Just Keep Showing Up

Just Keep Showing Up

Time for a Franklin Friday!

I’ve never had a puppy quite like Franklin. For his first four months as a part of my family, he wasn’t a particularly happy baby. A strong wind, an errant sound he’d not heard before, or the slightest change in his routine brought out his worst. He was fearful, always on alert, and reluctant to play. Other than the occasional interest in food or a treat, he was motivated by something known only to him. 

In other words, I had no idea what was going on in his head.

His one form of consistent communication was biting. Hard. Being hungry, needing to go outside, even feeling sleepy and wanting to be put into his crate would all rate a blood-drawing chomp. Despite more training techniques and recommendations than I can count – day after day of life as a dog chew left me feeling rather hopeless.  

Not only did I feel like a failure, but I was struggling with not liking him very much which is really hard to admit. Who can’t love a cute little puppy? It’s easier said than done when you’re in a constant battle with no common language or avenues through which to understand one another.  Every night, I’d take an accounting of my wounds and go to bed angry.

Ever feel like that with a student? Over the years I can recall a few who were their own version of Franklin; scared, frustrated and desperate to be heard. These are the students you don’t forget – the “emotional biters” who lashed out in an effort to tell you what they needed , which was often a complete mystery. If you’re big enough to acknowledge it – these are the students who were really hard to like. 

I saw one of those students from my past recently and am thrilled to say that he’s doing well; a full educated, starting a family, and happy where he is.  As we caught up and shared our lives since the days when we were regularly locking horns, we had a frank conversation about the mutual frustrations we shared back then, complete with a truly beautiful moment of honesty in which he shared that despite the fact he hated me most days, that I helped him be better.  He made me feel exactly the same way. 

I asked him what got him through the anger and the deep doubts of his own self worth that he carried with him back then and he replied, “the ones who kept showing up for me.” 

We spend a lot of time as educators and leaders scanning the latest research for new approaches and honing our craft. But what was the most important thing to this young man was not breakthrough research or a shiny new technique. It was simply not giving up. A lesson I will not soon forget. 

 I shared pictures of Franklin and told “war stories” of our time together so far.  I could tell that it was a bit amusing to hear an authority figure from his past admit total failure, but his only advice was to “not give up on the little guy – he would come around.”    

No $200 an hour dog behaviorist could have given me better advice. Isn’t it a wondrous moment when the student becomes the mentor? 

So Franklin and I are moving forward. My new approach is to start each day with the intent to show up and be present. To keep showing up until we figure this out. And believe change will unfold. 

And now, fly. 



P.S. I’m happy to say that Franklin and I have reached a sort of détente. The cessation of hostilities doesn’t always hold but every now and then we enjoy playing ball and Frisbee, and I recently was treated to a first-ever bite-free cuddle. 

When Forward Is Scary

When Forward Is Scary

Time for a Franklin Friday!

I have a colleague and friend who does amazing work with and for young people in rural communities. The structures she’s put into place for youth who have a whole lot stacked against them – especially those who are aging out of the foster system are truly inspiring. And she’s getting great results. 

 You can imagine how pleased I was to be asked to serve again as a mentor for some of her youth over the summer. I’m all in and already thinking about how to level-up my mentor tools and skills because I can’t wait to be  guiding, cheerleading and advising as they take those first steps in finding the best in themselves. That is, until they stop walking. More on that in a minute. 

Shortly after I received my friend’s call, it was time for one of Franklin’s walks. These are not easy affairs because Franklin is easily distracted. Smells, people, cars going by, and especially sounds from unseen sources stop all forward progress. We can be tripping along at a nice pace and suddenly Franklin will lie down. And we wait. For what, I have no idea. When whatever it is that is going on in Franklin’s head is resolved, he stands up and we move forward. But until he removes the invisible barrier he sees, hears or feels, nothing will get him moving. Not praise, not treats and especially not a tug on the leash. Any attempts to start his engine again results in his play dead pose – rolled onto back – four legs up in the air. Some days it can take 45 minutes to walk a 2 block square.

While this is like a live comedy show for my neighbors, it often pushes me to a pretty significant stress point. I’ve put hours and hours into helping my little pup grow up and after five months, I still can’t figure out what exactly makes him tick. When I get the leash ready for a walk he goes bananas with excitement and I make sure he always arrives home safely. So, Why?!  And it’s not like we can have a calm conversation and work out whatever the issue is. As this daily frustration continues to play out, I’ve had to dig deep for understanding and more patience than I’ve ever needed. 

And it got me thinking….

Have you ever worked with a student over a period of time and feel like they’re really leaping towards something wonderful – and then just on the verge of a breakthrough for no reason they stall? I had a mentee last summer who sprinted right up to the first day of college classes and then…panic. No warning and no obvious explanation.  I was devastated and felt like a complete failure. But as I look at it through the Franklin lens, there was an invisible barrier that only she could see. She wasn’t quite ready to move forward.   

I wish I could say I have a brilliant new strategy for dealing with Franklin. I got nothin’. But I do have a new plan for my mentees this summer. We’re still going to head out and hit the path toward whatever future they envision – but I’m going to ask more questions and take more time to openly discuss what they see, hear and feel along the way. Most of all, we’re going to work for a healthy balance of pushing and pulling (as good mentors do) and time-out for confronting the things that make moving forward scary and difficult.

I’ll let you know how all the summer “walks” go. 


P.S.  Franklin is my beautiful (and extremely challenging) new golden retriever puppy. Despite our many difficulties, he is forcing me to try new things, be a better problem-solver, and find new reservoirs of patience and flexibility. I’ll be sharing the trials, tribulations and revelations of growing up with Mr. Franklin Roosevelt on Fridays.