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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hemingway and Heroes

Happy birthday to my favorite author, Ernest Hemingway!

There are plenty of reasons for an "education" blog to touch on the life and work of Hemingway. As an English teacher, my favorite book to teach was The Old Man and the Sea. In Perryville, Alaska, my first teaching job was with young men and women whose lives largely revolved around commercial fishing on seiners for salmon. Hemingway helped a new teacher connect with students, teaching them about literature while learning about their lives. To this day my takeaway is, you always have as much to learn from your students as they do from you- if not more.

Those of you who know me or have heard me speak publicly know some of my favorite and oft-used quotes are from Ernest Hemingway. "Courage is grace under pressure" is my personal motto, words I live by. Leadership can be difficult, presenting constant tests and challenges. These words remind me to strive for calm, practice patience, and keep composure when the pressure is on. When someone is upset, calm the waters, speak softly and solve problems. In a crisis, keep an even keel and trust your instincts to do the right thing. Never panic, never raise your voice, respect others even when they are not respecting you. In all things, I seek to be gentle, kind, strong and centered. It takes daily practice. Grace under pressure.

If you've read this blog and had conversations with me about education, you already know who some of my heroes are. Peter Burchell founded the school I am graced to serve, with a mission of doing great things for the kids who need it most. Orin Seybert grew up in tiny rural villages, founded an airline which is thriving today, and stewarded an amazing family and legacy. He showed me you can be supremely confident and extremely humble at the same time. That, and when I flew from King Salmon to Pilot Point with him, he flew the whole way with one thumb! When Orin retired as president of his company, he knew the name of every single employee at every station Pen Air served, teaching me that nothing trumps building relationships.  Michelle Overstreet taught me what it means to be an activist and advocate for at-risk youth,and that you can move mountains through force of will in the name of doing great work and service of others. My mom has weathered a life of amazing trials, yet everyone who meets her describes her as an amazing person. She taught me that non-example are sometimes our best examples, if we learn from their mistakes, and showed me that being positive and optimistic is the only way to live this life. Hemingway said, "As you get older, it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary."  Indeed, it is.

Finally, part of the Hemingway legacy is inescapably his suicide. I have been fortunate to receive great training including Youth Mental Health First Aid, learning how to prevent and cope with this difficult affliction. We strive to be a trauma sensitive school and build strong relationships with our students, building resilience and hope. We all need to take on this sometimes taboo topic. Don't be afraid of it; speak openly, use frank language, and if you are in doubt at all, ask and act. If someone you care about indicates they are suicidal, ask directly "are you thinking of killing yourself?" Then act. Get them help, support them, get them through in any way. Erase the shame and self consciousness around this topic, because lives of those we love are important enough to brave uncomfortable, difficult conversations. Maybe that is real grace under pressure.