Broken Promises

It is difficult to find a rhyme or reason behind why some events leave a lasting impression on our long term memory.  When I was in middle school, a group of boys planned an overnight summer trip to Lake Chatuge.   We would stay at a campsite, and while we would know several of the other families from the campground, no parents would be staying with us.   Initially, my mom told me I could go, and then on the day of the trip, with all my stuff packed, she had second thoughts.  Now to be fair to my mom, it was a horrible idea to let me go, I was sure to end up somewhere I should not be, doing things I should not be doing, well after the time to be back in my campsite.  I know this because those activities were already well planned out!  While I don’t remember all of the specifics of the trip, or even who all was going, what I do remember is that it hurt deeply when one parent after another backed out of letting their teenage son spend the night several counties away from home.   I remember that broken promise.

In the last few months, our seniors have lost experiences we will never be able to replace.  While we are sympathetic to these losses, we have not rescheduled them.  I understand why some parents would like us to try to put the activities back on the calendar.  Doing so adds a temporary degree of normalcy back to their lives and says to everyone we are out of this, and that life is about to return to normal.  While we hope this is the case, there are no guarantees as to how long it will be before social distancing guidelines allow us to have large groups of students in close enough proximity to discuss having events like a prom.   The reality is not missed that any kind of social distancing guideline runs in complete contradiction to an event like a prom.  The risks associated with planning such an event–even in the distant future–and then having to cancel later, compounds the hurt these students are already feeling. 

We know that the gathering limitations currently in place prevent us from having graduation in our gym or at our stadium.  These rules are designed to keep Covid-19 from spreading and are still necessary. We have a responsibility to follow them.  The last thing we would want is for a family member to get sick attending a school function before it is safe to do so.   There are still significant portions of our population that are at serious risk if exposed to the virus.  Because of the unknowns surrounding the transition back to normal, we want to be slow and deliberate in making plans for upcoming events.  When social distancing guidelines are relaxed, and we know that we can begin to plan celebrations for these students, we will do everything we can to celebrate their successes.  The last thing we want to do is make another promise to our students, especially our seniors, that we cannot keep.  

Seeing the Blessing

A few weeks ago, I left my truck door unlocked, and someone got into my truck and took my favorite pair of sunglasses. I went through all the emotions: I felt violated, I was angry, I wanted to get even. Finally, I accepted that my glasses were gone. I would have to replace them. This wasn’t the end of the world. We have all lost things in this world, from something small like a pair of sunglasses to things far more significant, like a family member or friend. While the range of significance in the kinds of losses we face might be substantial, at the end of the day losing something we care about stinks!

Students across the country have lost a significant amount of opportunities this spring. This is substantial for many of our students, but our Seniors have been most affected. They have lost their final season of sports, awards programs and ceremonies, prom, and for most the opportunity to have a traditional graduation. Schools are also caught in a dilemma, trying to balance the social-distancing guidelines that are in place with the frustrations of seniors and parents that rightfully want to preserve as many opportunities as possible. Know that schools want to make this season meaningful for our seniors, even if some of the events may not look like they have in the past. We know that losing something you care about isn’t enjoyable.

Years ago, I was given a bit of great advice. I was struggling with a loss, and I was frustrated about it. A friend told me that I needed to loosen my grip on my stuff. It is easy to lose sight of what’s really important when you have too tight a hold on your possessions. He told me that radical ownership was always openhanded. The idea that to appreciate what we have, we must be willing to let go, was something that I had never really considered. I realized that I would be much happier in life if I didn’t grab hold of things too tightly. Openhanded ownership has helped me recognize those places where I have been blessed far more clearly. It has helped me to be more generous with what I have. I am always in a better place as a husband, a father, and a leader when I am living through the lens of openhanded ownership.

As we face the emotions that are caused by the losses of this season, we should do everything possible to maintain an optimistic mindset. We must push through the grief and continue to believe that good things are about to happen. We will come through this. I continue to believe that life will look a lot more like normal in the next few months. Dining out, camping out, and baseball will all return and this will pass. I can’t pretend that losing things we will never get back doesn’t hurt, because it does. I know that  it is hard to focus on our blessings.  Staying positive and focusing on my blessings allows me to continue to grow into the best version of myself!

Beware that you do not lose the substance by grasping at the shadow. -Aesop

Lighten Your Load

When I was younger, I enjoyed spending the night at my grandmother’s. Many weekends would include a Saturday trip to my grandmother’s house, usually for lunch. Before we left home, I would quietly pack anything and everything that I might need and slip it into the trunk of the family car. I had learned that when we arrived and my grandmothers and I asked about spending the night, my mother’s typical answer was, “I would let you, but you didn’t bring any clothes” or “You don’t have your toothbrush.” I had learned that I needed to pack for every possible response. I learned to be ready.

Unfortunately, this habit of overpacking extended way into my adult years. Over time, I have learned the art and the importance of traveling light; however, I still struggle at times with the urge to pack more than I might need. In the last few years, I have come to enjoy spending time in the woods. My time backpacking and traveling in the backcountry has taught me many important lessons. One of the most important is that overpacking has heavy consequences, especially deep in the woods. Experienced hikers understand the importance of lightening their load and only taking those items that are essential. The heavier the pack, the less enjoyable your trip will be on days two, three, and beyond.

Carrying around excess baggage is just as unhealthy for us mentally as it is for us physically. Mental health issues can be amplified by social isolation. Social media and the news influence the current environment for many of us. It is a struggle to stay optimistic and continue to believe that good things are about to happen. We must be careful not to allow the fear and fatigue that so many of us are feeling to weigh us down.   

The excess baggage that many families are dealing with during this time is not limited to adults. Our children carry baggage as well. As we continue to deal with changes that are associated with a very different lifestyle, I encourage you to respect the importance of managing your mental health. While the craft of education is still crucial in this season, educators must also remind themselves of the toll that the added weight takes on our students. Students can not be expected to engage in critical thinking when they are struggling to have their basic psychological needs met. Students must feel safe, secure, and loved before they can focus on their education. If you or someone you know is struggling in this season, help is available, and we encourage you to reach out. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you need support to lighten the load you are carrying.

Be simple, don’t carry the baggage of the past,
open your hands, and let it go.
– Debasish Mridha

Sleep Well

“Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year-olds.” – JoJo Jensen

When I was a kid, my grandfather went to bed early. When I say early, I am talking about evening news early, not 9:00 early. In fact, it was a well-established rule that if you wanted to talk to my grandpa, you had to call before the local news went off at 6:30. After that, he was either getting ready for bed or already in it. Now, to be fair, he was up well before the sun, and you could call him at five, and he might already be up and out of the house. As I have grown older, either that experience with my grandpa or genetics has pushed me towards the same kind of rhythm. I am usually ready to go to bed by 8:30 and prepared to get up much earlier than the rest of the house. For me, sleep is critical to be ready to perform at a high level each day.

We are only beginning to appreciate and understand the importance of sleep, and this is especially critical for our students. The world we interact with sends students mixed messages about rest. For many of them, they know it is essential, but they also have other stuff they either want or need to get accomplished. They procrastinate and then stay up late to complete homework. They get immersed in a video game with friends and play until the early hours of the morning. I understand that my sleep rhythm and that of most of society might be different. Still, the importance of getting the correct quality and quantity of sleep is critical to our success. The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders. Sleep deficiency is also associated with poor judgment, an increase in human errors, and a higher risk of injury for both adults and teens. Without it, we may find ourselves acting like two-year-olds without even realizing it. We need our rest.

In the last month, our lives have been completely disrupted, and our stress levels have increased. It is more important than ever that we get our rest. Research suggests that our sleep can be positively impacted by our decisions, especially those we make in the afternoons. Limiting our intake of caffeine, sugar, and processed foods have shown to improve the quality of our sleep. Exercise and sunlight both have positive effects on our sleep. Limiting our exposure to the blue lights associated with electronic devices just before bed can lead to a better night’s sleep. To be at our best during the day, we must take the time to clear our minds and give our children the same opportunities. 

If you have young children, you have more than likely experienced the effects of lack of sleep. I remember when our son was a newborn, he was afraid he was going to miss something and fought going to bed on a nightly basis. It was during this season of our lives that I started to appreciate the value of a good night’s sleep. On the nights I rested well, I was a better teacher the next day. While I feel for the many of you that struggle to get enough rest while dealing with young children, we must do everything in our power to maximize the quality and quantity of this time. Better sleep leads to better days.

How will we pay for it?


We are living in a brave new world.  For most of our educational carriers, many of us have worked for rewards like grades and accolades.  When we sent students home earlier this spring, their educational world changed. Many of our students already know that they will most likely pass if they were passing before they left.  Underclassmen will still return to high school classes in the fall. They now must choose how much effort they are willing to put into the learning opportunities that are being made available by their teachers.

One of the great motivators for high school students is competition.  For some students, this competition comes in the form of athletics, and for others, it may be marching band or a host of other academic and extracurricular options.  One thing that they all have in common is that success requires preparation. The student-athletes that continue to prepare will likely be more successful than their peers that make more unfortunate choices.  Band students that continue to practice will be further along than other students. In short, preparation matters. The time sacrificed to get better in the offseason matters. The pain associated with the discipline of preparation has a far greater payoff in the long run.

This principle is also true academically.  Students that continue to work through this pandemic will be better prepared for the courses they will take in the fall.  Math is an excellent example of this process. Each course within a school’s math framework builds on the classes that come before it.  So, it is fair to assume that the student taking their Math 3 course after only half a semester of Math 2 will not be nearly as prepared as the students that worked hard in Math 2.  A student’s competency determines their grade in a class, and it is difficult to be competent and master a subject without a solid foundation. Not taking classes seriously during this pandemic is the equivalent of building a house with only half a foundation.  

The opportunities and limitations created by the events of the last few weeks will stay with us for a while.   Many things are outside of our control, including when we lift quarantines or how soon we get back to a more regular schedule.  There are choices that we do control. I am so proud of the students that continue to choose to engage with their instructors and continue working.  Know that this work will pay off. You will be better prepared for the world that lies ahead because of this decision. Our education costs us our time.  The time we spend working now allows us to pay with discipline and preparation. Those students that postpone this payment will pay later when they are expected to work harder to catch up and build the foundation that they could be working on now.   Remember, in life, the pain of preparation is always cheaper than the pain of regret.

Thinking Beyond the Status Quo

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

Albert Einstein

Early in my life, I fell in love with puzzles. There is just something about challenging yourself to attack a complicated problem that I have always enjoyed. Even today, I will find myself sitting at the house working on a crossword or a sudoku puzzle in my downtime. Problem-solving forces us to pull away from everything we know and sometimes question our assumptions. The way we handle problems tells us so much about who we are as individuals. Great problem solvers are capable of viewing issues from multiple perspectives, and when necessary, reframing these issues in new and creative ways.

A few weeks ago, I was in the grocery store. I had a list and was trying to get a few things for the house before heading home. I had not intended to purchase toilet paper. I had enough toilet paper, but when I got to that aisle, there was a frenzy of activity as everyone was stocking up on toilet paper. So, since every other buggy in the store had toilet paper, I grabbed a pack as well. Only one pack. I wasn’t interested in hoarding; I just relieved my anxiety by following the peer pressure of other shoppers and falling in line.  

The toilet paper scarcity problem in the country has fascinated me. I am pretty sure that toilet paper does not play a significant role in the prevention of COVID-19 the way Clorox and hand sanitizer might. But, it is rushing off the shelves nonetheless. The simple answer is that people are hoarding toilet paper; however, we must also consider that since the majority of the country is staying at home during this pandemic, we are making more trips to the bathroom at home and far fewer at work or school. We might actually need more toilet paper at home. It is easy to write people off as hoarders, but realizing the peer pressure and fear are both extremely contagious allows us to see the problem through a different lens.

When we disrupt the status quo, there are ripple effects. COVID-19 disrupted our sense of normal. As the events surrounding COVID-19 continue to unfold, it is changing the way we think about grocery shopping, dining, education, and many other parts of our normal lives. Finding answers to the problems caused by this disruption will require deep thinking and collaboration. It will not be solved by the same thinking that created these problems, and it will not be solved by blaming others for these issues. The ripple effects from the spring of 2020 will likely be felt for years to come. It is up to us what is remembered, the problems that could not be solved, or the creative genius that allowed us to thrive in difficult times. The world will be different when this is over, but what it looks like is still up to us.

Won’t you be my neighbor?

“We speak with more than our mouths. We listen with more than our ears.”

Fred Rogers

When I was a kid, watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood on PBS was almost a daily ritual.  Our primary channel options for most of my childhood were either ABC or PBS. Mom wanted us to turn out to be good adults, so we spent most of our TV time watching PBS.   I really had no idea that there were more channel options until my neighbor had cable tv connected at his house and had 30+ channels including HBO. HBO was quite the opposite of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood and gave me a totally different kind of education.

There is incredible power in the connections that exist within our local neighborhoods.  Like my experiences with Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and HBO, some can be far more positive than others.  In the season we are currently in, many of us are feeling and experiencing emotions that we have never endured.  Unemployment, scarcity of resources, and the inability to connect with others are just a few of the ripple effects on local communities.   Even with the difficulties that seem to surround us, there are opportunities for us to listen and act differently.

In times like these, we must look out for each other.  We must leverage the power of our neighborhood. Those opportunities still exist.  Maybe we could do this by offering to take someone’s garbage and save them the risk of going out.   Is there someone living near us who might not need to be going to the grocery store? Are we in a place where we could support local small businesses by purchasing gift cards online and protecting their revenue stream?  Do we know someone that might be feeling incredibly alone, it might be they just need someone to talk with on the phone or through a video chat? All of us can find a way to lift others up.

I want to encourage everyone to listen to the needs of the neighborhood and speak with your actions.  Our selflessness in this difficult time will make us stronger. Show your community you care. Be a light in the darkest of times and we will all be stronger when we reach the other side. Answer “Yes” to the question, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”     

Keep Climbing!

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” – Edmund Hillary

From time to time, everyone needs to find something to do to escape the grind. For my wife and I, we have spent the last couple of decades using hiking as that release. Specifically, we find something to climb. There is something about putting in the work and taking an uphill adventure. The views just seem better after hours of on the trail. After a tough week, it isn’t unusual for my wife to look at me and say, “I need to go climb a mountain somewhere.” We live in an amazing place for these types of hikes. From North Georgia to the Shenandoahs in Virginia, we have a world of opportunities within a day’s drive. More than one could hope to hike in a lifetime!

The view from the summit gives you perspective. After a long hike, in the silence and solitude at the top, the hills and valleys that once stood in the way seem much smaller than they once did at the trailhead. On most hikes, the view from the top is usually the midpoint of our journey. Gravity, momentum, and the sense of accomplishment always make the second half a little easier than the first half. In my experience, trails and trials have a lot in common.

Unfortunately, the trials and troubles of the last few weeks have certainly limited our ability to engage in a number of normal activities. From dining out to planning an outdoor adventure, our activities and opportunities have been significantly reduced. For many of us, the ability to work and produce income has also been cut back. The stress that many of us face is significant. Edmund Hillary, the first man to stand atop Mount Everest, once said, “I think that all mountaineers do get a great deal of satisfaction out of overcoming some challenge which they think is very difficult for them.” In these difficult days, I encourage you to keep climbing. There is something about continuing to put one foot in front of another, clicking off mile after mile. Pushing through the difficulties will make the view from the top of this climb a little bit better because of what we have all gone through. And… we will be better because of what we have endured.

An Exercise in Exceptions

“Even Life Itself is an Exercise in Exceptions”

Captain Jean-Luc Picard

This is one of my favorite lines by one of my favorite characters. If I can find any way to describe the events of the last few weeks, there is no better way to start than to describe it as an exercise in exceptions. There is no playbook for the decisions that we have faced in the last few days, and these decisions have weighed heavily on the hearts of administrators, teachers, parents, and students. Last Thursday morning, students came to school getting ready for scheduled ROTC and band events, choral concerts, and spring athletic contests. We finish this week with schools closed and events canceled. The majority of our students and staff have also quickly transitioned to an online learning environment.

We still face significant uncertainty on how long the current status will last. There will be growing pains as we go through this transition, and we ask that you bear with us. I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of our students, as so many of them have embraced this sudden change. I couldn’t ask for a harder working group of teachers and staff, as many of them have teamed up to help this transition go as smoothly as possible. Faculty and staff continue working together to get google classroom’s setup, helping pass out chrome books to parents and students, and voicing genuine concern for the well-being of their students.

Every day, we are working to increase opportunities to provide meals to students that might need it. My hope is that we can continue this as long as it is both practical and possible. While school looks much different this week than it did last week, know that many of those services that we provide to students are still available. If you need to talk with your counselor, your teacher, or an administrator, we can arrange it. If we can help ease the burden that you’re feeling during this season of our lives, please reach out. Know that this will pass. While we don’t have all of the answers to your questions, we have not forgotten, nor do we take our responsibility lightly to help you or your child graduate high school well prepared for the world that they will enter. We know that their dreams depend on it!

The Blessing of the Harvest!

John W. Garder once wrote that. “Some people strengthen society just by being the kind of people they are.” I would hope that when the sum of our lives are totaled, we find ourselves in this small group.

This weekend, for the first time in my life, we started the process of harvesting “taters” with one less in the field. While it was a bittersweet moment, I was quickly reminded that legacies last much longer than our lives. Around 10:00 on Saturday morning, trucks and tractors began to unload and within the hour, we had completed a days worth of work.

Thank you to all of our friends and family from the Jonathan Creek Fire Department that showed up and assisted with the process. It is people like you that make our community a great place to live and raise a family!