LET’S GET BACK TO FISHING!

A number of years ago, our District adopted the Fish! Philosophy: a technique to make happy individuals alert and active in the workplace. We were inspired by a documentary from a fish market in Seattle, Washington. This market included entertainment from employees throwing fish – sort of like the Harlem Globe Trotters with fish! The positive energy was electric. The fishmongers seemed to relish their work throwing themselves into it with energy, passion and enthusiasm. They made us laugh out loud!

The philosophy included 4 fundamental ideals:

Be There

This is all about being emotionally present for people and being in the moment – not always easy in such a busy reactive world with so many distractions. By being there we demonstrate respect as well as improving communication and strengthening relationships.

Play

Allowing people to tap into their natural creativity, enthusiasm and having fun. Play is the spirit that drives the curious mind as in “Let’s play with that idea!” You can bring this mind-set to everything you do.

Make Their Day

Finding simple ways to serve and delight people in meaningful and memorable ways. It’s about contributing to someone else’s life – not because you want something, but because that’s the type of person you want to be like.

Choose Your Attitude

Taking responsibility for what life throws at you and recognizing that you have a choice of how you are each day and that the choice you make impacts others.

The Fish! Philosophy empowers employees to be more effective in any job. When a team lives the philosophy, they improve their culture and create better results. It improves teamwork, employee engagement, retention, recognition and leadership.

Over time, Professional Development with a focus on Standards & Proficiency Based reporting has become the priority and we have lost opportunities to discuss “minutia”, thus losing the opportunity to strengthen our community. Even grade level team time has strict guidelines, which has left staff feeling lonely.

I’ve been thinking about the evolution of education at over the past 28 years, and I feel strongly that returning to TEAMING and making PLAY a priority would strengthen relationships and create a working environment that encourages 2-way communication and togetherness.

In 1997, staff were encouraged to pair up. We had multi-age classrooms, looping, as well as teaming within grade levels and across grade levels. Teams were designed to help with planning, behavior challenges, and brainstorming- many chose their teammates and some were assigned.

I would like to suggest that schools return to the team philosophy. I would also like to suggest voluntary and involuntary transfers that include placing staff members together that would bring out the best in one another.

There was a time when one Wednesday Staff meeting a month was for 2-person teams to have common planning time. The second was for grade level teams, the third was for building meetings, and the fourth was for everyone.

I would like to recommend PLAY and relationship building to truly utilize the natural talents of all staff members, including support staff. We need an opportunity to get to know one another personally- to laugh and to “let our hair down”. I’d like to suggest game nights, and the type of team building that camps do for trust building. In order for us to BE THERE for one another, we need to get to know one another in an informal setting. Many of us didn’t grow up in “the hood”, and are not part of local gatherings in town. I wonder if a night of play that may or may not include families and spouses would initiate a wonderful bonding experience that would make happier staff. We could watch a movie and have popcorn, play spoons, run obstacle courses, and even go to a local camp to use the mud pits or zip-line.

A happier staff creates trust with one another. That, in conjunction with the encouragement and time dedicated to working with each other would indeed impact the school climate and spill down into our classrooms.

But what if the Fish! Philosophy isn’t enough?

I would suggest that schools return to a clear behavioral support system that takes the control away from the students and places it back into the hands of classroom teachers. We need to focus on holding children to high behavioral standards and have clear guidelines within a behavioral protocol. We worked really hard on that a few years ago, but we haven’t used it for years. We need a system in which staff are not feeling bullied and harassed by students. My sister’s school is using a “Quiet Room” run by a qualified staff member, where children who are having a tricky time can go and quiet down and/or complete unfinished work. They use soft light and soft music, with sensory opportunities and comfortable chairs to de-escalate children, allowing classroom teachers to continue teaching. We know that children do better with clear guidelines regarding behavior expectations with clear consequences. My daughter’s school uses demerits, office referrals, in-school suspensions, and an alternative school placement for extreme behaviors. At the alternate school, they use a “boot camp” mentality with the goal to remediate and return children to the regular education system. In our district, we rarely keep children in for recess, send children to the Process Room, or keep them after school for Detention.

Social/Emotional support with the Fish! Philosophy, Teaming, and clear Behavior Protocol would go a long way to improving moral and communication. I for one want to return to teaming, get to know my fellow coworkers personally, and bring FUN back into the school, while holding children behaviorally accountable.

Fun + Accountability = Happy Productive Staff & Students. Let’s do it!

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One More

April 18, 2013 and April 1, 1016 are significant days that my family will always remember. Like marks chiseled on a door frame, they will be forever engraved in our minds. They will make us swallow, stifle a tear or two, but mostly make us stop and praise the Lord that we were given a precious gift of a few more years with our most special man.

First, he was diagnosed with (FTD) Frontotemporal Dementia, which is caused by progressive nerve cell loss in the brain’s frontal lobes (the areas behind your forehead) or its temporal lobes (the regions behind your ears), most likely caused (or sped up) by 4 significant blows to the head. Three years later he survived a stroke, which left him wheelchair bound for 10 months.

I don’t think we are alone in measuring time by landmarks: when we were married, had our children, grandchildren, moved, changed jobs… But never, did we celebrate them like we do now.

One more.

We were told at the time of the diagnosis that my favorite man had (on average) 6-8 years to live from the time of onset. On April 18, my husband will have reached his 6 year anniversary.

Honestly, we feel like he is doing well. There are seven stages of FTD and I would guess that he falls in the fifth stage. On average, a dementia patient remains in this stage for about 4 years. As long as we keep his world small and predictable, he continues to be highly functional and needs minimal assistance. At this stage, my husband is quite easy to manage and remains fairly content.

What this means is that we don’t look too far into the future for anything and we celebrate nearly everything. It makes me think: What if everyone looked at life as “one more”? What if we slowed down and stopped looking toward the next —- and just celebrated today- the wonderful, beautiful today?

Today we took our first walk of the season to the ocean, and had one more ice cream. We sat on the warm rocks and watched one more tide roll in, and listened to one more windstorm.

Perhaps we all need a mindset change. Instead of “sitting through one more dreaded meeting”, we looked at the time as one more opportunity to gather with colleagues? Instead of “one more work week”, we looked at the blessing of a job that fulfills us?

Everybody has a hard job, and everyone goes through hard times. But what if… What if we took the time to be thankful and joy-filled because God has graced us and blessed us with “one more”?

One more day to say “I love you.”

One more day to hold his hand on a walk.

One more day to close my eyes and feel the warmth on my body while listening to the waves slap against the rocks, smelling the salty air.

There will come a day when I will miss watching the 2016 election, putting down the toilet seat, and running into furniture that has been moved yet again. There will be a day when I will plead and beg for just one more day.

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Early Onset: A Challenge to Diagnose

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     On Thursday, the Alzheimer’s Association is pushing for a new bill in the state of Maine, LD 1072, that will require doctors and other medical staff to be trained in dementia, hospitals to develop a care plan before discharging a dementia patient, and that doctors always disclose a dementia diagnosis.
     This is our story.
     In May of 2002, my husband (age 36) went to a weekend Men’s Retreat at Camp Fair Haven. It was there, that he had a terrible accident. He rolled his four-wheeler going down a steep hill, holding on for 2 of the 3 rotations. Thankfully, he was wearing safety gear and had a helmet on. However, he remained in Trauma Care for 14 days suffering with multiple injuries that included a shattered ankle, broken collarbone, broken ribs, and a punctured lung.
     In hindsight, I do believe that this is where our Dementia story began.
     My husband is a clutz. If he can trip over, fall off, run into, or drop anything, he does. He has never accepted his limitations and has a very strong work ethic. As a result, he has sustained many injuries over time. I lovingly joke that, “He is the reason we have health insurance”.
     That same year we lost the matriarch of the family to cancer: his mother. He hit rock bottom. He could not get his bearings. It was at that time that the doctor put him on the first of many antidepressants. Many made him worse. So we would slowly wean him off one set, and wean him on another. We blamed his mood, social, and cognitive glitches on the loss of the mother that he adored.
     Over time, he has sustained 3 more significant blows to the head, participated in unsafe behavior, began self-medicating with alcohol and had what doctors classified as a classic “Midlife Crisis” in 2009. Our marriage of 22 years nearly dissolved.
     In 2010, my husband lost his father to cancer. Again, doctors continued to treat the obvious: depression. He attended counseling and weekly support groups.
     In 2013, he abruptly lost his job of 17 years after making an error on an insurance claim for a customer, submitting the claim as a “final bill” instead of a “final quote.” He had no idea that the error had been made, until a private investigator knocked on the front door to our home.
     We were denied unemployment, despite hiring lawyer #1 on half-salary, and appealing the decision twice.  His employer insisted that he made the error on purpose, although my husband clearly had nothing to gain.  It was cruel and humiliating. At that time, he was 47 years old.
     Seven months later, he was hired at a competitive company, and worked just 5 months before employers let him go. His employers thought there might be something wrong with his memory and encouraged him to see a doctor. So, a year later, to the date, my husband lost his second job.
     This is when we got serious with doctors and insisted on extensive testing.
     
It took two and a half years to get Social Security Disability. We were denied twice and forced to testify at a hearing with lawyer #2 for $6,000 despite medical paperwork 2 inches thick.
     In March of 2016 my husband had a stroke, which left him in a wheelchair for 10 months.
     
Much of what we have learned, we have learned on our own. Doctors are reluctant to answer questions because “every case is different”, and patients and caregivers are forced to reach and grab at straws. Thankfully, a specialized support group for early-onset coached us.
     
However, the most frustrating part of the diagnosis is that I feel like I have to be a strong advocate and educator to medical professionals and personnel. When I take him to the ER, which we frequent for Urinary Tract Infections and spikes in Blood Pressures, I have to be right by his side. I carry a fist full of papers which include his medical history, the history of his family, his multiple medication list, Medical and Financial Power of Attorney, and a DNR. This was as a result of lawyer #3 & #4, Eldercare Lawyers hired to prepare end of life paperwork & Wills.
     I have to remind professionals to talk to him and look at him while I listen. I have to coach them to put him in a quiet space, to speak slowly and simply, to dim the lights, and keep me with him as much as possible, because Dementia is huge and complicated, and nobody knows how to support and quiet nerves more than the caregiver. A huge part of the diagnosis is FEAR: fear of crowds, people, everything.
     At one point, our Primary Care Physician discussed the possibility of Home Visits. I would like to recommend that as something medical professionals consider. My husband is a very different person at home. If medical professionals want to see an accurate representation of where those diagnosed are at in their progression, I would highly recommend a home visit.
     After both his accident and his stroke, Home Health Care was fantastic. PT, OT, nursing, and social workers came to our home during the day, allowing me to continue to work full-time.
     We are young and many health care facilities aren’t accustomed to working with those diagnosed with Dementia in their late 40’s/early 50’s. As a result, many people have difficulty getting diagnosed, and are misdiagnosed for an extended period of time. At his highest point, my husband was taking 27 pills a day. I worry about the time that we are not longer able to care for him in our home. Thankfully, our youngest daughter and her family were able to move in with us and care for him by day so that I can continue to work full-time. She is taking on-line classes with a focus on Gerontology, with the hope that as he progresses, she will be better equipped to care for him and keep me working. (I’m not eligible for retirement for another 10 years.) Our older daughter has extensive training and has been an additional coach/support system for us. Although her home base is in Arkansas, she comes home for nearly every school break. I often wonder what would happen to my husband if he didn’t have such a strong support system.
     Today he is 53. We are nearing the 6 year anniversary of his diagnosis, and we are told that on average those diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia live 7-8 years from the time of onset. At this point, he isn’t receiving any extra medical care: no more specialists. Initially, we reached out to the Brain Center for testing, Dementia Specialist, Neurologist, PT, OT, and saw a multitude of specialists. Although he remains fairly high functioning, he just wants to live his life. Thankfully his PCP has been very supportive of our decision.
     We just need to know that when the time comes, medical personnel are adequately trained in dementia care, a care plan is provided before sending us to next steps, and that professionals are equipped to help caregivers fill out necessary paperwork for long-term care. We need to be able to access local memory care facilities equipped to work with those of early onset Dementia, so that our loved one is not housed in the same area as the elderly or those with differing mental health diagnosis. In the end, we want to easily access our loved one, and be provided the quality and affordable care that he deserves.
    Please consider testifying on behalf of those diagnosed and contact your local representatives regarding LD 1072. I did.
     Cynthia Higgins
Waldo County, Maine
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     Here is a copy of the bill:

LOOKING FORWARD

I’ve been told my whole life not to look back: learn from the past, make a plan, and move forward. I do that by planning things to look forward to.

So what do I look forward to?

I look forward to weekends, snow days, and vacations. There is nothing I love more than being home. No alarm needs to be set. There are no plans. Most of the time, I just sit with my favorite man- doing schoolwork, balancing the checkbook, filling shopping carts that I never submit, and watching lengthy TV series with multiple episodes. Yet, it is where I am happiest.

This week I had a spontaneous snow day. My guy was having a rough morning. His mood often matches the weather, and it was overcast, snowing hard, cold, and blowing. We weren’t plowed out, and the 2-hour Delay wasn’t long enough to get us cleaned out, so I stayed home.

A bad day means lots of staring, word finding challenges, and slow reaction time. He gets cold, but instead of asking for a blanket, he just crosses his arms tightly across his chest. A loose grip around his coffee cup means that when it is removed, his hand stays in the gripped position. A return kiss on the lips is delayed no matter how many times it is attempted. He can’t answer basic questions, give eye contact, or tell me what he needs. He doesn’t even rock in his chair. He stares and doesn’t blink.

If I can make a bad day better just by sitting with him, then I am happy.

The good news is that most days are fine. As long as his world is predictable, quiet, and with little stimulation, he has good days. He is his best when he sleeps in, naps in the afternoon, snuggles with his favorite redhead, and has alone time after everyone goes to bed. He loves projects and misses the sun this time of year. He still reads political books, plays Words With Friends, watches the Justice Channel, and enjoys a good TV Series. He still cooks, cleans, and shovels snow. These things make him happy.

My happiness is directly proportional to his.

There was once a day when I looked forward to far more, but today I’d give anything to never leave his side.

 

It Takes A Village

A colleague reminded me this week that we all have people in our circle who watch over us. She referred to the support system as a village, which has left me thinking.

In the world of teaching, we often feel isolated. It sounds funny, that a unit of like-minded people could work together, yet separately, and feel lonely. After all, we have little people all around us and we work with a large number of adults. However, the reality is that we have little time for personal social interaction.

Some people are perfectly happy being alone. I am not.

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My favorite time period of teaching was the 13 years that I team taught. My co-teacher and I worked like a finely tuned machine. Her strengths were my weaknesses and mine were hers. We complimented each other. We worked primarily in the portable classrooms, just outside of the school building, and renamed it the Learning Cottage. We created our own village. We all loved it out there. It was like a little 2-room schoolhouse that included 40 children. Quite honestly, it was at the highlight of my teaching.

We weren’t made to live in isolation. Even wolves travel in packs. I think we were designed to be part of like-minded groups. Those units shift and change, but I believe that I am a better me when I am around loyal people with like-goals, who sincerely want to be with me.

We live in a naturally competitive society and I am not competitive in any way shape or form. I don’t want to ever draw attention to myself. I don’t like confrontation. I want to blend in. I am a team player, and have very high expectations for myself and others within my small village.

I am faithful to a fault, and sometimes I get burned because I am so trusting. Sometimes in a pack, wolves turn on the old and the fragile. I am not old, but I’ll admit that I am fragile. Sometimes it takes my whole village to keep me moving forward. I am so thankful for them.

A small Gift Card is often left in my school mailbox to help with groceries. I am so thankful for the anonymous villager who is quietly watching over me. It helps to ward off the loneliness. You’d be surprised at how many times that card has pushed us through- the exact amount needed to get us to the next paycheck. Whoever you are, I pray that you are reading this. I am so thankful for your commitment to making me feel cared for.

Our world has become much smaller as my favorite man forgets people he rarely sees. I find it interesting that he talks about people as we pass by their homes. However, if those same people pop into our house, he often doesn’t know who they are. He is lonely, but he doesn’t want to see people. It’s too scary because they know him and he doesn’t know them. (If I think about it, if a stranger showed up insisting he knew me and I didn’t recognize him, I would be terrified and I wouldn’t want to let him in.) We don’t travel very far or for very long. It’s too scary. This means that our short outings are predictable, and generally places where he won’t run into anyone.

A few years ago, I shared our dilemma with our pastor. His response: if people (the village) don’t come to me, then I (because he won’t go) need to go to the village. The snag is that I am needed at home as soon as school is over. My guy paces and waits for me by the window every afternoon, waiting for my return.

So, to the faithful members of my small village: you know who you are, THANK YOU. You give me strength, encouragement, and talk me off the ledge when my nerves seem like they cannot withstand one more obstacle.

Today I am thankful for the sweet moments that I get to share with my favorite man and that I am not alone.

May the members of our individual villages be patient in tribulation, bless those who persecute us, and abhor evil. My prayer is that everyone is a part of a intimate village that lifts and encourages one another no matter what the time and the hour. May we use our individual gifts to strengthen each another. Together may we all rejoice in hope, cleave to what is good, and always display love. May we not go through the motions, but instead, be a wise and cheerful blessing. (Romans 12)

Figuratively Speaking

Your mind is a garden, your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers or you can grow weeds. I am determined to grow flowers.

We’ve had a really great summer and Fall, a nice long stable stretch. As long as we keep my favorite man’s world predictable, quiet, and with enough projects to keep him busy, he remains happy as a pig in poop.

44284050_10216065718829808_8116275771711946752_nCoffee and candy make him as happy as a kid in a candy store and walks by the ocean keep him happy as a clam at high tide. It takes very little to make his day.

Nap time is most important for him, wrapped like a bug in a rug, he will saw logs for about three hours a day. This gives him enough of a second wind, to stay up until well past my bedtime. He seems to enjoy the quiet time. He thinks it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

He continues to enjoy rewatching the last election from a variety of different networks and is thrilled with the surprise outcome every time. He also follows the local sports teams. He is still quite opinionated, so I say squat when he wants to fill me in about what he watches. Sometimes it takes a month of Sunday’s to get his point across, but if I remain cool as a cucumber when he is wound tighter than a three-day clock, he is happier than a pup with two tails. I remind myself to give eye contact, shut my mouth, nod my head, wait, and listen. That’s all he needs.

imagesMy problem is that I am generally busier than a one-armed paper hanger. I feel like I complete everything by the skin of my teeth and that nothing I do is done up to par. However, I’m learning the value of putting away technology and correcting, giving him my time. Nobody ever lays on their deathbed wishing they spent more time working. My undivided attention makes him happier than a butcher’s dog.

As we prepare for the third snow of the season, we are once again enjoying the pellet stove. Not only does it provide warmth, but it gives him something else to be responsible for. Everyone needs a job, and everyone needs to feel needed. It’s a good thing that he continues to be strong as an ox, and his rotator cuff is allowing him to carry the 40 pound pellets with ease. He really minds the cold, and so the stove is the cat’s meow.

We aren’t quite done winterizing. He still needs to put in the window inserts, the plastic, and the orange stakes out for our neighbors who plow for us. However, he is proud as a peacock that he is still able to do so much to care for our home. God knew that my favorite guy would need plenty of projects.

He can still write, although his handwriting isn’t what it once was and his speech, most of the time, is as plain as day. Sometimes he mixes up words or has a hard time getting his point across, but if we let him “warm up” he will generally make connections.

He putters and is often slower than molasses going uphill, but it makes no difference. There is no fire. Sometimes it is a day or two – and he needs to watch and rewatch YouTube to help him with a project snag, but soon the answer is as plain as day and the snaffoo is working slick as poop through a tin horn.

This year he decided that he didn’t want a vegetable garden or chickens. He has been determined to simplify, which started last summer when our goal was to go through everything we own and thin out. It was a challenge, but he tackled it like a champ, and was happier than a pig in a slop trough when he was able to make more room in the garage.

If he’s having “one of those days” and is meaner than a wet hen, we just remember that there is more than one way to skin a cat. If coffee, candy, and a nap doesn’t do it, we employ the toddler technique. Although our 22 month old granddaughter can run around like a tornado in a trailer park, she can take him from looking like something the cat dragged in, with a personality of a damp dishrag, to a a kid on Christmas morning. Nobody can melt his soul, like his grandbabies.

When the house lacks order and looks like a pig sty, I’m on it like white on rice. We will often clean and straighten together- especially on laundry day, since he has trouble separating the clothes.

If it’s too stimulating, we make like a banana and split, and head off like a herd of turtles to his get-a-way. His mood is never anything that a trip to the coast won’t cure, with a walk and to watch the boats . This makes him as happy as a fox in the hen-house and when he’s happy, I’m happy.

Although poor as church mice because nobody has found that blasted money tree yet, we know that we sow what we reap. Therefore, we want to be transparent, teaching others how to push through life’s challenges. We are not greater than thou. We are just normal humans going through challenges just like everyone else. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, we try to meditate on life as a coffee cup, filled to the brim and enjoyed with friends. My husbands favorite reminder to others is that everybody has a story, we only need to listen and observe.

We miss people. Our world has become very small, but we’ve learned that life is like an elevator on its way up, sometimes we have to stop and let some people off. Instead of dwelling on who isn’t around, we are thankful for those that want to be part of our journey, and show us with their actions and prayers.

Life isn’t all peaches and cream. So, as long as we have air to breath, we will remind our family that, “They (you) are our (my) sunshine”, and when they ask if life’s challenges are over; We’ve hit our max; It’s someone else’s turn, we will tell them to dream on Alice, soon they’ll be in Wonderland.

More than anything we just keep reminding ourselves that love is like the wind, you can’t see it, but you can feel it and when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

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Happy National Coffee Day!

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“Buy one, get one free” brought a smile to my favorite man’s face and a put a twinkle in his eye today. This has brought me joy beyond all measure.

Today has been a foggy day. He has them once in a while. Coffee, a walk, leaf peeping, and a trip to the grocery store made my favorite man’s day. He is now peacefully napping and I hope that he is dreaming of LOVE. I pray that he feels the warm feeling of a family that insists on focusing on what he can do today, what he can remember in the moment, and that his heart and our hearts will forever be entwined.

Coffee is one thing that keeps him with us and makes all the difference. So from our family to yours, Happy National Coffee Day! May it be as good for you as it has been for us.