Lessons Learned from a “Dark Monday”

I refer to it as “Dark Monday.” It was April 15, 2019. In a matter of hours, I learned…

  • I had to write a check to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). (UGH!)
  • My daughter was moving out and into her own place to live; leaving me to live alone for the first time in my home.
  • My aunt had hours to live.
  • My dad was diagnosed with kidney failure.
  • I was diagnosed with shingles.

I’ve had challenges, bad news and unfortunate luck in my past, but usually it’s over the course of weeks, months or years. I have never had a single day when, within hours, I have been hit with so much devastating and life-changing news.

I am someone who can juggle and manage a lot of things “on my own” without getting overwhelmed. I have a way of dissecting a problem “on my own” and finding a solution, a plan of attack or the “silver lining”. I know how to take care of myself “on my own” when my body is telling me it needs a little self-care and love. I am a very organized person and can take a long “to do” list, prioritize it and do what needs to get done “on my own.”

Yeah. I can do a lot “on my own.” And then, “Dark Monday” happened.

It really put me in a tail spin. It overwhelmed me. It threw me off balance. I couldn’t find quick solutions. It was hard to be or see the positive. I wasn’t taking care of myself. Important day-to-day tasks weren’t getting done.  

Reality hit. I simply couldn’t do things “on my own” anymore.

I think it’s interesting how hard it is for most of us to admit we need help or support from others. The do it “on my own” attitude makes us feel more in control, gives us a sense of independence, doesn’t bother other people, allows us to do it our way and makes us appear as being strong and resilient.

I needed “Dark Monday” to remind me that I can’t do everything “on my own.” I need the help and support of others. It has been hard to admit and hard to accept, but it’s true.

I also needed “Dark Monday” to remind me of the gifts that come when you let go of the “on my own” attitude and allow others to step up and step in and the gifts you receive from doing it. Allowing others into my life to help has humbled me, filled me with gratitude, made me smile and laugh and given me peace, hope and balance in my life again.  

Most importantly, I have learned through other’s actions towards me how to support another person when their “on my own” attitude is no longer enough for them to maneuver through life. I know how important it is to:

  • Ask, “How are you doing?”, and then stop and genuinely listen to the person tell you.
  • Ask what you can do to help, but when the person really doesn’t know or have a clear answer, offer your own idea(s); OR
  • Not ask the person what they need, but just think about it on your own. If you were in their shoes, what would you most likely need. Then be proactive and do something to meet that need.
  • Say, “I’ll include you in my prayers” or “I’ll pray for you” and then really do it!
  • Text them an encouraging message, devotion or prayer.
  • Send them a card in the mail with a reassuring and uplifting message – when they might least expect it.
  • Be proactive. Don’t wait to hear from them. Text or call them and do it frequently.
  • Respect their time and understand they can’t always respond quickly to your messages. And, if you don’t hear from them in a day or two, reach out to them again.
  • Tell them you will call to talk on the phone and then you do it – sooner, rather than later.
  • Give your time to have an in-person, face-to-face conversation with them.
  • Invite them to do something fun with you.
  • Honor them and understand that sometimes they just need to be alone in their own private space.

“Dark Monday” has also been a reminder to me that some of the kids you work with have many “Dark Mondays” in their life. In fact, every day might be a dark day for them. Perhaps it’s not having enough food to eat, living in a neighborhood that isn’t safe, being in a home of abuse, neglect or mental illness, struggling with the high demands and expectations of school or being bullied by their peers.

Whatever it might be, every day might put them into a tail spin. Every day might overwhelm them. Every day might be hard for them to do what needs to get done. Every day might be challenging for them to take care of themselves. Every day might be hard for them to see, feel or experience anything positive.

I had just one day do all of this to me. Now, imagine if every day is like this for your kids AND they are trying to get through every day with an “on my own” attitude.

I’m a great example of how eventually the “on my own” attitude doesn’t work any more. You need others to step up and step in.

Your kids need you. They need many positive adults to support, mentor, guide, cheer, affirm and love them through their “Dark Mondays”. Do with your kids what others have done for me since my “Dark Monday” on April 15, 2019. If you do, I know for sure you will eventually turn the “on my own” attitude into a “we’re in this together” attitude and turn more of their dark days into brighter ones.

P.S. Since April 15, 2019: My dad has started dialysis for his kidney failure. He also had a right knee replacement removed due to a staph infection and will have a new knee eventually put back in at the age of 88! My shingles are still hanging around – probably due to the stress of managing Dad’s medical care – but are getting better. My aunt peacefully passed away the day after. My daughter is thriving and happy to be living on her own. I have accepted the fact that most 26-year-olds don’t want to live with their mother anymore – even if you are best friends with one another. And, the IRS got their money as they wanted.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

A dear friend and colleague shared a podcast with me this morning and encouraged me to listen to it. The podcast, What’s Not On The Test: The Overlooked Factors That Determine Success, was published by NPR as part of their Hidden Brain podcast series. It really got me thinking…

The podcast featured an interview with James Heckman, a professor at the University of Chicago. In 2000, he won the Nobel Prize in Economics. Some of his early work focused on programs like the GED that are designed to give young people a second chance to earn a high school diploma. Jim wanted to know whether people with a GED were as successful as people with a high school diploma. He started by looking at their test scores. What really surprised him was their test scores were virtually the same. Within a few months, the GED program was allowing students to catch up with peers who had spent years in high school. But then Jim looked further. Were GED grads holding onto jobs and long-term relationships and staying out of trouble?

If you looked at the GEDs later in life, they weren’t doing so well. If they got a job they were more likely to quit the job or be fired. Their marriages or partnerships were much less stable compared to the ordinary high school graduate. And, they were more likely to commit crime.

These findings turned Jim onto a subject he believes is really important for long term success and understanding success and failure. The subject? Noncognitive skills, or in other words, social and emotional skills.

In comparing GED graduates to those who stay in school and graduate, the GEDs were very deficient in social and emotional skills. In fact, they were far worse than the high school graduates. This evidence shows that staying in school can help build these skills – if, especially, the classroom environment and the teacher encourages the skills.

People with strong social and emotional skills seemed to have some common traits. A few of them are:

  • The ability to plan and persist. How well can I actually plan my life forward and make good use of my time? How well can I persist on a task? How resilient am I? If I experience failure, how far can I go and bounce back and try, try again?
  • Being open to new experiences and ideas. Am I closed off? Do I shun contact with new ideas and with new people? How agreeable am I? If I find I disagree with someone, what do I do?
  • Having grit and the ability to delay gratification. This is how Jim describes it… “I can see a gain later if I do the work now. If I go to school today, even if it’s unpleasant, I don’t like the teacher and I don’t like studying, I know that if I finish high school, I will have a much better opportunity in life. So, I grin and bear it and stay in school.”

The good news about these traits – they are malleable (can be altered and learned), can be measured and are very powerful in producing positive life outcomes!

In the podcast, Jim talks about a program that ran in the 1960s and intervened in the lives of disadvantaged African American kids in Ypsilanti, Michigan, for 1-2 years (the Perry Preschool Project). The project integrated social and emotional skills into the learning environment for the students. In addition, a parent component was included in the curriculum.

The goal of the parent component was to build the parents’ engagement with their child through home visits. The child and a person from the child care center would go home and work with the parent. Over time, they found the parents getting motivated and excited to work with their child. There was active engagement on the part of the parents that had not been there before.

As a result, the parents provided a warmer environment. They spent a lot more time with their child reading, playing and encouraging. The parents had a greater appreciation for what their own children could do and a greater understanding of their importance in nourishing the child. Even though the program lasted only two years, a nourishing cocoon now surrounded the child, encouraging the child, staying with the child and fostering the child in the years to come.

Jim Heckman has followed the kids who went through the Perry Preschool Project over the years. They’re now middle-aged. And he’s followed what happened to their children. What he found is that an early investment in kids, especially disadvantaged kids, and their parents can pay dividends across generations.

The kids in the Perry Preschool Project in the 1960’s were more likely to be cooperative, engage in school, graduate from high school, go on to college, make more earnings and much less likely to commit crime. When they were followed into their 20s and into their 30s, you began to see even more substantial benefits that came from the program.

Those benefits were with the children of the original participants. The children of the participants were healthier. They had better social and emotional skills. They were more likely to graduate high school, go on to college, earn more and were less likely to engage in the criminal justice system.

There is something quite incredible about a program that ran in the 1960s, intervened in the lives of kids for maybe one or two years, and that you see the effects of 50 years down the road – both in the lives of the people who went through the program and their children. You see beneficial effects that go on to the next generation.

And that, according to Jim, is an important lesson. The lesson is that if you start doing interventions and then evaluate them immediately upon their conclusion or within a few years you may not recognize the program’s multiple effects over time. If you don’t allow those effects to generate and express themselves over time, you can reach very premature negative conclusions. You may not think you made any or much difference in the short-term, when in actuality, you may have made a BIG difference long term.

So, what does all of this mean for you, your kids and All Stars? It means, keep doing what you are doing in All Stars! You and I know that All Stars is that social and emotional intervention that kids WANT and NEED!

  • All Stars can be a student’s respite from tests, note taking and hard class subjects during the school day by offering the opportunity for kids to only think and talk about themselves.
  • All Stars can be a student’s safe zone from a negative home or neighborhood environment that offers hope, encouragement and affirmation.
  • All Stars helps kids look forward to and plan for a positive future.
  • All Stars challenges kids to have the grit and perseverance to do the hard work, today, to realize their future later.
  • All Stars engages the students in important conversations with parents or other important adults to create that “nurturing, safe, encouraging and understanding cocoon” kids need for a lifetime.

It really is remarkable when you think about it. A program that was done 50+ years ago not only had benefits for the recipient, but that the benefit was passed on to the next generation, as well.

Or, think about it like this…It really is remarkable to think that what YOU are doing in All Stars today not only has long term benefits for your All Stars students, but that the benefit will be passed on to the next generation, as well. You truly are giving a gift that keeps on giving. Believe it and keep on giving!

P.S. Listen to the full podcast!

Everyone Needs a Mr. Stewart in Their Life


If your students were asked 20-50 years from now to name a teacher in their life who had a positive influence on them, would they name you?

Now think about this…

Who is a teacher who had a positive influence on you in elementary, middle school/junior high and high school?

Take a moment. Give this some thought.

Jot your teacher’s name down on a piece of paper.

My teacher is Mr. Stewart – my high school biology teacher.

Describe what your teacher did to have a positive influence on you.

What did your teacher specifically do to have this influence on you? Write your thoughts next to your teacher’s name.

For me, there were many things Mr. Stewart did that made a difference in my life. I remember asking for a pass from my study hall class quite frequently to visit his classroom which was also his free period. Sometimes I had something I wanted to share with him. He would listen. Sometimes I needed advice. He would give it. Sometimes I needed encouragement. He would offer it. Sometimes I didn’t anything other than to just be in his presence. He would welcome me. I’m sure he had a lot of classwork to do during his free period and didn’t always have time to give me when I would walk into his classroom. But, I never once felt like I was interrupting, was an inconvenience or not welcomed. He was always there for me.

I was a student in his high school biology class. Science was not my favorite subject. Yet, I always looked forward to going to his biology class. I worked hard. I always wanted to do my best in the class. Why? Because I wanted to for Mr. Stewart. He believed in me (even when I didn’t think I could dissect an animal!) I didn’t want to disappoint him.

I always felt like I was Mr. Stewart’s favorite student. But, now, I think every one of his students felt that way. How he treated me was how he treated all of his students.

List the personal characteristics and qualities of your teacher.

What words would you use to describe your teacher? Make a note of them.

Mr. Stewart was a good listener, attentive, genuine, a positive role model, mentor, gave selfishly of his time, showed a personal interest in his students and had high expectations for all of us.

Does your teacher still influence you still today in any way? If so, how?

Think deeply about this…How does your teacher still influence you today?

Mr. Stewart is the only teacher I stay in touch with after graduating from high school 38 years ago. He attended my wedding. We exchange Christmas cards and letters. We try to connect in-person at least once, if not more, each year. We text each other to periodically check in with one another. I attended his retirement party three years ago.

Not much has changed over the years. He is still genuinely interested in me. He still listens, advises, encourages, affirms and welcomes me.

One thing that has changed is he is a dear friend of mine of whom I now call, Mike. (It took me a long time to get used to it!)

I also had a pinnacle moment in my career when the tables turned and I became his teacher! Mr. Stewart attended an All Stars training I was leading. I was nervous. I still didn’t want to disappoint him. I don’t think I did. He went on to be a rock-star All Stars teacher for 10+ years before he retired!

Mr. Stewart exemplifies a teacher who can positively influence their students’ lives for years. He has the five qualities research identifies with teachers who have this ability.

Take a listen to a webinar I did yesterday, “How to Have a Positive Influence on Your Kid’s Lives that Lasts For Years.” I unpack each of the five qualities an influential teacher has. Think about whether your influential teacher has these five qualities.

Then imagine again…

If we asked your students 20-50 years from now…

“Who is a teacher from your elementary, middle school/junior high and high school years that had a positive influence on you?”

And, they named YOU!

Are you ready to begin the journey to make it happen?

Listen to the webinar…I await your answer!

My Best to You and Your Kids,


P.S. Just a heads up! The audio of the webinar starts at about the 1 minute mark and it gets a bit muffled for a few seconds in some places on the replay. And, you will want to watch it ALL as I have a BIG announcement in the webinar!

To Pick the Tomatoes or Not Pick the Tomatoes

My son, Christopher, was an All Stars student. It didn’t surprise me that he choose me as the adult he wanted to talk to about his All Stars conversational assignments. I also wasn’t surprised by what he was saying about himself through his All Stars work. Everything seemed to “fit” for him. For example, Christopher by nature is a helpful person. It was no surprise to me when he brought his Getting A Reputation worksheet home and he had written that the reputation he most wanted in his future was “to be a helper.” It fit. He got great advice from his classroom partner, his best friend, and me on things he should and should not do if he wanted to earn this reputation.

Things were going well for Christopher until one hot July day six months after All Stars concluded. That day I asked Christopher to pick the tomatoes in the garden. He had every excuse as to why he couldn’t pick the tomatoes. I was not in the mood to argue with him. In fact, I knew I didn’t have to argue with him. Within an arm’s reach hanging on the refrigerator were his All Stars worksheets, including his Getting A Reputation worksheet. I removed the sheet from the refrigerator and asked him to listen to something he wrote six months earlier. I read what he had written, “More than anything else, I want to have a reputation of being a helper.” I also read aloud the advice his best friend and I had given him on how to earn this reputation, which included “being willing to do something when asked.”

I gave him three options:

  • Pick the tomatoes and earn his way towards the reputation he wants.
  • Don’t pick the tomatoes and not move any closer to earning his desired reputation.
  • Change your reputation if this one is no longer important to you.

Not saying another word, he walked out the door to the garden and picked the tomatoes!

Later, we talked about the incident and I reminded him of the classroom discussion they had in All Stars when it was determined that a reputation is only earned when something is done by the person repeatedly over a long period of time. I also helped him understand that today was a day in his future he was planning for six months ago in All Stars. Today is a day full of opportunities for him to do what he needs to do to get what he said he wanted. I told him, “You either use it or you lose it.”

Your All Stars students will want great things in their future just like Christopher. The real test is whether they are willing to do what they need to do after All Stars to get it. At times when they get lazy, forget, or just don’t seem to care, it is important that you and others remind them of what they said and wanted. It’s easy to get off track. Put them back on track with their own words. Over time, they will realize what Christopher quickly realized. All Stars is really not over. It’s just beginning.