When I was first asked to be a part of the Dancing with Our Stars event, benefitting the Southern Arizona Diaper Bank, I thought “NO WAY!!!” I mean, I can dance and all, but not ballroom dance!! I’m more of a, at the party while everyone else is too drunk to notice I’m dancing, type of dancer. But the thought that continued to tug at me was the cause!! For those that don’t know, the Diaper Banks that are now seen throughout the country were all originated and duplications of our Southern Arizona Diaper Bank. That’s right! WE started this great mission and movement! To know that type of innovation and dedication came from the community that I love so much was enough to inspire that same type of innovation and dedication in myself. Although, my innovation and dedication would take on a much more “rhythmic” face.
Once I finally agreed to participate, the first question asked of me was which dance I would like to attempt. My reply was very simple. “I have no idea!! Please just pick one for me that you think someone my size can pull off!” And this is how destiny decided to drop the foxtrot into my lap and my life.
After my first correspondence with my instructor, I felt pretty good about what was going to happen, that didn’t last long. It was only a couple days after that initial correspondence that I received another email from that instructor informing me that she would not be able to teach me and she would assign the dance to a substitute. First, I thought this was a sign for me to be very afraid and merely a indication of how things would turn out. Then I stated to reflect on my own life and how many great lessons and opportunities that were given to me because things didn’t work out the way they were planned. With that in mind, I became even more determined to make the best of this situation.
I’ve competed on basketball courts all over the world and never did I feel the type of anxiety that I felt the first time I stepped into the dance studio. The level of discomfort I experienced was enough for me to reconsider going through with the competition. My anxiety was compounded when I learned that my instructor/dance partner, Zhenya Kellar, measured in just under the 5 foot mark…heck, I could fit her in my pocket!! Being that I am 6”10, I am use to towering over people but this seemed a bit extreme. All I could picture was at weddings when the groom dances with the flower girl, it is cute but I did not see it translating into good scores from the judges. Thankfully, Zhenya was a pro and we instantly connected and shared many commonalities, especially our love for competition. So we created a practice schedule that we felt would prevent complete and total embarrassment.
The next few weeks seemed like a blur. I realized that those folks on the television show “Dancing With The Stars” had spent 8 hours a day working on their routines. We had only 1 hour, once or twice a week, depending on our schedules. Work never stops! Even when you’d rather dance the day away!
Just 3 weeks into the rehearsals I was feeling really good. In fact, we sat down and cancelled the bulk of my lessons! I have to admit that I feel like I was at the advantage when it came to this dance thing. You see, a choreographed routine in my mind is just like a basketball play or a workforce project. There is a rhythm to it and if someone is off a beat or out of step, everyone feels it. I took the mentality of it all being a play that I had to learn. I would have not have had the longevity in the sport of basketball I had without being able to adapt to new situations relatively quick. I have learned to take direction well, ask good questions, and put in the work. If I was going to break out of my comfort zone and try taking on a live ballroom dance competition in front of hundreds of people who will be judging me, I wanted to control as many of the variables as I could. What if I trip? What if I step on Zhenya? Or worse, what if I drop her? The only way I could block out those thoughts were through preparation and repetition.
Competition day came quick and the nerves hit me hard. I’m sure I seemed calm and cool on the outside but on the inside of was a mess! The one thing that calmed me down and gave me peace was the video that was shown before the competition portion began. The Southern Arizona Diaper Bank put together a wonderful video describing what they do in the community and the impact that this type of event makes in the lives of the people they serve. Seeing the passion behind those involved and the appreciation of those served became the light that lit my fire. With so many people stepping up to do so much, how could I not make my steps with pride and passion?
I finished the evening winning both the judges’ vote and the crowd’s vote for best foxtrot of the evening! I think that one of the other dancers described it best in the post dance interview. He said, “It’s kind of like military boot camp, you’re proud you did it, but you’re glad it’s over!!” Growth means change, and change involves risk, the circumstances will never be perfect. The road will be tough, so what? Get started now! I leaned that with each step I took, I grew stronger and more skilled and more confident. Find what makes you uncomfortable and take action!
Joseph Blair is the founder of Blair Charity Group, philanthropist, retired professional athlete, professional speaker, and consultant. His charismatic personality coupled with his giving heart allows him to inspire acts of kindness in others. Most people know him because of his athletic prowess, but they love him because of his passion for improving his community.
Who in the hell would want to be a teacher these days? They get blamed for everything that is wrong in the world. You know what I am talking about; we all have that friend who over shares about their miserable life and how that ninja-like dream killer of an educator ruined their only shot at happiness. I figured a great way to celebrate National Teacher Appreciation Week would be to make myself vulnerable (something I don’t do easily) and share with you how one educator has shaped my life. To this point, I have only shared how my high school baseball coach/social studies teacher changed the course of my life with my beautiful wife of 14 years (shout out to Cristina Thompson). I realized that I was being selfish, and these experiences could very well add value to people’s lives and allow me to honor the world’s oldest profession…wait, I mean honor the world’s most underappreciated profession.
Let me first start by saying that I had a lot of great teachers throughout the years, and many invested their heart and souls into my development that led me to evolve into this incredible being that I am today, but I’m sure most would appreciate remaining nameless for obvious reasons. However, I will out Mr. David Landrith and allow him to bask in the glory of contributing to my brilliance.
I was a fairly typical latchkey kid, a product of a divorce, which forced me to grow up quick. I approached my education as a means to keeping me on the baseball field. There were not many people yielding more influence in my life than the head varsity baseball coach because if you took baseball out of my life, I would have been lost. This was my element; the baseball field was the only place that my talent and passion met, it gave me purpose.
As I reflect back on my memories of Coach L., I experience deep gratitude for him being in my life. He had a commanding presence but was full of humility. Rarely did you ever hear about how he was a part of a College World Series Championship team or how he played professional baseball. You always got the sense that what happened yesterday did not matter; it was all about being consistent and putting in the work. His pedigree was very impressive: his father enjoyed a colorful career as a major league baseball player. His dad played along side of one of the greatest ever to play the game, Mr. Willie Mays. Coach never bragged about how his dad hit a game-winning walk-off homerun off hall of fame pitcher Warren Spahn or how his dad jumped on Roger Maris’s back to protect the pitcher. Nope, Coach kept all of these great nuggets to himself and let his actions do all of his talking. I only know this information thanks to Google. Of the many lessons this man has taught me, two had such a profound impact on me that they are now a part of my character.
Celebrate Your Victories with Dignity and Appreciation.
Coach demonstrated this lesson unequivocally during a game my junior year when we were playing a very talented team from the south side of town. This team had some highly touted recruits who garnered national attention. In the top of the fifth inning while the game was tied, I crushed a high fastball over the fence to put us up a run. As I rounded the bases I was celebrating like my next stop was Disneyland. Seriously, Kirk Gibson had nothing on me. Coach Landrith signaled for me to come over to the third base box; I trotted over there with my chest sticking out expecting him to praise my wondrous athletic ability, and he calmly expressed his displeasure for my antics and reminded me that we have yet to win the game. That pissed me off. I was like, “Who in the hell does he think he is? I just delivered the very best outcome for our team, and he is criticizing my excitement???”
Well we went on with the game and, sure enough, lost the lead again. In the last inning of regulation, I came up to bat again, and same as earlier, the game was tied. I was still furious about what had transpired earlier but was ready to take some hacks. Well, Déjà vu… same pitch, same result, I hit my second homerun of the game. This time, though, I sprinted around the bases with a scowl on my face, refusing to show any emotion in protest. Coach summoned me over to the third base box again. This time he told me in his booming voice said, “Son, it is okay to smile.” Unfortunately, we went on to lose that game in extra innings, but coach made sure he taught me the power of humility. I know that he was not trying to make me feel small but to expand my capacity for appreciation. This lesson has always stuck with me and has changed my paradigm from looking up at the stars and feeling insignificant to appreciating the fact that I am included in such a universe.
Show Up Everyday.
My senior year of high school was crazy and fun, but I was near the ledge a couple of times and needed to be pulled back. My parents did not really have a great sense as to what was going on, but thankfully Coach Landrith said what needed to be said. I had been missing some classes, and it finally caught up to me. My parents were informed, and my dad reacted in a way that he thought he should: he went down to the school to get some answers. The problem was that no one knew who he was, not even my baseball coach. Before a game that I was planning on playing in, Coach Landrith sat me in the dugout and unleashed his full fury on me. This was not a fun-loving intervention; this was a barrel-chested Grizzly Adams-looking man yelling at a decibel level high enough to ensure that not only my team heard, but the visiting team heard too. Later I found out that the track team practicing on the football field 500 yards away were in the loop as well.
This is how I remember it...
He said a lot that day, but all I remember hearing was when he said, “And who is this guy who came into my classroom today claiming to be your dad? You have been in this program for four years, and I am just meeting him now?” It was like getting smacked in the face with the truth, and I was finally capable of comprehending it. This was such a humiliating experience that I knew then that I would never let my children experience anything like that. Coach was not trying to be hurtful; he was frustrated and genuinely concerned for my well being. This man was not related to me yet still had a vested interest in my progression; he was rooting for me. I have approached parenting from the perspective of just needing to show up everyday. My kids do not expect me to have all the answers, but they know they can count on me to be rooting for them.
My contention is that we need to honor our teachers through meaningful and deliberate expressions of our gratitude for showing up everyday and making the continuous, laborious investment of shaping our students. They work within constraints of a broken system yet are responsible for solving all that is wrong in our world. These effective educators focus on serving their students’ unique needs as Coach did for me. They may not bat a 1000, but when they connect, their influence has a compounding effect on the world.
I am a committed father who understands the importance of gratitude and being present. That will never show up on some ridiculous standardized test designed to measure the effectiveness of a teacher. However, it shows up in every interaction I have in my business, parenting, and coaching practices. Coach Landrith continues to teach and coach at my high school, and I know our community is better off because of the virtues he willingly shares.
Now, I challenge you to invest some time into expressing your appreciation for an educator who has shaped your life. If they are no longer living, how can you honor them? Plant a tree? Create a scholarship fund? Send a letter to their loved ones? Get creative; take action and build up some gratitude equity. In the comments below I would love to hear ways that you have or will honor an influential teacher in your life. It may not be convenient, but isn’t that the point? Now show up and be gracious…it will change your life. Thanks Coach!
Eric Thompson is the owner of Global Ascension Productions and founder of The Brilliance Project. Eric has developed a plan that helps people to synergize their inner virtues, allowing them to discover and fully utilize the hidden strengths that so many people never use – their Brilliance.
Lately I have been facilitating a lot of professional development sessions for teachers on building inclusive environments for diverse student populations, and one thing is clear to me: most teachers want to be as supportive as possible to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) students but aren’t sure how best to do so.
The unfortunate reality is that few schools are safe spaces for LGBTQ students.
84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
63.7% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2% reported being physically harassed and 12.5% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.
72.4% heard homophobic remarks, such as “faggot” or “dyke,” frequently or often at school.
Nearly two-thirds (61.1%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (39.9%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression.
29.1% of LGBT students missed a class at least once and 30.0% missed at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns, compared to only 8.0% and 6.7%, respectively, of a national sample of secondary school students.
The reported grade point average of students who were more frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was almost half a grade lower than for students who were less often harassed (2.7 vs. 3.1).
Increased levels of victimization were related to increased levels of depression and anxiety and decreased levels of self-esteem.
Being out in school had positive and negative repercussions for LGBT students %96 outness was related to higher levels of victimization, but also higher levels of psychological well-being.
Source: GLSEN 2009 National School Climate Survey
As a result, more and more teachers are looking for help in supporting their LGBTQ students, and schools are looking for proactive ways to create a safer environment for students of all sexual orientations. To try to offer support, I have compiled a list of 10 things teachers can do to create a more inclusive classroom environment for LGBTQ students. Though these can in no way be comprehensive, they are meant to be a starting place for better supporting our LGBTQ students in the classroom environment.
The Ten Keys to Building an Inclusive Classroom Community:
Supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning Students
Use inclusive language
– Use precise terms like Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning (LGBTQ) rather than homosexual or gay as an umbrella term.
– Use terms like partner instead of boyfriend and girlfriend or husband and wife.
Never tolerate abusive language in your classroom or in the halls
– Language like, “That’s so gay” or “You’re such a fag” is common in schools, and it actively creates an unsafe environment for LGBTQ students and LGBTQ Allies. We must respond to (and be sure not to ignore such language).
– Don’t simply be punitive with hurtful language. Instead, explain why it is not welcome and is hurtful. This helps students understand why they shouldn’t use the language rather than just making them avoid using it around you.
Never assume heterosexuality
– Building relationships with students is wonderful! Ask about students’ lives, but don’t assume heterosexuality in your language. A question like, “Are you seeing anybody these days?” goes a lot further than, “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?”
Maintain confidentiality within the confines of your professional responsibilities
– There are certain things like abuse that we cannot keep confidential, but outside of that, make sure students feel safe by always keep what they share in confidentiality.
– Create a space in which students can talk to you about their struggles, helping all students to understand that you are someone they can talk to during free time.
– Be careful never to “out” an LGBTQ student, meaning that if a student is not open in their sexual orientation and they share that with you, be careful not to share that information with others. Sometimes being out can be more dangerous than being closeted.
Keep an eye out for bullying and act to stop it
– It’s tough to know the best way to respond to bullying. Sometimes it means interrupting bullying as it happens. Sometimes it means talking to the bullies or the bullied afterward.
– In responding to bullying, be careful to not make the target out to be the weak one in the situation, as that can make bullying worse in the long run.
Respect the needs and wishes of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual students
– Support them in their decisions and their needs, helping them to make safe choices that will help them be happy and fully realized as a young person.
– Questions like, “Are you sure?” “Could this be a phase?” are not helpful.
Respect the needs and wishes of Transgender students
– Respect the names students wish to be called and the pronouns they prefer. When unsure, ask with empathy and respect.
– Respect the clothing choices students make, supporting them as they figure out how they want to perform their gender.
Encourage respectful disagreement on issues of sexual identity
– Dialogue and discussion inside and outside the classroom are helpful and healthy so long as respectful. Don’t shut down conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity, but make sure to facilitate the conversation down inclusive roads and correct misconceptions.
Recognize that you’re not an expert. You will make mistakes and occasionally be insensitive.
– Humble yourself and apologize where necessary; learn from your mistakes, and always try to broaden your understanding of LGBTQ issues so you can best support all of your students.
Acknowledge that building an inclusive community is better for everyone, and fight to make it a school-wide priority.
– Inclusive communities experience less bullying and violence.
– Inclusive communities are likely to boast higher achievement and are stronger school spirit.
Jamie Utt is the director of Education and Diversity at Global Ascension Productions. As a diversity and inclusion specialist, he helps schools all over the United States build more inclusive environments that prevent bullying. Learn more at www.JamieUtt.com.