My Nashville Half-Marathon: hills, pain, and serendipity

My Nashville Half-Marathon: hills, pain, and serendipity

Hmmm….would I be mad or happy if the race was cancelled due to the thunderstorm?

I remember thinking this the morning of the race, stomach in knots, nervous energy putting a pep in my step and making me giggle. I had never traveled for a race before and I had been anticipating it for months. I knew ultimately I would be disappointed if I wasn’t able to fulfill the goal of conquering the heat and hills of the Nashville Rock N’ Roll Half-Marathon.

Along with the amazing friends I travelled to Nashville with, there were 44,000 other runners that morning of all ages, shapes and sizes. You could see the nervousness in their faces too. The common goals that united us created a sense that we are all in this together.

I was feeling sorry for myself as I was running up a hill on mile two when I came upon a firefighter fully decked out in 30lbs of gear. He was running the full marathon. I thought to myself, if he can do that…if he can run this marathon with the same gear that he wears to enter burning buildings to save lives, I can certainly run these 13.1 miles.

There were many times during the race that I thought I couldn’t do it. Like the time in mile three when we passed by a rack of bikes to rent and I contemplated that if I had my credit card on me, I could just rent one of those bikes and ride to the finish line.

However, the blessing on the course were many, so much so that I had a smile on my face almost the entire race, filled with joy and gratitude because I can run and for all the blessings in my life. Again and again I was inspired by the people I saw around me. 

  • The man pushing a wheelchair so his physically impaired brother could experience a marathon. 
  • The woman holding a sign that said YOU are awesome!, wearing out her voice by saying over and over, “This sign is for you, and you, and you,” pointing to as many runners as she could.
  • The couples running, encouraging and coaching each other along the way.
  • The man with the amputated leg, running on a prosthetic up and down all of those hills. 
  • High fives over and over on the course from spectators cheering us on.
  • The rain held off, and instead we had cool breezes and just moments of sprinkles.

The music lifted me. Around mile nine, right after I saw the man with a prosthetic leg running down a hill, I turned a corner and heard the most beautiful music. A band was playing a Christian song, on a stage in front of a church. Their beautiful voices could be heard for a mile, and the number of supporters holding signs and singing with all their hearts filled my own heart. My eyes filled with tears as I looked up to the clouds and expressed my thanks.

I passed the mile 12 marker and enjoyed a brief downhill stint before we turned the corner and saw the course go up and up and up. My body was aching, but I laughed at those last hills and thought, “Well, you are going to have to earn this finish. It is not going to be handed to you.”

The last band on the course was playing Stairway to Heaven as we rounded the corner to the stretch before the finish line. I appreciated the irony of that song with the runners around me. It was a beautiful way to finish a race full of apprehension, fear, pain, joy, gratitude, peace, and laughter.

This race was a great reminder to me that we get what we look for in life, don’t we? When I looked for nervousness, pain, and fear, that is what I saw and felt. When I looked for joy, gratitude, and laughter, that is what I saw and felt. 

At one point in the race we ran by a store called Serendipity. I stopped briefly to take a picture. That morning I certainly experienced serendipity…I stumbled (literally at times) upon the fortunes of learning, laughing, and celebrating alongside incredible people.

Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run

There’s still time to change the road you’re on.

-Stairway to Heaven


Why My Blog is Named After John Cusack

Why My Blog is Named After John Cusack

“When love feels like magic, it is called destiny; when destiny has a sense of humor, it is serendipity.” -from Serendipity, a 2001 John Cusack movie

Who doesn’t love John Cusack? Why not name my blog after him? I fell in love with the idea of serendipity after watching his 2001 movie called, ironically, Serendipity. I was in love with John Cusack way before that movie came out (think Say Anything).

I taught a class to 7th and 8th graders called Serendipity, I named my blog Serendipity in Education, and I strive to live life looking for serendipity. Here are five reasons why:

1. Serendipity is looking for the good in all things

Even the things that don’t seem to be very good at all. For example, in one of my first blog posts, I described how during a two hour drive to my hometown to see my mom, who was dying, I found myself feeling very grateful for traveling by car rather than horse and buggy on that rainy day. Sometimes it can be quite a stretch to find the good, but if I look hard enough, I can always find things to be grateful for.

2. Serendipity is good luck disguised as bad luck

The other week I read a book called Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth to a fifth grade class. We loved all three of the short stories with powerful lessons, and one of them resonated with serendipity. The panda describes several situations where people had bad luck, but in the end the “bad luck” kept a young man from being drafted into war.

Merriam-Webster defines serendipity as: luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for. Serendipity is finding the good even when it is disguised as bad luck.

3. Serendipity is looking at life from a humorous angle

This one can be drawn right from the way serendipity is described for the movie, “destiny with a sense of humor”. I do believe that things happen for a reason, a bigger purpose than we are sometimes aware of. I love looking for the humor, the irony, the hidden lessons in the things that happen. I do not poke fun at other people (although my sister may contradict that statement), rather I laugh at myself or the situation. Finding the humor helps lighten the mood and then helps us look at solutions with a more positive approach.

4. Serendipity is an approach to life that doesn’t replace hard work

I believe in luck…as in we make or find our own good luck. I think Thomas Jefferson said it best, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” All good things take work. Serendipity is more about how you approach life, with a desire to find the good and smile and laugh while you do.

5. Serendipity is found by immersing ourselves in life

The origin of the word serendipity comes from a Persian tale called “The Three Princes of Serendip”. In this story, three princes try to impress their father by traveling as everyday people rather than as nobles. During their travels, they saw the hardships that people went through but also saw the good that was in that everyday difficult world. This reminds me to walk the walk, roll up my sleeves and do the work alongside others, and to really listen to understand.

The tag line for my blog is: Stumbling upon the fortunes of learning, laughing and celebrating alongside incredible colleagues, students and parents. 

I believe that the “fortunes” are always right in front of us, and it is our job to find them, to learn from them, and to share them.

Do you believe in serendipity? More importantly, do you love John Cusack as much as I do?


Thinking Outside and Inside the Box

Thinking Outside and Inside the Box

This past December I went to the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association (MEMSPA) state conference. There, I was so inspired to begin thinking outside of the standard educational box. It was so refreshing and so invigorating given the data-driven world that education seems to be.

After the conference, I began to connect with people I met there and others, and to write and reflect. As a result of the learning at the conference, Twitter learning, blogging, reading George Corous’ Innovator’s Mindset, being in a Leverage Leadership (by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo) professional learning group, and using Marzano’s iObservation, I feel so excited about the possibilities to come for elementary education. I also feel overwhelmed at times and inadequate because we are just skimming the surface of those possibilities.

The biggest change that has happened as a result of this learning is within the conversations we are having as a staff. The professionals in our elementary school feel that our direction is a little off…that data is so important for student learning…but that it is not the ONLY thing that is important. We want students who are disappointed about a snow day, we want to challenge their thinking and empower them, we want to have fun and build relationships. Our conversations over the past few months have given us permission to dream again in that direction, and it breaths new life in us.

We are working to marry the two concepts and create a new “one” way of thinking…how can we empower students, have them love school, have teachers love school, and support their achievement so they can perform outstandingly on ANY assessment we put in front of them? How can we allow time for creativity and fun while making sure they learn the curriculum in a deep and meaningful way?

We don’t have the specific answers to those questions quite yet, but we do know that they live inside of the collective whole of us, and we just need to ask the right questions and have time for the collaboration. My job as a leader is to make time for the conversations, to listen and HEAR, to remove roadblocks, to be a positive source of energy, and to continue to model the vulnerability that is real and lives inside all of us. I also love them, love our students, and love our parents, which is a key catalyst to continuous improvement.

When I think back to a few months ago and reflect on all the learning squeezed into that little time, I can hardly believe it. It is a true testament to the power of being connected and being open, taking baby steps, and letting the heart of collaboration truly live in the collaboration.

Let us know…how do you think outside the box within the box? Let’s collaborate on Twitter: @allysonapsey

Who Controls You?

Who Controls You?

Why do you answer the phone?

Because it rings, right?

Or, do you answer it because you want to talk to the person calling you?

Is all behavior purposeful, or are we simply responding to what is happening around us?

Let’s look at an example and see what we think.

A young woman, in her early twenties, was driving home from her first teaching job, fighting traffic. She stayed late at school planning for the next day and was starving, tired and really wanted to be at home. The person behind her was honking and inching forward until he was almost on her bumper. She was thinking a few choice words and wondering what the guy’s problem was. Didn’t he realize that everyone was anxious to get moving?

She raised her hand to give him a taste of his own medicine. She stopped with her hand in mid-air. What if it was one of her student’s parents? That would be so unprofessional, and the parent might recognize her. She put her hand down and took a deep breath.

What stopped this young lady from displaying an obscene gesture? She was angry and the guy behind her probably deserved it. What does her behavior tell us about why people do what they do?

We all have urges to behave, and typically our urge to behave is driven from a frustration signal. We behave because we want something. We might eat because we are hungry, or bored, or sad. We yell because we are angry or frustrated. We select our behavior from a recipe book of previous behaviors in our head in our best attempt to meet a need to calm the frustration signal.

So, if we behave to meet a need, and we select our behavior in our best attempt to meet that need, does that mean that the only person who has control over our behavior is ourselves? That is empowering! And a bit frightening—does it also mean that I cannot blame my behavior on how someone else is making me feel?  I am responsible for my own behavior all of the time? Woah, mind blown.

What about my feelings; who controls them? Sometimes, I feel sad when I don’t want to feel sad. Or mad, or stressed, on and on. How can I “control” my feelings?

Let’s go back to the young lady. Instead of reacting and making an irresponsible choice, she took a deep breath. What might happen if she then called her best friend? How might she start feeling? Do we think she would forget about the grumpy guy and enjoy the conversation with her friend? Or, what if she turned on her favorite song and started to sing along—how would she feel then?

We do not have direct control over our feelings, but we do have indirect control. How we behave and how we think has a significant impact on how we feel. We are not Jeanie from I Dream of Jeanie, so we can’t wiggle our nose and magically feel better. The good news is that there are things we can do to feel better.

In our example, the young lady listened to some music, sang along, and all of a sudden began feeling happy and looking forward to the rest of her evening again. If instead she had sat in silence and thought about how horrible the drivers are, she would have continued to be frustrated and angry. Therefore, we can surmise that we can change how we feel by doing something, especially something we enjoy.

I find that taking a walk can help me feel better almost every time. When I take a walk, I do something that I call “peeling the onion”. I may be feeling bad about something, but I cannot pinpoint the exact root of my feelings. When I peel the onion layer after layer and get to the source of the concern, it is typically something that I have no control over. Identifying the source, realizing what I do and do not have control over, and making a plan helps me feel so much better.

The next time you feel like unleashing on someone, pause and think about how you would handle this exact situation with your boss sitting next to you, or with your grandma there. Picture someone you love and admire there with you. What behavior choices would you make then, and what does that tell you about who controls you?

Please note:  This blog post is based upon the teachings of Dr. William Glasser and Choice Theory. I learned about Choice Theory and Reality Therapy through training with The William Glasser Institute and reading many books written by Dr. Glasser. I was even able to spend some time with Dr. Glasser–one time I bought him a bluegill dinner at Hofbrau restaurant in Interlochen, MI.

If you are interested in learning more about the work of Dr. Glasser, I recommend reading Choice Theory (Glasser, William. Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom. , 1998. Print.) or visiting for training opportunities.