Being Present

If you had one guess about where this photo was taken, what it would be?

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Hint: It was not at a school, but couldn’t it be? It is a great example of what a vision and mission could look like in any educational setting. In fact, I plan to share it with my Leadership Team in the near future.

It was captured this weekend in Appleton, Wisconsin. My family was celebrating both of my kids’ birthdays. Activities that interested our four- and six-year-old include pizza and arcade games, an indoor water park, bunk beds in the hotel, and playing with new toys until they passed out.

To be as present as I could be for my family, I made it a point to not check my smart phone very much. In fact, it was used mostly as a GPS device on the way to our destination and back. The only reading device I brought with me was of the paper variety (and a good one at that: 11/22/63 by Stephen King). Email was purposefully ignored. Whatever the message was, it could wait.

The phrase “Filling the Well” seems to be used often by writers and artists. My understanding is it is the process of removing outside distractions from one’s life in order to allow the mind to have new experiences and appreciate the world around us. Whole retreats and other events are hosted for this type of creative renewal.

Teachers and principals are also artists in a sense. We try to connect the known to the new and translate the complex into the concrete for our students. One of the best ways we can fill our wells and teach with consistent success and creativity is to be present as much as we can in our daily lives. For me, this means having a life outside of school and taking part in experiences that make me a more well-rounded person.

Now, I am as guilty as anyone for getting sucked into the Twitter vortex for time unending. I need periodic reminders to put down the device du jour and pay attention to what matters at the moment. Even this weekend, I checked my feed a few times and found some interesting articles and posts. But instead of reading them at that moment, I took advantage of a 21st century tool by saving those articles and posts to Instapaper to read later.

If I hadn’t been present this weekend, I may have missed a lot of important things. Like the bald eagle sitting in the middle of a barren corn field, spotted as we drove to our destination. Or the opportunity to show my kids how to use their new telescope and view the crescent moon tonight. Or even the great mission statement I took a photo of at Chuck E. Cheese’s.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District, also in Wisconsin (http://mineralpointschools.org/). He also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

5 thoughts on “Being Present”

  1. Matt,
    THANK YOU for writing this post. I’m heading off to bed, but saw you tweet it out a second after I tweeted out mine, so I had to check it out before bed. Right now, I’m being asked, “Time to put that thing down?” Yes.

    My favorite quote? “…getting sucked into the Twitter vortex for time unending…” Ah, yes. I took off last weekend (we went to Holland, MI), and it was very relaxing. I’ll keep taking myself out of the vortex so I can enjoy “real” life! Thanks for the reminder! So glad you had a great time at Chuck E. Cheese’s, too! šŸ˜‰

    Sincerely,
    Joy Kirr

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    1. Thanks Joy. I enjoy reading your posts too. Don’t know who came up with the phrase “Twitter vortex”, but I like it because it can be so true.

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  2. Well said! I’m amazed at all the soccer, football, basketball, and softball games where the parents can’t put away their devices for at least a few minutes at a time. 11/22/63 is King’s best stuff in quite a while!

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    1. And I have been one of those parents at times! We can be so easily distracted. It takes a lot of self-awareness to recognize when we are not being mindful of the here and now. One of my favorite books on this topic is “Wherever You Go There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Although the primary focus is on meditation, there are a lot of great takeaways from the author about being present.

      Only one hundred pages into 11/22/63, but I think I agree with your statement already. Hard to put down.

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  3. Matt,
    Excellent post! I think as a first year Principal that ability to get sucked in and try to solve every issue as soon as it comes up is something that I am experiencing. Last weekend was the first in a long time that I just did things for my wife and kids. I think heading into this holiday season one of my goals is to be more intentional with my time and focus.

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