Celebrating African-American Cowboy Culture

…Many scorned us, who saw us come, ragged and nasty with filth; but our hearts remained light with the vision, of our homesteads- free in spacious places; where the sun shines, warm and golden in its crest, and where we, as weary travelers, can finally rest…

From “the Exodus” in Sharon Carpenter’s, “Western Cowboy Poetry: An African-American Perspective”, 2012.

This is the week of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering taking place in Elko, Nevada. “Generations of ranch families experience the enjoyment of hearing a well-told story with a new twist or two, a poem passed down or cutting a rug to live western music” (from nationaldaycalendar.com/national-cowboy-poetry-gathering-week-changes-annually/, January, 2020). This year’s gathering will focus on the Black cowboy. The front page of their website states, “People of all backgrounds identify with the beauty and challenges of the cowboy lifestyle, from the Mississippi Delta bayou to Buckaroo country, Oklahoma rodeo grounds to the streets of Oakland and Los Angeles. This year the Gathering will feature men and women from these ranching and horseback communities to explore and celebrate the often under-represented historic contributions and contemporary culture of Black cowboys, from bull-doggin’ to blue-yodellin'” (from http://www.nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org/, January, 2020). And….. this is the beginning of Black History Month!

In my 30+ years of traveling to public schools and observing social studies classrooms, I have never heard a teacher or professor share the fact that 25% of all cowboys were African-American. Cowboy culture, in general, and African-American life in the West specifically, receives little attention in the American history curriculum. The question, Is Black History Month necessary?, comes up frequently at my university for discussion. I would say very definitively- YES! Until African-American history is taught as a thread throughout an American history course, there is a need for a month dedicated to acknowledging the contributions of African-Americans in the United States of America (same is true with women, other racial groups and LGBTQ folks).

Nat “Deadwood Dick” Love, 1854- , full, standing, facing front “in my fighting clothes” in cowboy attire, holding carbine.
Nat Love, 1903, Librabry of Congress Photo.

After the Emancipation Proclamation and during the period of Reconstruction, the West offered a place where former slaves could secure jobs where they did not have to “serve as elevator operators or delivery boys or other similar occupations” (William Katz, The Black West, 1996). While Black cowboys did face discrimination in town restaurants and hotels, Nat Love described his fellow cowboys as “… always ready to share their blanket and their last ration with a less fortunate fellow companion and always assisted each other in the many trying situations that were continually coming up in a cowboy’s life” (Love, 1907, p.35). Love became well-known due to his notoriety in the rodeo circuit, as did Bill Pickett who originated the rodeo event, bulldogging.

Pickett, an African-American cowboy who originated the rodeo event of bulldogging, later better known as steer wrestling. He became the first black cowboy to be inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1971, appeared in rodeos at the stockyards coliseum many times in the early 20th century.Photo courttesy of the Lyda Hill Texas. Collection of Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project,
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. 2014.

There are so many stories we could share in this blog but instead, I challenge you to take a moment and listen to some cowboy poetry and learn about Western life this week. And, as we dive into Black History Month, don’t forget about the Black heroes of the West as you survey the numerous contributions of Black men and women in America! Here are a few great resources:

The Black West: A Documentary and Pictorial History of the African American Role in the Westward Expansion of the United States by William Katz

Black Frontiers: A History of African American Heroes in the Old West by Lillian Schlissel 

Black Cowboys in the American West: On the Range, on the Stage, behind the Badge by Bruce A. Glasrud, Michael N. Searles, et al.

African American Women of the Old West by Tricia Martineau Wagner 

The Life and Adventures of Nat Love Better Known in the Cattle Country as “Deadwood Dick” by Nat Love

Western Cowboy Poetry: An African American Perspective” by Sharon Carpenter

Interested in working with Dr. Maria Sanelli on a project? Check out her personal website: www.drmariasanelli.com and her new project: http://www.thetransformativeeducator.com.

Wanderlust: A New Philosophy of Education?

Where does the want to explore come from?

I remember a man looking into my eyes and telling me that he sees that I am a viaggiatrice (Italian for voyager). He said it was the color of my bright blue eyes as they look like the ocean and a look that is a desire to discover. I have always wanted to explore but how did he know that?

Is wanderlust something in our DNA or is every child born bursting with wonder?

As I watch children look with wonderment at something new, it seems that their faces light up and their eyes twinkle. Children seem naturally inquisitive. As a former middle and high school teacher, I watched the freedom to wonder become extinguished and replaced with a caring of what school mates might think negatively of a class inquisitor. When did asking questions and wanting to discover new things become “uncool”? As a university professor and colleague, I watch eyes roll as someone in the room asks a question that might keep us in the class or meeting room for an additional few minutes.

Is wanting to explore the unknown something we can develop later in life?

Someone once told me that education is lost on our youth and adult education is the place where inquiring minds find a place to roam. Is the stigma associated with curiosity whittled away to open adults up to learn new things? Are all adults open to new learnings or only some? If some, what is the characteristic or variable that is more likely to open someone to learning something new? With all the social stigma associated with being a curious person and a lover of learning in middle school through college, there are always a few students who don’t seem to care about what the majority believe and grow exponentially. I was once one of those individuals who cared about what others’ thought and stayed outside the margins of academic excellence. For myself, I watched movies, read, painted and created music on the fringe where I would not be noticed. I travelled to distant lands in my mind and did not share that wanderlust with many.

Are we comfortable being in a state of know nothingness?

As I sit and write this blog from Mexico while on vacation, one of the keys to returning to a state of wonder seems to be taking a timeout from our business and life commitments. How can we pause in realtime and make the space to wonder? How can we create a culture of trust where we are not afraid of exposing our vulnerabilities? I originally thought universities were places where professors and students could cooperatively explore new ideas and share in building knowledge together. I clearly see all the hurdles in front of us: 1) students wanting to do the least amount of work to successfully gain credit for the class, 2) students afraid that a free-form class might not end in a grade that would satisfy their future plans, 3) instructors afraid that student evaluations might not reflect the amount of work it truly took to become an expert to guide these open-ended discussions, 4) professors learning that instructors who transmit and duplicate the information that have accumulated over the years receive higher scores because they meet student expectations … and the list could go on. Very few workplaces have cultures that encourage adults to think with childlike wonder. However, the most innovative corporations do and they want new employees who question and lead their teams to new strategies to accomplish their goals.

Can wanderlust be a philosophy of education?

I am finishing this blog as my week vacation in Mexico is coming to a close. I don’t want to return to the same ole, same ole. Hand out the syllabus, give assignments, show some movies, deliver some lectures and deal with the customer service of assignments, grades, and one-on-one conversations about time management and work ethic. I will continue to create my Transformative Educator project outside of the university to share insights, teaching materials, online courses and relevant materials to instructors who want to create transformative courses. However this semester, I will also teach at my university with childlike wonder. I will ask questions and require my students to be equally as inquisitive. I don’t believe my voyage through different places in the world has to be taken by myself and only outside of a classroom. I am no longer that young girl afraid of what others might think of me and I am being very public about both my online project and my wanderlust approach to university teaching. I played it “safe” for 20+ years giving students, peers and the administration the type of instructor they asked for to assure my promotion through the professorial ranks. No longer. Wanderlust IS my new philosophy of education.

Are you going to wait until your last few years of teaching to be authentically “you”?


Chichén Itzá
Ball Court, Chichén Itzá
Chichén Itzá

2019 Reflections: Seven Lessons for Success

2019 has been transformative. I have had so many new experiences and learned from so many folks. In the following paragraphs, I share what I have learned in 2019 and what my 2020 initiatives will be. My hope is that you might see yourself in some of my writings and share some of your insights in the comments below!

⭐️ Lifelong Learning has always been something I enjoy. I continue to teach new courses, encourage my students to research topics from a variety of disciplines and I learn with my students as we explore a diverse array of subjects. However, in 2019, my experiences were not only new and collaborative, but international! To celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, I have embarked on a US/UK cross cultural study of feminism across decades and across the pond. With a small group of students, we are writing an article and creating a short documentary. 2020 brings new insights, new relationships and new possibilities.

⭐️ Doing vs. Planning go hand in hand. All good plans change to accommodate the challenges in real time. However, flying by the seat of our pants, can only take us so far. Plan & do. Revise and action. Assess and revise. They say it takes five years to become a great teacher. I would say it takes five tries at teaching, revising and reteaching the same course to be at the top of your game.

⭐️ Collaboration results in a better outcome. There are so many talented folks who think differently, have diverse experiences, and want to make a difference. My newest initiative, The Transformative Educator, comes from a desire to work with as many individuals and groups as I can to make a positive impact in this world.

⭐️ Strong Leadership is a delicate balance between dreaming big and accomplishing great things while building the skill level of those who are working with you on a project. Great leaders lead by example but are not the only ones doing all of the team’s work. My leadership goals have shifted from a primary purpose of accomplishing great things to building the next generation-even if the results are not excellent on the first go round. Perfectionism holds us back. 2020 will focus on imperfect action by team members as we build toward the future.

⭐️ Problem-Solving & Responsibility are both a skill set and a mindset. When I was a younger person, I would get extremely anxious, hurt and down about a problem that would present itself. I felt that I wasn’t making the best effort if problems cropped up. In 2019, I hit a new stride. I now know that when whatever happens, “I got this”. While I try to help whomever I can, I cannot solve everyone’s problems. I have a responsibility to do the best I can and methodically move through problems, but I am not the cause nor the solution to everything. 2020 will be a powerful year as I take on what is my responsibility and leave all the rest for others to navigate.

⭐️ Power Circle are the five people that are closest to you. Throughout my adulthood, those closest to me have been troubled with mental health, relationship and financial issues. I carried my own challenges but chose to take on and help solve the problems of those who surrounded me. The weight has been enormous and I feel that 2019 was a turning point. While I would never turn my friends away, I have given those troubled less of my time and have nourished friendships with other high performance doers. Jim Rohn tells us “You are the average of five people you spend the most time with.” My power circle is my choice for what kind of person I will become in 2020 and beyond.

⭐️ Mindset Shift & Finding Expert Help will be my focus of 2020. My past behaviors tell me that I am more likely to struggle alone learning a new skill or concept than seeking out expert help. I have made myself available to help others looking for expert advice in creating and facilitating transformative learning experiences in their business, classroom or agency and now it is time for me to hire folks to help me find and support those that want to learn with me. I will need experts to help me with website, graphics, automation, and other tech services. No one can do it all.

In 2020, I will be in Mexico, United Kingdom, Ireland and throughout the United States working with individuals and organizations sharing my knowledge and expertise about transformative learning experiences, teaching, leadership and curriculum. Here’s to 2020 where the world will open up and we get to make a difference together! Please leave your comments below. I would love to hear from you!

Let’s progress together in 2020! Click here to join my new initiative:


What do Captain America and Frederick Douglass Have in Common?


At first glance, this may seem like a silly discussion. After all, how can one of the world’s most significant social justice leaders compare to a comic book hero?  What possibly could Frederick Douglass, a 19th century African-American reformer, orator, writer and statesman, have in common with a 20th century patriotically themed superhero who fought America’s villains during the Cold War?

Interestingly, we currently find one man continuing the fight for social justice wearing a Captain America costume and invoking the spirit of Frederick Douglass on the streets of New York City.  Let’s take a look at the work of Vishavjit Singh in New York City:


In this video, we see a man following his convictions and passionately setting out to make a difference. Vishavjit Singh randomly interviews people on the street about Sikh stereotypes and the match or mismatch to how Captain America might appear. While Frederick Douglass did not walk the streets of New York in costume, he did join the American Anti-Slavery Society’s Hundred Conventions project and toured the United States for six months and eventually spoke all over the country and in Ireland and Britain.

As Black History Month begins, I wanted to take a moment and acknowledge that Frederick Douglass’ spirit is alive and well in many places throughout the United States and the world. And yes, sometimes in the most curious places and in the most colorful ways. Let’s briefly take a look at the following three important themes in Douglass and Singh’s work: (1) stereotypes, (2) tolerance and (3) border crossings.



Both Singh and Douglass moved past stereotypical assumptions made by those who did not know them well.

Frederick Douglass, an incredibly gifted orator and writer, stood as a living contradiction to what many slave owners believed to be a race of people who lacked the intellectual ability to be free American citizens.  Even though his autobiography became an immediate bestseller and received positive reviews, skeptics questioned whether a Black man could produce such a powerful piece of writing.

“The mind does not take its complexion from the skin”. ~Frederick Douglass

Many of the individuals interviewed by Singh were asked about his physical stature and if he could be a good representation of Captain America. He also asked where one might think he was from and inquired about other Sikh stereotypes.  While Singh was quoted in the Huffington Post to say, “I was nervous and apprehensive about how people would respond to my presence in costume. I was stunned by the incredible reception from hundreds of New Yorkers and tourists.” Nevertheless, the short video reveals one ignorant person and other youtube videos reveal many more.


Social justice work is just as important in the 21st century as it was in the 19th century.

Frederick Douglass was very progressive for his time. He advocated for equal rights for all people, including African-Americans, women, Native American and immigrants. In a 1855 Anti-Slavery speech he said, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” Douglass’ vision of social justice extended past the end of slavery to include equal rights for all American peoples no matter race, gender or immigration status.

“This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences”. ~Captain America

Singh’s Captain America editorial cartoon and street interviews are a modern day example of Douglass’ work. Referring to the short documentary he is creating featuring Singh and his character, Matthew Rogers stated, “I see America on the whole becoming more aware of cultural and religious prejudice. The idea that Captain America and other superheroes ‘have to be white men’ is a dated way of thinking. It’s time for America to be represented in the media like the melting pot it is.” Where I do not believe that America is the melting pot that Rogers describes, I do agree that most Americans have a limited idea of what Captain America would look like.

Kudos to Vishavjit Singh for questioning assumptions and presenting anomalies in the minds of those he interviewed on the streets of New York City. This, indeed, is a very effective way of teaching tolerance and acceptance. While his interviews may make a difference for one person at a time, Rogers’ documentary will reach a much larger audience and allow for significant future conversations about tolerance in America.

Crossing borders:  

Both Douglass and Singh have extended their discussions about social justice beyond geographic boundaries to tackle borders that relate to issues of power, ethnicity, race, language, and social class, among others.

Frederick Douglass travelled all over the world speaking in favor of social justice for all. Douglass was an especially gifted orator and had a gift for speaking to diverse audiences and gaining their support. Although he did not endorse the nomination, Frederick Douglass was chosen as the vice presidential running mate of Victoria Woodhull representing a newly formed Equal Rights Party. He was especially known for his support for women’s suffrage.

“In this denial of the right to participate in government, not merely the degradation of woman and the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government of the world.” ~Frederick Douglass at the Seneca Falls Convention

Vishavjit Singh has crossed borders by taking his portrayal of Captain America outside of liberal New York City and is currently visiting other cities in costume, as well as publishing an editorial cartoon. I hope that organizations like NAME (National Association for Multicultural Education) and iMCI (International Multicultural Institute) will recognize Singh’s work and invite him to their conferences. Often, religious intolerance takes a back seat to other issues that these organizations address.


Today is the start of the 2015 Black History Month celebration. Learning about the contributions African Americans have made to American history in their struggles for freedom and equality, deepens our understanding of America’s history. As Kutztown University Frederick Douglass Director, I began to tweet and post important and interesting facts about significant American History events last night. When I saw a facebook post about a Sikh Captain America making a difference on the streets of New York City, I couldn’t resist to take the time to watch the video..

So, why acknowledge Vishavjit Singh and a Sikh Captain America now? Abolitionists, suffragists, journalists and others discovered Frederick Douglass during his own time but many today do not know of Douglass’ significance. I strongly believe that the life and writings of Frederick Douglass are a shining light in our nation’s history and provide an exemplary example of how to bridge issues of social justice, race, gender and ethnicity.  When I saw Singh’s unique approach and his passion to make a difference, I saw the spirit of Frederick Douglass as expressed by a young man in a Captain America costume.


 For more ideas about how to connect the life and writings of Frederick Douglass to current issues, take a look at Sanelli, Maria & Rodriquez, Louis. eds. (2012), Teaching about Frederick Douglass: A Resource Guide for Teachers of Cultural Diversity.

FD Book Cover

Many voices, one America: A salute to those who protect our freedoms


Skepticism: the mark and even the pose of the educated mind.

~John Dewey

A few years ago, a man seemed to follow me around a social studies conference repeating himself and saying something about using a series of movies in high school teacher’s classrooms. I courteously smiled and politely exited the conversation. Yes, I teach future teachers about American wars but honestly, my office has piles of materials that I give away all of the time. It wasn’t until my colleague and consulting partner, Lou Rodriquez, told me that I should speak with this man again that I seriously listened to what he had to say. Lou was hopeful that we might collaborate and do a movie together. I was just being nice.

Years of playing the university game had gotten to me. I had started my teaching career twenty-five years ago and had been teaching at my alma mater for over a decade. I was employed by a state teacher’s college and sometime during recent years my optimism about making a difference in the lives of future social studies teachers had been squelched by pressures to publish on a national level, what seemed to me as an under appreciation for the quality and amount of work I do, and an increasing workload. I attended this conference to share the excitement of my collaboration with my friend and historian Lou but couldn’t wait to leave this Appalachian, backwoods, western Pennsylvania town to return to sort out the overwhelming piles of materials in my office. Simply stated, my life needed simplification not more materials or another list of tasks.  Ironic how one harmless conference “stalker” has made such a difference in my life.

His name is Bob McMahon and not only is he the mayor of Media, Pa but also the Chairmen of the Veterans National Education Program (V-NEP). On the advice of PA Governor Tom Ridge, Bob co-founded V-NEP in 2009 to teach our country’s history “through the eyes of those who serve”.  Because I am not a veteran and because teaching about wars is not my academic focus, I had blown him off because I thought we didn’t have much in common to start a conversation about collaboration. Four years and eight curriculums (over 1000 pages) later, I can see how very wrong I was. Lou Rodriquez and I have co-written lesson plans about (1) Delaware County, (2) Leadership, (3) Korea, (4) Latino Heritage, (5) US Military history, (6) 20th Century US History, (7) US II from Reconstruction to present, and (8) lessons to accompany V-NEP movies and an online global awareness map. We have also co-written booklets about Dr. Phillip Jaishon, a champion of Korean independence, and Hispanics in American Wars. I have traveled to Texas, Washington, Massachusetts and D.C. and have spoken to representatives from foundations, corporations, and organizations about our collaboration with V-NEP and the importance of history education. This year, V-NEP has planned to send me to Florida and Wisconsin.

Take a look at this short video from the Fort Worth Independent School District concerning our V-NEP curriculums being taught in 156 high schools in Texas and throughout the continental US and its territories.

A year later, I am still pinching myself after speaking on a panel with entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens, Fort Worth JROTC coordinator Lt. Colonel Richard Crossley, Vietnam POW Colonel Ken Cordier, and Medal of Honor Recipient Major General Patrick Brady in Fort Worth, Texas.

So many experiences with VNEP have had a lasting effect on me. Most notable was a meeting with four Medal of Honor recipients and the chairmen of VNEP in a Gettysburg hotel conference room. During this meeting I was asked what barriers would prevent teachers from welcoming lesson plans from the organizations represented at the table. It was hard to concentrate because the elderly man to the right of me had a dog that kept licking my ankles.  I answered the question poorly and described the appeal of VNEP lessons to both liberal and conservative teachers. Not exactly what was asked of me but the dog was really distracting me by this time. After the meeting, the elderly man with the dog was so nice to me and asked if I knew who he was. I was very embarrassed that I did not know who Bruce Crandall was and his heroics in the Vietnam Drang Valley. And, before leaving the meeting another Medal of Honor recipient came over to me and very nicely told me that I am not a liberal or conservative-I am an American. Heaven knows what exactly I said at that table.

The process of education doesn’t have to be as complicated as I explained it all to be. Somewhere during my lifetime I had become skeptical and started viewing the world by its competing factions.  I perceived most realities as complex and most results as relative. More recently I have realized that simple is better than complex and gratitude is more effective than criticism.  I live in the world of academia where we cut each other down in a New York minute. Sadly, it takes an event like the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris to remind us that Americans are all on one side-the side of freedom. There is no other value that academics hold more dearly and it is our veterans who have fought to keep those freedoms.

I have been positively influenced by the efforts of our veterans teaching (1) JROTC classes in our high schools, (2) National Cadet Corps classes in our middle schools and (3) Medal of Honor sponsored character education in our elementary schools.  As I finish my story this evening I hope you are not left wondering what my conference stalker and I have in common. We share a deep appreciation for American freedoms and the sacrifices our veterans have made, as well as believing that a diversity of voices at the table is good for America.

 A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.

~John F. Kennedy

It’s a steeplechase out there! One perspective on a long and successful teaching career


I tell our runners to divide the race into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.

– Mike Fanelli, former Head Coach of the USA National Track and Field Team


A steeplechase is a fun way to race around a track. There are five obstacles, one of which is a pool of water immediately following a hurdle. When you arrive at the water pit, it is especially important to step on the barrier and propel yourself over the obstacle. There is nothing worse than landing in the deep water, getting soaked and having to finish a long race with soaking wet shoes. Similar to a steeplechase, my teaching career has been an endurance event with many hurdles to negotiate. I splash through deep puddles occasionally and they remind me that teaching is an art, not an exact science.  Perhaps Coach Fanelli’s advice for successful endurance running is also great advice for a long and successful teaching career?


Our teaching careers begin with our heads- we learn about child and adolescent psychology, content and pedagogy at our universities. During our student teaching experience, we are placed into a laboratory where we are required to juggle teaching content and skills while simultaneously executing a set and close, integrating multiple methodologies, monitoring student behaviors, grading papers, and assessing student outcomes. During our first few years of teaching, we spend an inordinate amount of time planning, differentiating, evaluating and revising lessons. We strive for more than competence-we strive to make a difference in children’s lives. While all young adults move into career paths requiring an increasing amount of daily decision-making, young teachers often struggle to stay afloat moving into a career that requires over 1500 decisions during a six-hour school day-on average 7 decisions every minute during an interactive teaching lesson (Cuban, 2011 ). Our brains are on stimulus overload as we enter into our final stage of full development.

A successful teaching career starts with a firm foundation of knowledge and practice. Every professional occupation (musicians, engineers, basketball players, and doctors) requires an inordinate amount of hours of practice to achieve excellence (Cuban, 2010). It takes a new teacher at least seven to ten years to have the knowledge and experience to excel in their profession. Consistent with a focus on the headiness of their new careers, most teachers acquire a Master’s degree after their initial certification. Successful teachers spend holiday breaks reading and having new life experiences that can be applied to their teaching. While a flexible personality and a passionate heart can help on those days we fall into deep water, our energies during the first third of any teaching career is best invested “getting our head into the game”.


My first activity during my senior secondary education social studies methods class has always been polling my students as to what makes a successful teacher. Overwhelmingly, my students identify a variety of personality traits including, but not limited to, sense of humor, approachability, flexibility, and kindness. The secondary teachers that made the greatest impression upon my university students were the ones that opened up and shared their personalities with their students. Personality is the glue that connects the teacher and the student to the subject matter being taught.

I have seen beginning teachers rely on their personalities and not take the time to do the heady work on the forefront of their careers. The result has always been an entertaining show with few positive student outcomes. In contrast, the knowledgeable and experienced teacher reaches the next level of success by opening up and expressing himself or herself in the classroom. Continuous improvement at this level occurs when we go outside ourselves and collaborate with our peers. Growth comes from experimenting in our own classrooms and/or mentoring a beginning teacher. We grow substantially by the action of teaching another. During this second decade of a successful teacher’s career, he or she doesn’t focus on his craft or person as much as on the people he or she is teaching. We have become comfortable in our own identities and enjoy our interactions with others.


It is very difficult to sustain and maintain the same level of enthusiasm for teaching as one might have felt in the beginning of one’s career. Just like an endurance runner, our bodies do not hold up as well, our patience wears thin and we become tired more quickly. The head is rational and tells us that we should taper off and do what we can just to make it to retirement. Our personalities have encountered difficult situations and we have landed in a lot of puddles over the years. During the last decade of our career, our head and personalities are not enough to achieve excellence.

The most successful teachers finish the race with heart. We continue to prepare, execute and interact with students with excellence because we want to make a difference. Just as a lame-duck president is concerned with his legacy, our successful senior teachers know that this is our last shot to make a difference. Our heads taught us to learn the rules of good teaching, our personalities helped us adapt those rules to the students seated in front of us, and now our heart will sustain us by giving us a genuine feeling of appreciation and caring for our students. The heart drives us and gives us hope that a piece of our wisdom will make a difference and make the world a better place.

In every phase of a teacher’s career, we use our heads, personalities and heart. There are just times that one part of us may better serve longevity and success.  This is my thirty-second year of teaching and I have never been more enthusiastic about my profession. I have a renewed spirit that is fueled by a passion to make a difference. I continue to fill my head with new knowledge and strategically place my personality as a vital hub in vast professional networks. My experience guides me to step on barriers and propel myself over most obstacles. But it is my heart that ignites the fire inside me to guide young teachers, create new curriculums and share my insights here with you today.



The day will come when, after harnessing the wind, the waves and the tides, we shall harness for God the power of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.

Pierre Teillhard de Chardin

Dipping My Toes in the Water: Moving Beyond Not Feeling Good Enough

toes in water

“Put your toes in the water; Let it wash your fears away; Put a bow on a perfect day”

Lyrics by StarkRavenMadman  Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGUihZQXbiU

My 2015 New Years Resolution is to be present and live life with MY intention. Damn, its about time! I have spent the last month racking my brain trying to figure out what has been holding me back during the last two decades of my fifty-two years of life! Why do I fill my life with a plethora of tasks with only short amounts of joy associated with the completion of each task? Most of my friends and colleagues would probably not believe that these thoughts are mine. I am very well-connected, accomplished and have many areas in which I excel.  Ironically, the action of blogging has presented the blocks that I have been trying so hard to find.  Finally, it all has become so very clear to me!

Blogging? Me? 

My internal voices automatically defaulted to questioning my value:

  1. Who would want to listen to my voice?
  2. Do I have anything important to say?
  3. Why would anything I say be something worth someone’s time and energy?
  4. Who is out there just reading random writings? Who has that kind of time?

 A lifetime of negative voices resurface and start telling me that I am not:

  1. smart enough
  2. pretty enough
  3. fast enough
  4. strong enough

(Please plug in any words that your internal drive might have been wired to believe)

All of the sudden words from the movie, The Help, sarcastically rattle in my psyche and I hear with a tongue-in-cheek delivery: “Maria, you are smart, you are beautiful, you are important”…. I’ve always known those words but really haven’t believed them because in my head those words are always followed with a “but”. After all, Mom always said to me, “Maria, you’re so pretty if only you weren’t so heavy”. Dad always saying, “So, you finished you’re doctorate, now what are you going to do?”. No circumstances or accomplishment has ever been good enough or something that I could feel happy about. And then came my choice to become a professor-a job that has no completion dates. Embedded within cycles of teaching, grading and service, is the constant pressure to publish. The last two decades have been a chase toward perfection, or at least, a sense of completion. I found myself having to quit a particular goal because there is no end to the pursuit of knowledge nor can perfection ever be accomplished. It has been a lifetime of circular logic that has played a chorus of monkey noises in my mind. So close but……

Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future.

While the examples I mentioned above reference my parents and profession, the fear of not being good enough surrounds everything that I do. I heard that message throughout my childhood and worry about everything that might go wrong in my future. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking through every scenario that could go wrong so that I am prepared for everything that might go wrong. The dysfunctional result of my perfectionist thinking manifests itself in the present by overeating, unreachable goals, growing anxieties, and social isolation. I have tried to protect myself from increasing disappointment by insulating myself from the very public and often cruel court of public opinion. The blogosphere has always seemed to be a particularly vulnerable place to reside because I know myself well enough to know that criticism has always been an immediate stake to my heart.

I write this first blog entry to share my fears with others in hopes that they may not wait 50 years before they recognize what is holding them back from dreaming their dreams and stepping out of their comfort levels. Writing is a process that has always helped me come to a place of clarity and focus. This blog will be filled with my random thoughts about education, diversity and my spirit. I have a lifetime of research and experience that I have not published.  It is MY intention to dip my toes in the water of public opinion and fear no more.


Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.

Thich Nhat Hanh