Let me tell you about the journey I've been on. There have been twists and turns and ups and downs, and challenges big and small around every corner. But every challenge has been a learning experience. And around every corner I've found a friend. And always--always--there has been love.
For 37 years I had the perfect job. I was a teacher, and then principal at ROCORI Elementary in Cold Spring, MN--a small town about an hour and a half northwest of Minneapolis. My wife Luci and I raised our three children in Cold Spring, and along the way we found comfort in our neighbors who, like us, did the best they could to raise happy and healthy kids. We weren't experts, but we did what we had to do, and it felt right.
As time went on, I got to know hundreds of families--three and four generations of some families, in fact! I was their teacher, mentor, friend, and neighbor; and they were mine. As a school administrator, I worked with teachers and staff who were passionate about kids and education. We made every effort to build a learning community that addressed the needs of all students. By most standards, we succeeded. Students responded well to the curriculum we developed, and they enjoyed our after-school programs.
Are there things I would have done differently? Yes. I realize now that something was missing. But our school wasn't unique. Every school across the country seems stuck in the same place. Now that I'm at a different place in my life, and now that I can look at the school system from a different perspective, one thing is clear: we must focus on building interpersonal relationships inside and outside the classroom.
Students cannot learn if they do not feel connected to their teachers or peers. They cannot grow. They cannot thrive. They cannot become their best selves unless we pay special attention to their social-emotional needs. It's more than giving hugs and high-fives; it's about being present and finding ways to relate to kids at their level and on their terms.
This is what I've tried to impart on emerging educators during my time as professor in the education departments at St. Mary's University and at St. Cloud State University. This lesson goes far beyond the classroom walls and applies to all of us, no matter our age. It is through relationships we heal and grow, which is why I founded the holistic wellness practice called Building a World of Love in 2008 to help individuals and families dealing with trauma.
Through my practice, I've connected with doctors and practitioners across the country working in the fields of mental health and holistic healing. I became involved with an organization in California called Join-Up which, among other things, works to reduce PTSD in veterans and first responders through equine-assisted therapy and nonverbal communication.
Combining my experience in education and my interests in therapy and self help techniques, I established the nonprofit Yes Network in 2013 to strengthen communities by helping children and families learn and grow through afterschool and summer programming.
My involvement with these organizations keeps me very busy. And I'm currently writing a book and finding new ways to engage with families and community members. I remain committed to the belief that everyone has a gift to share with the world, and when we learn how to feel and appreciate one another's presence we can truly thrive.
"When you find yourself in need of a friend, remember to first look inside yourself and make friends with the person you were and the person you want to be."
"A child finds their sense of self in relation to the people around them and the events in their lives."
"Healing begins when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable in the presence of a friend."