Loving Recklessly: Hope Within Reach

Loving Recklessly

This post was co-written with Todd Nesloney. You can find his blog here.

The Way It May Seem

It seems these days that you can’t turn on the tv, radio, or surf the web without bearing witness to another atrocity that has happened around the world.  Sometimes those events are far away and easy to disconnect from, yet sometimes they happen right in our backyard.

As more and more of these painful events have taken place, something began to happen in both of our own hearts and minds.  While talking on Voxer one afternoon, we realized how heavy recent events had been weighing on our hearts.  But even more so, the thought of love kept coming to mind.  Loving unconditionally appears reckless to a watching world.

The Way It Really Is

As men of faith, we both know the power that exists in loving unconditionally.  We’ve both seen our own lives changed when we ourselves felt the unconditional love and forgiveness of Christ.  But even more so, we’re reminded of our charge to love others. No matter how hard it may seem.

Loving without limits can be difficult to wrap our minds around. We become conditioned to see people as transactions rather than relationships. Our exchanges with others can be reduced to position or to the role that they serve in our lives rather than the most basic connection: the value of them as a person. When we fail to see the humanity and the needs of others we in a sense lose our own humanity and our way.

Our Belief About Others

What we believe about others will in turn determine our behaviors towards them. Others around us are not looking for a piece, a part, or only half of who we can be when it comes to believing the best about others. They’re looking to see that we want to bring out the best one hundred percent of the time, loving without limits, filled with the desire to see that all people are given opportunities to surpass expectations. No one likes a half-hearted commitment, so our commitment to love people must be 100%.

At the same time, deep-seated in all of us is what we believe about ourselves.  And that too affects how we interact with others.  Many times we see ourselves as unlovable, easily abandoned, or not worthy. As C.S. Lewis puts it, “we are what we believe we are.”  Because of that belief about ourselves, we don’t give others all of ourselves.  We give them pieces of who we are.  We believe that if we give too much they’ll hurt us or use it against us.

Loving without limits is allowing our arms to be wide open to embrace a radical commitment to live beyond ourselves. We must always ask, ‘what does love require of me?’

A radical commitment to…

Compassion

One thing that this world can never have enough of is compassion. Compassion doesn’t come from a place of weak mindedness. It actually comes from a place of incredible strength. When you stop to help the least of these you are sharing your strength.  Being compassionate allows you to be vulnerable, a trait we need more of in our culture, not less.

We tend to overcomplicate what compassion looks like, reserving those moments for someone in times of loss or severe trial. However, what if we displayed this as servant leaders daily. Imagine if we taught this in our classrooms. We must model through our own words and actions for others what this looks like. Being generous with authentic words of praise and affirmation to those around us affirms others in ways they often will not ever communicate. For example, we have witnessed how students or teachers will hold onto that simple post it note we wrote. Why? Because you went beyond yourself and took the time to recognize their value.

Forgive

Forgiveness.  Probably the most difficult of all.  So often in society today we’re taught an eye for an eye.  When someone hurts you, you’re supposed to hurt them back.  Make them feel your pain.

If there’s anything we’ve learned it’s the freeing power of forgiveness.  Because often what you find is that when you forgive someone it frees you more than it does that other person.

We don’t need to hold onto hurt.  To hold onto hate.  When we chose not to forgive we’re only making the issue worse.  One of our favorite quotes is that “hurting people, hurt others.”

Forgiveness isn’t easy.  And honestly, we don’t believe it really comes naturally.  But it’s something that is so necessary.  We have to be the one to step up and say, I forgive you. And to remember that when you forgive it’s not an acknowledgment that what the other person did was ok.  It’s a realization that what they did to you will have no hold over you.  That you’re in control of how you feel and what you believe about yourself.

Hope

Hope is not based on wishful thinking but in the power of that which is not yet becoming reality through intentional belief and action. Hope is the power to drive out fear. When we give into fear we allow anxiety and allow the darkness to cast a shadow in place of light.

All we need is just the slightest sliver of hope.  Belief that things can and will get better.  Darkness cannot hide where there is light.  Together, we can be the light in a world that often feels so overrun by darkness.

So What?

As we both came together to write this post, we wanted it to be a beacon of light. A reminder that as people we can do so much good in this world.  And though it may seem that things are dark or that darkness is prevailing, we can still be the light.

Our hope is to strike the match, that leads to a flame, the ends in a full-on raging fire.  To push forward with unconditional love.  To show compassion in every situation. To forgive quickly, even when we don’t think we can.  And most of all to hold onto hope.

Just as Margaret Mead says, “Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world.  When indeed, it’s the only one that ever has.”

#Loverecklessly -Todd and Jeff

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When All Else Fails

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Do you ever feel as a leader that what you are doing just isn’t good enough, that if you only could do more then it would all be better. There are days you question your calling and wonder if you have it in you to continue. It is in those moments that great reflection and clarity can reaffirm your passion and purpose. Wherever you are in your journey consider the following…

Embrace the Mess

The moment we start falling in love with our content or a token issue we lose sight of what matters most. Our job isn’t about teaching curriculum, but rather reaching students. I like what Michelle Forman, a former national teacher of the year, has to say, “learning and teaching is messy stuff, it doesn’t fit into bubbles.” Many of us are on high need campuses where our students look to us to provide for them well beyond the required curriculum. Daily I encounter students who feel school is the safest place they can be. Face it, our kids and families often come from challenging situations. As leaders, we must accept people as they come, not as we want them to be. People grow when they are loved. It’s in the mess that the real learning happens. Reaching the whole child or family requires that we position ourselves to see life not through our content or instructional expertise but simply as a human being.

We must fight a tendency to treat others as some kind of impersonal “stakeholder” or “customer.” These kind of words at their worst allow us to serve people from a distance, rather than up close and personal. Some might accuse our profession of caring too much. When did this become a problem? The anxiety level of many teachers is at an all-time high because we realize the stakes are so high to be so much to so many who need us. You just need to remember that it isn’t your job to fix kids or people, just love them through it.

Elevate The Conversation 

Schools can have mission statement all day long but they are pointless if they don’t translate into moving people forward. Our school partners get an authentic view into our beliefs not by what we put at the front of the school on a wall, but how we authentically approach people daily. Our greatest act of leadership won’t be the test score report card,  but the community we are creating. Remember, people grow when they are loved.

Loving people means not getting caught up in unproductive conversations. Don’t get trapped in the figurative faculty lounge gripe sessions. Misery loves company,  and our greatest opportunities often present themselves to help position conversations in a different light. The power of positive questions and statements will go a long way into reframing a toxic environment. Rather than dreading that negative parent, teacher, or team make it a personal mission to change the tone and outcome. By taking personal responsibility for how I approach conversations I am empowered to believe the best about people or a situation as I allow. As leaders, let’s step into the space to ensure that the people around us know we won’t go negative with them.

Emulate The Expectation 

As leaders let’s not be found asking others to do what we aren’t willing to do ourselves. I grow increasingly concerned at the disconnect of what is expected for teachers and students, but may not be modeled by the leadership in the building. For example, if you want teachers to create environments for students to be expected and accepted we must do that as leaders for all our partners. Your culture in your school will be as strong as what you tolerate. Leaders who set an expectation that staff and students are to be compliant will get just that, or worse. Schools not only become what is obvious but also what is ignored. Let’s not fail our people by creating a culture where others perceive we can’t handle the hard stuff, the tough conversations. School’s that thrive have leaders who aren’t afraid to confront the truth and then pursue greatness together.

When all else fails remember to ask yourself, “what does love require of me in this moment?” Imagine how different our motives, attitude, conversation, and culture will look as a result of how we answer this question.

Follow The Leader

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Remember as a kid playing the game, “Follow The Leader.” It’s pretty simple – first a leader or “head of the line” is chosen, then the children all line up behind the leader. The leader then moves around and all the children have to mimic the leader’s actions. Any players who fail to follow or do what the leader does are out of the game. As a leader, what message are you sending to people about how you want them to follow. Don’t fool yourself if you think that your students, staff, and parents are not watching your every move. You can either have them move with you or against you. It is your choice! Our ultimate goal is to build and sustain capacity in people that should long outlive us in that position. Here are some points to consider as we lead people…

“Serve” – as leaders we get this glorious opportunity to serve our students, staff, and families. Serving can be misconstrued to mean “door mat.” Serving doesn’t mean you get on your face and grovel before someone…it simply means you work for their best. Consider how you can work for the best of those in your care. It can be the simple act of covering a duty or those moments when you emotionally show up to ask, “how are you today”” and really mean it. The role of leadership means sensing what your people need and being ready to respond on their terms, not yours.

Get Out of the Way – We have to put people over our own agenda. In our best of intentions we can in fact become the biggest inhibitors to growth. How does this happen? When you operate within a hierarcial system the pipeline of decision making often forces everything through the leader at the top. What if we flattened leadership? Truly our job as leaders is to help other leaders get where they want to be with their ideas, hopes, and dreams for how to helps kids be truly successful.

Give permission – to self and others to seek even if the answers don’t seemingly materialize right away. You have individuals and teams of people surrounding you just waiting for you to say, “yes.” Be known as a gracious permission giver and create conditions that support other’s actually learning. It could begin by canceling your school faculty meetings, encouraging personalized learning opportunities, and giving time back into the hands of our staff. When students and teachers are given “space” or time they are free to engage, explore, and experiment.

Go explore – As the edleader for a campus model the way by seeking out your adventure and discover personal new opportunities that create pathways of learning, innovation, and ingenuity. As you learn, bring those opportunities back to your people that will elevate the journey for your team. Be curious with your people. Our people need to see us as the most curious learner in the building. Basically, get out of your office, even off your campus, and learn!

Ask the “right” questions – along the way ask the questions that no one currently is willing to ask. Model risk taking and a growth mindset in your meetings with staff, coffee with parents, and sit downs with students. Use intentional questions that will generate constructive thinking and problem solving. Ask the questions that you know might result in some painful but needed truth for you. It is only in getting honest feedback that you can make the changes that will grow your campus forward. Don’t forget we are in this for kids.

Celebrate the “small” moments– be intentional about celebrating the process, the journey that your students, teachers, or other edleaders have been on. When we celebrate we are validating the process. 99% of the time authentically celebrating someone doesn’t take any money just some time and relational energy. You can’t imagine what a quick fly by note (less than 2 minutes to write) can mean for a teacher or student. You want to put energy back into people, notice them and they will notice others.

Finally, if we want to sustain a healthy culture where our stakeholders want to follow the leader we must also believe the best about people. We must maintain an attitude that is gracious, generous, and supportive because if we don’t then who will!

Jump Start Growth

Jump Start Growth

Recently, a mentor I respect greatly said something that deeply resonated with me. It was as if he said it just for me and me alone. He put words to something I often feel, but shrink away from admitting out loud. He declared, “I often feel weighed down by my own disappointment over my past failures to grow.” I thought to myself, “Yes… me too!” So often, I have such grand intentions about committing to growth in the form of stacks of enticing books to read, professional journals to digest, podcasts to explore, and past professional learning experiences to revisit.

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As I thought about my mentor’s admission, I was reminded of this truth: Past disappointments don’t determine future outcomes. Anything is possible if I want to change! Andy Stanley wrote about truths associated with change in his book The Principle of the Path. Mr. Stanley explained, “To get from where we don’t want to be to where we do want to be requires two things: time and a change of direction.”  

As I continued to reflect on these ideas about change, I was inspired to brainstorm a plan to jump start my own growth and came up with the steps below. I hope these steps may help you on your own journey towards continual personal and professional growth!

Jump Start Growth

Set a goal with milestones – A good idea is just that, an idea, but a goal with tangible milestones is attainable.  When considering a growth goal, set out steps that lead to the goal. Those steps serve a guideposts to where you want to go.

Celebrate small winsIn her blog, Meg Selig explains that, “Charles Duhigg used the term “small wins” in his book The Power of Habit to refer to modest behavior changes that can set off a chain reaction of more and better changes.”  When you accomplish a small win along the way toward your goal, celebrate! Plan to treat yourself to a pedicure with a friend or a special meal out. Share accomplishments along the way and enjoy the satisfaction of small wins knowing that small wins add up to big wins in the long run!

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Be Accountable – Reach out to a trusted individual and tell them about your goal for growth. Ask this person to help hold you accountable to your commitment and empower them to check in on you at scheduled, agreed upon times. Be sure to communicate what your milestones are along the way, what you hope to gain on your journey of growth, and invite them to celebrate your accomplishments with you be it the small wins or the big kahuna!

Share your learning and growth – What do you plan to do with the learning you acquire and the growth you experience while on your journey? Your growth will be so much richer if you will commit to sharing your learning with others! Do this by tweeting one thing a day related to your goal, blogging your experiences and sharing out your blog, or creating a face-to-face forum such as a small study group to reflect with as you grow.

Seek opportunities to apply new learning – Look for new and different venues where your learning may take you. Could your learning be leading you to meet new people, to try new things, or go to new places? Achieving your milestones along the way requires applying what you are learning to reach your goal for growth.

Invite others to join you on your journey – I have found that my most meaningful times of growth have happened when I do it on a shared journey rather than strictly on my own. When I decided to go back to school to get my masters in Educational Leadership, I knew I did not want to do it alone. I found a colleague who was ready to tackle grad school too and we dove in together. My learning was so rich and profoundly deep because I had a friend to reflect, debrief, work, and laugh with throughout our courses. Spur others to join you on your journey and enjoy the added bonus of learning and growing in community with others.

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I have decided, I am not going to let my past disappointments stop me from pursuing future growth and accomplishments. I am recommitting to growth, one milestone at a time. My current goals include reading at least one book relating to professional growth each month and blogging at least once a month about my growth.

 What would you add to these ideas for Jump Starting Growth? I am also curious, what are your growth goals in 2016? 

Leading From the Edge

Many people like to live life in the center, choosing to stay away from the unfamiliar or the extreme. There is something about being in the mainstream, and going with the flow that feels “nice.”  There is a certain comfort afforded with this perspective.  However, what begins to develop over time, especially in organizations, is group think; or worse unquestioned conventional thinking that arises.  It becomes easy to hang out in the middle, not pushing back or making waves.  Questioning is replaced by complacency, an acceptance of business as usual.  In time organizational morale and engagement suffers.

As leaders, our ability to influence growth and change doesn’t happen from the center, but the edge.  Though the edge brings uncertainty, it also has the opportunity to bring clarity when we have a well-defined purpose and established values to lead others forward.  The edge affords a particular vantage point for effective leaders that differentiates them from managers or maintainers.

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Vantage Point 1:  People Over Programs

You affect change or culture by impacting people, not programs. We miss when we spend time and money trying to motivate students and teachers through programs. School initiatives come and go, but what will always endure is the relationship potential that walks through our doors daily. Leading from the edge is an uncompromising commitment to develop your top talent.  In the era of high stakes testing and teacher accountability, there is a significant amount of time spent on developing the marginal amount ( 1-5%) of teachers who are in need of improvement.  Leaders should challenge this conventional thinking.

What if we invested the majority of our time in our most effective leaders?  Consider the multiplying effect of influence that result in developing those top people who in turn develop others.  Leading from the edge means-growing people, not bigger programs.  Your number one job as leader is to grow the capacity and skills of your top people.  In turn, as you grow your teacher leaders – student achievement rises as well.

Vantage Point 2:  A Culture of Permission

As leaders, one of the most powerful words we can ever say is “yes.” Our school cultures begin to thrive as leaders give permission and ignite ownership Effective leaders hire well from the beginning, ensuring they have only the best people and BELIEVE the best about their people.  In turn, it is easier to trust teachers to lead initiatives we believe in and can support.  Today’s leaders serve less as supervisor’s and operate more as coach.  Autonomy begins with supporting our people to have not only self-direction but also decision making.  Leading from the edge requires that today’s educational leaders are not managers of people but connectors.  Our job is to help our teams effectively connect, collaborate, and support them with resources necessary to thrive.

In the 21st century, edleaders are rejecting compliance-based systems because they realize how unmotivating it is for themselves and students.  If the goal is for self-efficacy of students and staff then our practice must reflect the rhetoric.  Students and educators alike increasingly want to be a part of a bigger story, to add value.  Leading from the edge means giving up control so that others can thrive, explore, and discover how they can leave an imprint.

Vantage Point 3: Risks Are Rewarded

Our culture does not stand up to celebrate failure.  We give trophies to winners and feel sorry for the loser.  This win/loss mentality is not an indicator of leading from the edge.  We are most effective when we foster a mindset that rewards risk.  As a leader, do you focus more on the problem or solution?  Solution focused leaders identify the issue and develop processes towards a solution.  By asking guiding questions such as –  “What do you need to do next time?  What do you need to do to move this forward?  What do you think we need to do to be successful?” allows an individual/team to feel supported and take next steps.  Great leaders will spend their own capital to support others failing forward on the road to success.

Are you willing to stand on the edge?  Standing on the edge can get windy, even downright frightening at times, but the view is worth it.

Engaging Parents as Partners

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It could be said, “We do what we do because of them” for if there were no parents there would be no students to nurture and teach in our collective schools. Yet why is engaging parents often posed an afterthought or a good idea to be explored or tried when other strategies are exhausted. I would like to assert that building parental partnerships is one of the most critical things we do as schools.

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Admittedly, there are barriers to parental engagement, but the benefits outweigh the barriers every time! I would like to explore the benefits to engaging parents as partners.

  • Parents are a child’s first teacher and are critical to supporting their child’s social and academic growth. When parents and schools interact as partners, both parties have the green light to enhance what the other is teaching. Student success is catapulted as parents are empowered fulfil their role as their child’s first teacher.
  • Without parental partnerships, the school’s influence with students is automatically lessened, but with it student learning and growth has the opportunity to multiply exponentially. It is the school’s responsibility to empower parents to take a front seat role in their child’s education. Schools are obligated to create front door opportunities to provide parent learning experiences throughout the school year. My school puts on quarterly afterschool IMPACT (Importance of Parents and Children Together) events where parents and children experience a fun, carnival like atmosphere while participating in carefully designed activities that align to our state Pre-K guidelines. These IMPACT events empower parents because they go home with free educational materials and ideas of how to continue fostering joyful learning in their homes in natural ways. (Learn more about my school’s IMPACT events.)
  • When parents engage as partners, the community at large is brought together and connections are strengthened. Think about what happens in the brain when neural paths are created and strengthened. The more use the path gets, the stronger the bond, and the more automatic the neural response or skill becomes. The same principle is true for a community. All entities benefit when the bonds between families, communities, and schools are strengthened. Unfortunately, many families are increasingly disconnected from traditional extended family and community bonds. The school should and can be the heart of its community. I propose that a supportive school culture is a critical variable for supporting students, strengthening families, and bringing communities together.
  • Engaged parental partners are positive advocates for their child’s education. They lovingly embrace their child’s school and advocate for better; better schools, better learning for their children, and better communities at large. As engaged advocates, this parental stance is one of collaboration and shared partnership as opposed to an adversarial stance that can poison progress and relationships.

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How does your school engage parents and partners? What are the persistent and creative ways your school does this? The benefits of engaging parents outweigh succumbing to the barriers any day! When parents are engaged as partners, there is a rightness of the world that is not found in our school communities in any other more profound way.

Serving together, Heidi

*For more on the topic of “Engaging Parents as Partners” check out Participate Learning’s archives of resources compiled from the 12/19/15 #LeadUpChat that my good friend Nancy Alvarez and I co-hosted/moderated.

#NoArmChairNovember

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Game of Six of the ALCS fans nearly watched the Royals blow a solid 3-1 lead against the Blue Jays when slugger Jose Bautista crushed a pitch from relief pitcher, Ryan Madson.  Royals fans certainly had to feel sickened by this unfortunate turn. They felt sick for their team, who, at the time, was on their way to letting a World Series trip slip away.  The more empathetic fans also felt sick for the onslaught of criticism that Royals manager, Ned Yost, would receive.  The critics were fast and furious with their dissatisfaction in Ned Yost’s decision-making.

#NedYost happens to be one of the worst managers in baseball; Madson has horrible numbers against the #Jays and he has Davis can get 5 outs?” 

#Fourth home run of the season for Madson. That’s almost a fireable offense for Ned. What a foolish, foolish mistake…#yosted

“I don’t know that there is a man I dislike more in baseball than #NedYost, even #ARod I like and respect more I think. #KCRoyals

Ouch. And these are those appropriate for a school leadership blog. Search #yosted if you’re interested in the PG-13-and-more version.  Yikes.

When fans criticize the decisions made by managers and professional athletes, they take the widely accepted role of the “armchair quarterback.”  According to http://www.onlineslangdictionary.com, an armchair quarterback is…

“a person who watches sports and believes one could do a better job than the players or coaches.”

We rationalize our positions as armchair quarterbacks by saying “It’s my right as a fan.” “They’re overpaid, so I can over-criticized.” “It’s not like I’m going to see Ned Yost tomorrow at the grocery store.”

All of that may be true, and it led us to start connecting the phenomenon of armchair quarterbacking to our positions as leaders…

It can be easy to sit in the safety and security of your favorite armchair, bellowing calls at the television or hiding behind social media.  This reality occurs daily in our respective roles as educators–teachers and principals being armchaired by naysayers, arm chairing each other or central office admin, legislators armchairing all of us, educators armchairing parents (yes, we are very guilty of this.)

It’s easy to be a naysayer, focusing on a single call or could have, would have, should have perspective. However, like a great coach, leaders understand the big picture, they have the moral and visionary courage to see beyond one inning or quarter, they embrace the challenge of the whole game. In fact, great leaders know that we may lose this one only to win the next. So we have a challenge to make, a declaration to abandon the practice of armchair quarterbacking others.  Let’s have a moratorium on judgment. We call it #NoArmChairNovember.

The #NoArmChairNovember Challenge…

Be invested in people, not problems

If we are not careful, we can focus on a problem, forgetting that real people are involved. Spend your energy on people, not the problem. Are you spending time with all your stakeholders? Do you truly know your students’ struggles; are you spending time in that teacher’s classroom, having that meaningful conversation with a parent, inviting that district leader to be on your campus? Like all worthwhile pursuits it will require you to invest of yourself and time, but remember it’s not about us, but the people around us.

Ask the right questions

You don’t know the reasons why a decision may have been made. Our first reaction is to question it before even seek to understand the purpose or strategy behind it.  Seek first to ask questions to bring clarity and understanding. As edleaders we have to avoid being expedient, making snap judgments, take the time to understand a situation. Avoid critiques; offer solutions that contribute to moving a conversation forward and being a win for all.

Believe The Best About People

Great teams don’t thrive in toxic cultures. When we believe the best about our people their capacity and confidence greatly increases. Leaders give their best so that everyone around them can be their best. Our call as leaders is to inspire and grow people, many of us believed this when we accepted the challenge to lead others early on, we get to coach others to greatness, and this means less evaluation and more modeling through our own attitude. As leaders, we raise what we praise. Like many a locker room has a saying over the door that players see daily as a reminder, we need to have that same vision for our teams and ourselves.

So embrace #NoArmchairNovember and resist judgment, seeing the best in others and creating a vision of acceptance and optimism.  When we do, we move from the armchair to the field, this is where the real action is, anyway.

The concept of #NoArmchairNovember generated from some friendly sports talk between Paul Erickson and myself.  Three weeks ago, Paul and I were voxing back-and-forth, talking college football and the scrunity under which coaches find themselves.  We started to make connections to the “armchairing” that educators face and the armchairing they engage in themselves.  Sports talk quickly turned into self-reflection, collaboration, and, finally, action….a call to resist the temptation to judge and to instead boldly build others up, believing the best in them and thus getting the best results for your school community.

Paul Erickson, is a lead learner and elementary principal in Kansas, and also a Kansas Principal of the year recipient.  Through Twitter, the #Leadupchat tribe, and Voxer, Paul and I have connected as like-minded educators, pushing each other lead on, lead up!  Thanks, Paul, for working with me on #NoArmChairNovember