This is NOT a Zebra! However...

Photo by Jaroslav Novak

Part of why I went into working with kiddos is because I have a knack for seeing the potential in things.  I mean, you don't go into education if you are pessimistic about the future.  You don't pour your souls out into a job without having a strong sense of HOPE about what could be.  If I am really honest, I would say that I feel that way about everything; kiddos, events, situations, personal relationships, whatever.  They will write, "That could be GREAT.  Just think if we..." on my grave.

I don't know if you all knew this about me or not, but I am kind of a PLANNER and have these skills I have developed where I work really, really hard to make something shining and sparkly out of something that started NOT shining and sparkly.  The vision in my head about what could be is big.  BIG, people.  It involves personal relationships where people come together and the sum is ALWAYS bigger than the parts.  It is that good synergy that happens when people are working toward a common goal and bringing unique and magical gifts to the group effort and different strengths make the whole thing a super power and nothing can stop the goodness from being abundant.  And lives are changed as a result (sometimes in big profound ways, sometimes in small subtle ways) and those involved are filled and re-energized and can't wait to come together and figure out how to move forward again.  That vision isn't fulfilled very often.  

It has been an exhaustive decade in a job and countless personal interactions (countless) where I have employed this method of working harder to make it better.  I was talking about this with a friend recently, stating how unhappy I was with some situations where I had done this and was just tired.  Weary even.  She looked at me and said, "That's because you are trying to turn a duck into a Zebra."  Perplexed I pushed her to explain. 

"Jennifer if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck.  No matter how much you want it to be a zebra, it's a duck.  So you can work as hard as you can to turn it into a Zebra, but all you are going to be is exhausted and disappointed."

Frustrated by this statement, we began to talk about expectation and systems that are too big to really implement effective change.  It has been something to mull over for awhile.  I know that I have unrealistic expectations about situations.  I know I work super hard sometimes to turn a duck into a zebra and I know this is what leads to the disappointment and exhaustion I have frequently.  Sometimes that disappointment is about a situation that was OK but "...could've been great" but sometimes it is a disappointment in people and a misplaced perception of their failure to hold up their end of an unspoken deal and that's not OK.

This week there were major changes at my workplace.  MAJOR.  As a result I had a "family meeting" with some of my favorite souls I have had the good fortune to work with over the years to discuss the future of our school.  I had forgotten what it felt like to feel so energized by sharing a vision and philosophy about education, kids, and staff.  I left completely jazzed and excited and grateful.   

Photo by Jessica Kane
This summer I have had the utter joy of teaching a whole bunch of swim lessons to a variety of kiddos with an even wider variety of needs. While I may be a 25 year veteran swim instructor and coach, I am learning new things all the time about how to teach. Swimming is, of course, about so much more than stroke development. To kiddos that have any needs of any kind (read- ALL KIDS), swimming is about whatever therapy they happen to need and self awareness as much as a physical activity. I have had so many different needs with them this summer that I have employed a philosophy of "We are going to take them wherever they are today and wherever they are is totally OK". The result of this mindset is that I have no expectations of what they should or could be, we just work where they are that day.  Sometimes not a lot of stroke development gets done, but a whole lot of "self development" is done. This might be confidence in a skill or autonomy or celebration of their bravery in conquering a longtime fear or a quiet and safe time where they get to be in charge of their own bodies or figuring out how to articulate a need or performing and remembering a long list of directions disguised as a treasure hunt or obstacle course. 

The unanticipated result for me personally in these moments is that I am always in a very zen and grateful place (not to mention the spontaneous fits of laughter and joy). There is no anxiety or pressure to meet the goal when I am working on where we are for that day. I leave physically tired but so filled up spiritually from being with them and my brain begins to make new connections about how to better serve their needs in new and creative ways. I need to translate that to everywhere else apparently. It would prevent a lot of heartache.

Every year I go into my new school year with a goal. This year my goal is to recognize a duck for a duck and take it where it is. Zebras are out there too. I hope I get to work with some folks this year that share that vision.

We are all up in summer here in Kentucky.  It has been the prettiest I can remember in awhile.  So lush and green.  I have a few short weeks before I return to work.  In the meantime, I plan on squeezing every single second out of the time that is left...and working on taking those ducks for what they are.  

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