Do You Want to be Right, or Do You Want to be Happy?

Boy, did I ever hear that a lot growing up.  As most teens fresh out of puberty, I had plenty of opinions that were Phil - website portraitnon-negotiable.  I was right and that was that.  My parents (and any other adult for that matter) didn’t have a clue and were obviously, hopelessly out of touch.

Then, by the magical humor of the universe, before I knew it I had teenagers of my own.  Now I understand some of what my parents had to deal with, and their gracious patience and understanding.

Fortunately, I also work at Cherokee Creek Boys School and have the advantage of seeing middle school behavior in generous supply.  Our school is a learning environment both in academics and social skills.  I could see what great effect we were having on the lives of our students here at school, and I decided to try some of the same techniques at home.

First, I recognized the division of labor…hey, I really don’t have to do everything AND know everything.  My teens  were developing their independence for the first time … they were supposed to act as if they knew everything.  I remembered that as a young teen, I had just enough years under my belt to feel like I had a handle on all of life’s difficulties.  It wasn’t until I added a couple of decades that I began to realize how much I didn’t know.

So, with my own kids, I changed my approach and my role.  I realized that they were in a transition phase and needed to form their own opinions and reasoning.  I changed from telling them how they were suppose to think to asking them why they thought a certain way, and I tried to help them form more fully their own thoughts.  I was happy to see the openness that developed between us when they were able to express their own thoughts and feelings.

After all, I reasoned, I’m not going to be able to make decisions for my kids their whole life, nor would I want to. So I changed my approach from telling and demanding to asking and listening. My role switched from dictator to mentor and coach.   I realized that they were in a transition phase and needed to form their own opinions and reasoning.  They were trying out new ideas for the first time and developing the ability to express these fledgling ideas to their peers and to adults.

I decided to be happy and enjoy my kids … let them take on the anxiety of being right. It is a rite of passage we, as their wiser parents or teachers, must allow them. It is a rite of passage they, as young warriors, must be allowed as they discover what is Real and True about the world around them!

posted by Shaler Black Cooper in Discovering What is Real and True and have Comments (4)

Turning It Around

Denise Savidge with Sam and "driver" Nick - too cute!

Denise Savidge with Sam and "driver" Nick - too cute!

Next week marks my one year anniversary of joining the Cherokee Creek Boys School staff as Academic Dean. It’s been an amazing journey of growth, self-discovery, and relationship building in what I call fondly, “The Greatest Job Ever.”

There will likely be those who ponder how big a (choose from suck-up, butt-kisser, brown-noser) I am by writing a blog so blatantly complimentary to my colleagues. But you have to know them. When you’re as delighted as I am to come every day and work with these folks, you feel the need to spread the love on a little thick now and then.

Two years ago I was homeless and jobless. Who wouldn’t feel lucky to have a job — any job — given those circumstances? Somewhere close to MLK day 2010, I was packed up and halfway home to Pennsylvania to live in my parents’ basement. That’s the absolute truth. Well okay, the basement is actually unfinished. I probably could have scored my old bedroom. Thanks to the miracle of modern smart phone communication, an email was delivered offering me a job to make just-above-poverty-level in the local school district. It was enough to get by. It was also a foot in the door, and I turned around and drove five hours back to where I’d started.

That fortuitous email was the beginning of a much needed walk in faith and fellowship. The friends and relationships I’ve formed since turning around that day make life before that point look like a scrimmage against myself. I had been losing no matter what, questioning every decision and second guessing every move. It was mental torture I was inflicting upon myself. Does this sound like something our boys have experienced?

Each move I made after my personal decision to turn my car around brought me closer to finding CCBS one year later, where I finally feel at home. Every perceived misstep I took gained me a skill set I’m using daily in a giant montage of job freedom and creativity. It’s good, hard, rewarding work with payoffs every day – always based in being able to witness and be part of the “turn around” the boys do while they’re here. It’s a team effort in which there are no superstars claiming MVP, just team players acknowledging the other guy’s part in the process.

Turning around is a BIG theme here at CCBS. Our boys come to “turn it around.” Our families get to take a new course along with them. And we’ve grown so much as a school since about this time last year. We all manage to grow and change on these healing soils – from the trees to the people to the school itself.

This week, we were told we would again be recommended for accreditation by SACS. We can’t reveal most of the contents of the study until it’s published, but suffice it to say we were showered with some pretty amazing and heartwarming Commendations. To have strangers walk onto your campus and immediately recognize the warmth, camaraderie, cohesion, and respect among students and staff is a pretty big accolade.

Have you ever wondered about our claim to be “The Small School with the Big Heart?” Even first time visitors see it. Next time you’re in the area, turn around for a quick visit with us. It’s always rewarding to see the good work going on around here.

posted by Shaler Black Cooper in Discovering What is Real and True and have Comments (10)

Change, Please?

Steven Graduates

David celebrates a student's graduation.

If there’s one things that’s predictable, it’s that things are going to change. And when a change occurs, there is often a transition that follows!

Another predictable thing is that changes create a time in between the ending of the old and the beginning of the new. Cherokee Creek Boys School calls this space a “neutral zone,” a name adopted from William Bridges work on the process of transitions.

We have all felt the “neutral zone.” It can be exciting or confusing. It can feel like chaos or be filled with anticipation. Whatever the feelings are, they are stronger than when things are just routine or predictable. I am a creature of habit as much as anyone, and those feelings that are associated with change sure can make me uncomfortable.

The question I hear (and sometimes ask myself) is: How can I get out of the neutral zone and into the new way of being? Another way of asking this question could be: How can I get past all of these uncomfortable and magnified feelings quickly?

Since change is happening all the time, chances are that you are in a neutral zone in some area of your life right now. What are you being challenged with in the neutral zone? Here are a few questions you can ask to help turn the neutral zone into a place of self-discovery…

What must I put down in order to move forward?

What point of view is shifting?

What is it that I believed that no longer fits me?

Before we are in a rush to the new place, let’s see what can be learned while we are in the neutral zone!

“Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.” – Robert C. Gallagher

posted by Shaler Black Cooper in Discovering What is Real and True and have Comments (3)


Prepared for a transition! Steve readying his climbing gear for a river crossing.

Prepared for a transition! Steve readying his climbing gear for a river crossing.

Steve and I found a cliff that had never been climed before! Looking through our binoculars we estimated the cliff was about 200 feet high. We wanted badly to be the first climbers to explore the steep cracks and faces, so we marched straight for it. About 100 yards before we reached the cliff we came upon a river that was deep, wide and running swiftly. We walked up and down looking for a way across with all of our gear. Disappointed, we turned back knowing there would be no climbing that day.

We had known where we were starting, and where we were going. We were well equipped for our destination, but had overlooked the territory in-between. Failing to anticipate the transition between where we were and where we were prepared to go only cost us a day of climbing. Imagine what overlooking a transition in other life situations might cost…

William Bridges describes the space in-between old ways and new ways as Neutral Zones. A Neutral Zone stands between where you have been and where you want to be. Anticipating, preparing and deliberately taking the time to cross the Neutral Zone can make the journey much more pleasant and will ensure your arrival.

The challenge for all of us is to spend time preparing for the neutral zone, just like we do for our destination!

The very next weekend my climbing partner and I better anticipated the transition, carried a small inflatable raft out to the river, took our time crossing, and arrived on the other side ready to begin our adventure!

David LePere is the Executive Director of Cherokee Creek Boys School, a therapeutic boarding school for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina.

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