy, risk-averse, thin-skinned.”  In contrast, an extrovert is “ebullient, expansive, sociable, gregarious, excitable, dominant, assertive, active, risk-taking, thick-skinned, outer-directed, lighthearted, bold, and comfortable in the spotlight.”

Cain admits that certainly not everyone is simply one or the other, but rather a complex collage of a medley of these traits.

This book intrigued me for many reasons (and not just because I saw vulnerable parts of myself between many of the pages), as it brought to light our cultural perceptions of introverts and extroverts and our need for better balance.  We live in a noisy, overstimulated world that needs to be reminded more and more of the importance of listening, being still, and making room for silence.  As human beings, we need to better understand each other, and the best way to do that is to listen and think deeply before we respond or offer our opinion.

Furthermore, as a teacher, this book has helped me to better consider the myriad of personalities and gifts in the little beings that enter our space every day.  Not every one thrives on collaboration, one of our 21st century buzz words. Sure, teamwork is important, but there needs to also be time for independent work and deliberate thought and practice by oneself.

Here are a few other ideas Cain puts forth, which I hope compel you to read this important book (you’re welcome to borrow my copy):

1. How our society has shifted from placing importance on one’s character to one’s personality (20th century phenomenon)

2.  The power of listening

3.  Quiet leadership (NOT an oxymoron); think about this idea of “soft power” in figures like Moses and like Ghandi, who said, “in a gentle way, you can shake the world.”  Amen and hello, Rosa Parks.

4.  Deliberate practice is necessary to improve, and it must be done by oneself.  This also cultivates patience – something we ALL need.

5.  We can all benefit from quiet in a world that suffers from excessive stimuli (how many screens or devices are we plugged into daily?)

6.  Need for better balance in the classroom (ex:  independent work alongside collaboration)

7.  Relationships and communication between introverts and extroverts…how can we better understand each other?

8.  “Love is essential,” Cain asserts, “gregariousness is optional.”

Read more here:

Let me know what you think when/if you read this. Maybe we can collect our thoughts separately and share them in this space or another intimate forum.  I am, mostly, an introvert, see.  🙂

The CHARACTER Revolution

Just five weeks into a new school year, I feel excited, I feel exhausted, and I feel challenged.  Teaching at the Junior High level, I am constantly aware of how educating our beloved students is more and more about trying to help them (and us and our entire community) counter the culture we inhabit — a culture and society that praises success, money, superficial entertainment, and winning.

Where have we gone?  Where are we going?

Earlier this month, a friend and colleague sent me an intriguing article from the New York Times, and in it, novelist Michelle Blake contends that we are teaching our children to cheat:  “They cheat, as my high school buddy said, because they’ve imbibed the message — from parents, from peers, from schools — that looking successful is more important than being honest. They cheat because they have been taught, however unwittingly, that it is worth it.”

Ugh, that makes me want to vomit.

My stomach churns because I think Michelle is right; that IS what our culture praises.  That IS why I do not watch TV anymore because even the television ads sicken me.  In our current day and age, making the hard, difficult right choice is scoffed at, while the easier choice towards the short-cut is celebrated.

This may be the reality of the society we live in, but hope remains in Pandora’s Box.

One of the other hats I wear at school is as an advisor to the Honor Council in the junior high. While it’s grueling, demanding, and often heart-wrenching, it’s rich and real, and it has deepened what I feel is my role as educator.  Much of what we try to teach kids is that we care far more about who they are, their character, and the choices they make than we do the numbers or letters that are marked next to them in a grade book.

Students, it’s NOT about the grades.  It’s NOT about what you can accomplish to “look” successful.

WHO are you?  WHAT do you stand for?  HOW do you want to be remembered?  WHY?

You can’t cheat on those answers.

May we all continue the fight against what society says is normal and send a far different message to the bright minds, hearts, and souls to whom we have a deep responsibility.

Plant-based Summer…and Forever…

Thanks to watching a documentary called Forks Over Knives earlier this spring and to reading a myriad of materials from researchers and doctors like T. Colin Campbell, I have changed my diet this summer.  While I feel like I ate fairly doggone healthy before, I have learned so much, and my diet is now primarily plant-based.  I have cut out all dairy (I still eat eggs upon occasion) and all animal meat (except for seafood, which naturally swims in these New Orleans’ born and bred veins!), and I also consume far less processed foods.  Hmmm…I guess I’d call myself a pescatarian with a side of eggs?

I thought I would miss former staples like chicken, turkey, yogurt, and cheese, and while it was an interesting transition at first, I now feel far more energized and alert, and I also feel creative while experimenting and cooking with simple, whole, plant-based foods.

Here are my usual staples that I ADORE and for which I give thanks:

unsweetened almond milk (oh, baby — SO MUCH better than dairy milk and more calcium, too!)


kale, bok choy, broccoli…hmmm…ALL VEGGIES!

quinoa, sweet potatoes, brown rice

nuts and seeds – walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds

homemade guacamole, salsa, and hummus (Trader Joe’s 🙂 has some incredible varieties of hummus — of course they do; my current favorites are the edamame and cilantro-jalapeno!)

tofu, lentils, edamame beans, black beans…plain ol’ BEANS, baby (of course you remember that little tune, right?)

herbs and spices like turmeric, cumin, curry (I actually no longer take any ibuprofen like Advil but rather rely on these mamas for their anti-inflammatory properties…not to mention goodies like sauteed GARLIC and ONIONS!)

green tea (Yogi tea is my favorite!)

garden of life protein powder (excellent addition to fruit smoothies)

coconut milk ice cream (So Delicious brand, which is, of course, endorsed by my main man Drew Brees!)

Not only do I feel better in mind, body, and spirit, but this TEDx Talk I just found this morning by T. Colin Campbell also speaks to how we each have a responsibility to take care of our health and how by improving/changing our diet alone, we can help resolve our health care crisis that seems to be swirling out of control:

May we be mindful of our choices and EAT to LIVE, not LIVE to EAT.

(Also, how can we better teach our children and our children’s children about proper nutrition so that in their lifetime, our health as a nation and a WORLD improves rather than declines…?)

We Need Nature

Summer reading has begun.  Already one week into summer vacation (thank you, Lord!), I have finished my first book, and it has already set in motion both hopes for the summer and  ideas to tinker with for next school year.  Thanks to our noble Department Chair, as an English Department we are engaging in a summer book club based on a work of our choosing from a selected list.  I chose Last Child in the Woods:  Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv, a book I’ve always wanted to read ever since I shared a conversation about it with Clark, my hall-mate and fellow English colleague a number of years ago.  Finally, the time came to dig in.

While the beginning chapters of this book intrigued and held me more than the later ones, I found myself gripped by the book’s premise: WE NEED NATURE.  It is so apparent that in our fast-paced, plugged-in, overly-scheduled lives, we find little time to remember that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves.  Louv resurrects the freedom, fantasy, privacy, and spirituality found in nature, and lovingly implores that we do something about our reconnection with it – both for us and for our children.

There were numerous ideas, moments, and excerpts that sang to me, and I want to share with you a few of them so that you can in turn read and digest this gem for yourself:

1.  “Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it.”  TV is the most “effective thief of time.”  We have this perceived “time poverty” in our lives, but are we in part doing it to ourselves with our choices?

2.  We need UNSTRUCTURED (imaginative, exploratory) PLAY. What a disconcerting irony that the current epidemic of childhood obesity has coincided with a  dramatic increase in children’s organized (over-scheduled? over-organized?) sports. Hmm…

3.  “Nature is imperfectly perfect, filled with loose parts and possibilities, with mud and dust, nettles and sky, transcendent hands-on moments and skinned knees.”

4.  Nature presents us with something so much greater than we are; it offers an environment where we can easily contemplate both infinity and eternity.  No, there’s not “an App for that”; such  thinking requires solitude, quiet, and depth.

5.  Currently, our lives may be more productive (although more productive for what?  What IS success really?), but less inventive.

6.  The narrow idea of “silicon faith” exists – that all things “high tech” are our salvation.  While computers are not the problem, perhaps our over-dependence on them is.

7.  We cannot be owned by fear.  I loved this quote that Louv cited from Karyl T. O’Brien, the associate executive director of the regional Girls Scouts Council in San Diego:  “when I was a kid, you fell down, you got up, so what; you learned to deal with consequences.  I broke this arm twice.”

8.  The word “boredom” did not exist until the 19th century (wow!).  There is a difference between a “constructively bored mind” and a “negatively numbed mind.”

9.  The spiritual necessity of nature involves living life in “radical amazement” — how refreshing!  how invigorating!  how life-giving!  how grace-filled!  how purposeful!

10.  Because school should not be as Louv says, “a polite form of incarceration, but a portal to the wider world,” here are some ideas to implement this summer and next school year:

-TV turn-off challenge for school community, purposefully structuring more unstructured time, keeping a “wonder bowl” – filling pockets with natural wonders found on walks, keeping a nature journal, reading outside more, and integrating what we are reading/writing in the classroom with our magnificent campus.

I encourage you to pick up this book, make notes, and remember why nature matters to our lives — to our souls.  I bet a handful of memories and scenes from childhood alone can justify why.

It seems most appropriate that as I conclude Louv’s work, I prepare to abandon the city and travel to the lush unknown of Valparaiso, Indiana with my mama to visit one of my dearest friends from childhood on her parents’ farm. I have no doubt that there, we will turn off everything, reconnect with our old selves, get dirty, and embrace the “loose parts” of unstructured play.  Nature, here we come…

When Disability Becomes Shadowed By Ability

“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”

-Richard Bach

Watch this video and see why…

Hero Dad Helps Disabled Son, Patrick Hughes, Fulfill His Dreams

“When There’s More To Winning Than Winning”

There’s so much in our current culture that disgruntles me – celebrity mania, consumerism, selfish individualism, the “throwaway” mindset, impatience, distraction, excess —  all that suggests and confirms that we are our own worst enemies.

However, to counter that, I’ve always been a hopeful lady, and given the title of my blog, I do believe in everyday grace.  Here’s a story of everyday grace in the midst of grim humanity that my friend Meghan brought to my attention this past week.  It features a particular Men’s Division III basketball game between visiting Washington College (MD) and Gettysburg College (PA).   It’s a sweet story that I wish could bubble up across America and overshadow the greed that has corrupted sport.

Then again, maybe that’s what makes grace so good.  You have to look for it in the midst of the darkness, and it sho’ ain’t easy sometimes.  May we continue to seek and help each other find and embrace the light that can always conquer the dark.

p.s. I love that this link doesn’t feature a video to watch.  Rather, we must listen, and I suggest you close your eyes.  As Derrick Gay taught me this past Monday during our Faculty In-service day, let us “listen to understand, not listen to respond.”

p.p.s. God bless you, Division III athletics; I will always have a special place for you in my heart… 🙂

“The Three D’s”

This past weekend, an old, wonderful friend from Norfolk, VA forwarded to me an article published a few weeks ago in her daughter’s school paper “The Hoya” at Georgetown University.  Written by the University’s Vice President of Ministry and Mission, Fr. Kevin O’Brien,  it has been on my mind nearly every single day this week.  He talks about the paramount importance of “the three D’s” — depth, distraction, and discernment — against the backdrop of our modern-day culture, a seething seedbed of superficiality.

I hope it strikes, challenges, and resonates with you as much as it did and continues to do so with me.  I look forward to following Fr. O’Brien’s column “As This Jesuit Sees It,” which appears every other Friday.


Just yesterday, I had the great fortune of posting a brief segment of “what I learned” at edu180atl, a project that aims to “nurture and encourage the spirits of those who love to learn, to connect learners across disciplines and settings, and to deepen the national conversation about education by enabling parents, students, and educators to share stories of what they are learning every day.”  Dear friends of mine created this site with their incredible vision, energy, and determination, and I encourage you to explore and follow!

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