Friday, December 27, 2013

Why You Want to Find Your Skeleton in the Attic

A Skeleton In The Attic
 by Ken Willers

       Once Upon A Time, there was a big house that had a skeleton in the attic. The  family that lived there was very frightened by this skeleton so they insisted that no one in the family should ever go up to the attic. And yet, it so happened that one day the little boy who lived in the house and who was very curious by nature secretly made his way up to the attic. When he got to the  attic and opened the door he immediately saw the skeleton sitting in the corner of the attic. He was scared at the sight of this ugly skeleton, but he entered the attic and sat far away from the skeleton and just looked at it for a while. For a whole year the little boy would sneak up to the attic and would just sit on the floor and look upon the skeleton from a distance.

            When a year had passed he realized that he was no longer really scared by the skeleton's presence so he attempted to get closer to it. He moved right next to it and for some reason he started to talk to it. The more he talked with it the more comfortable he felt being close to it. Of course the skeleton didn't talk back --but the boy just pretended. He would tell the skeleton all the things he was afraid of and even how he was afraid of coming to the attic. After about year the boy, in the midst of one of his conversations with the skeleton, just reached out and touched it.

            When he touched its coarse bone, he startled himself because he felt how cold and hard the skeleton was. But what was even more startling was the fact that the skeleton started to speak back to the boy. The skeleton told the boy not to be afraid--and he thanked the boy for allowing him to talk by touching him.

            "For two year," the skeleton said, "I have waited to speak, and your simple touch has unlocked my lips. Now, when you come back tomorrow we both can talk."

            So, for a whole year the two of them would talk about life, and death. The boy would ask the skeleton what it was like to be treated so badly by people. He asked the skeleton why people were so afraid of him.

            The skeleton said, "People are not comfortable talking to things that look strange, ugly, or remind them of painful things. People are scared of me because I remind them of death."

            The boy however was very happy to have made a new friend with this skeleton and he thought, perhaps, if he put clothes on the skeleton it would feel better about it self.

            So the boy brought up clothes to the attic and he picked the skeleton up off the floor--but when he embraced the skeleton with his arms the skeleton all of a sudden started to walk by himself.

            The skeleton was so happy and said, "Oh, thank you so much for clothing me with your embrace. All I needed was your arms around me to give me strength. Now I can walk."

            So, for another year the skeleton and the boy would walk around the attic, talk, and laugh. The boy grew to love the skeleton and the skeleton was very grateful to the boy for all the gifts of life he had given it. One day as they were hopping around the attic the skeleton tripped over a trunk that was in the center of the room. It fell over and landed very hard. Its legs were shattered and its skull was cracked--the skeleton was now unable to walk and almost unable to speak. The boy ran over to the skeleton and picked it up brought it over to the window sill and laid it out trying to make it comfortable.

            The skeleton looked at the boy and said, "It looks like I will have to go back to being a mute and still skeleton again. But, before I go back I just want to thank you for all the gifts of life you have given me."

            The boy started to cry and told the skeleton he didn't want him to die or stop being his friend. The boy told the skeleton that he loved him as a real person and then he leaned over and kissed the skeleton on the crack of the forehead. As soon as the boy's lips touched the skull, the skeleton turned into a fleshy person.

            The boy couldn't believe his eyes and said, "You are a real person--now you'll be all right."

            "No," said the skeleton, "I will soon be gone--I will disappear--but your love and kiss has given me, in my final minutes, the gift of being a real person. Thank you very much. When you leave here today, I will go away and you will never see me again--but you must remember this moment, so, when you meet other skeletons you will not be afraid to sit with them, talk with them, touch them, embrace them and kiss them. It is because of your love that you have been able to conquer your fear of skeletons and at the same time your love has given me the life of a real person--even though now I must depart from this world."


            "Look at me now but remember me as I once was: a skeleton you found in the attic.

Reflection by Ken Willers
How do we embrace the 'skeleton that resides in the dark attic' of our reality? Life has a way of making us encounter this side of ourselves. Do we retreat or approach? Do we stand on guard or sit with patience? Do we discard what is found or do we learn from its truth? Do we reject out of shame or do we find meaning in our acceptance? 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Only When You're Grounded Can You Experience Flight!

I Want To Fly
 By Ken Willers

       Once Upon A Time, on a little farm out in the woods, there was born a little bird who cracked out of his shell before the time his mother expected--so, she had flown from the nest to find some food for her, soon to be, new infant to eat.

            Well, when the little bird popped out of the shell he was very curious about where he was and started to look around with much intensity.

            The Great Tree who was good friends with the mother bird said to the little bird, "Now, you be careful. You're very small and your mother's not here to care for you."

            But the little bird wandered over to the side of the nest and began to peer over the side and see the world below. He marveled at all that was around him for it was all so new--and he was curious about it. The Great Tree again warned him not to bend to far--but it was too late. No sooner had the Great Tree warned him than the little bird fell right over the side of the nest and right down on to the back of a passing turtle.

            The Turtle was startled by this sudden crash on his back and asked the Great Tree, "What happened? What fell on me from your great branches?"

            The Great Tree responded, "The little bird from the nest has fallen from his home."

            So, the turtle waited patiently for the little bird to come to and when he did he asked the turtle, "What happened? How did I get down here?"

            "You fell from the Great Tree," the turtle replied.

            "Well, how can I go back?" asked the little bird.

            The turtle said, "The only way for you to get back to your nest is to fly. Do you know how to fly?"

            The little bird answered, "No, I don not know how to fly. Now, I guess, I'll never get back home--I'm stuck down here forever."

            The turtle thought for a few seconds and said, "Wait a minute. Why don't we go around and ask the other farm animals--maybe they can help you learn how to fly."

            So the turtle slowly walked the little bird over to Mr. Donkey who was carrying a bundle of fire wood on his back.

            The turtle interrupted Mr. Donkey and said, "Pardon me Mr. Donkey, but this little friend is very sad because he can't fly and he'd be very happy if you can help him learn how to fly."

            Mr. Donkey laughed, saying, "You're not serious are you? What do you need to fly for? Look at me--I'm on the ground and I work all day carrying these burdens for my master. I'm obedient and loyal, I work hard and I get plenty of hay. I don't fly--and I'm happy on the ground. What do you need to fly for?"

            The Little Bird responded, "Because, I want to go home."

            But seeing that they were getting no where with Mr. Donkey the turtle slowly walked the little bird over to Mr. Dog who was wagging his tail cheerfully.

            "Pardon me Mr. Dog," said the turtle, "but this little friend of mine is very sad because he can't fly, and he'd be very happy if you could help him learn how to fly."

            Mr. Dog howled when he heard this and said, "You're not serious are you? What do you need to fly for? Look at me--I'm on the ground and I wag my tail, I let my master stroke my back, I accompany him where ever he wants me to go, and I please my master very much. I'm obedient and cheerful and I play all day. I don't fly--and I'm happy on the ground. What do you need to fly for?"

            The Little Bird responded, "Because, I want to go home."

            But just like the Donkey, they saw they were getting no where with Mr. Dog so the turtle slowly made his way over to Mrs. Hen who was busy laying eggs.

            "Pardon me Mrs. Hen" said  the turtle, "but this little friend of mine is very sad because he can't fly, and he'd be very happy if you could help him learn how to fly."

            Mrs. Hen cackled when she heard this and said, "You're not serious are you? What do you need to fly for? Look at me--I'm on the ground and I can sit in my pen all day long without a worry in the world. I just lay eggs for my master and he gives me plenty of seed to eat. I'm obedient and productive and you see I don't fly. I'm happy on the ground. What do you need to fly for?"

            The little bird responded, "Because, I want to go home."

            But just like with Mr. Donkey, and Mr. Dog they saw they were getting no where with Mrs. Hen so the turtle slowly made his way back over to the great Tree.

            "So, little Bird," asked the Great Tree, "did you find out how to fly?"

            "No," responded the bird sadly. "None of the other farm animals would help me."

            "Well," said the Great Tree, "perhaps I can help you. But first, let me ask you, why do you want to fly?"

            The little Bird thought how silly the question was and said, "You know why I need to fly--because I want to go home."

            "I see, but is that the only reason for which you want to fly--just to come back up here? What good is flying if you are only to stay stuck in some other place?"

            "I see," said the little bird, "You're right, I really want to fly so I can be free. I don't want to be stuck here on the ground forever, or even up there in the nest. I want to be free to fly--than I will be happy."

            "Very Good!" said the Great Tree. "Now, you are ready to learn how to fly."

            "But, how can you--A Great Tree--show me--a little bird--how to fly?" asked the little bird.

            "I know many things--and you must trust my wisdom." said the Great Tree. "Now do as I instruct. First extend out your wings like my branches, as far as they can go."

            The little bird extended his wings.

            "Good! Now, wave your wings up and down like my branches wave in when the breeze hits them."

            The little bird started to wave his wings back and forth.

            "Good!" said the Great Tree.

            But the little bird, seeing he was not moving said, "But I'm not flying. I thought you said you would teach me how to fly."

            "I will." answered back the Great Tree. "But now you must do one more thing."

            And as the Great Tree said this He bent down and picked up the Little Bird and placed him back in the nest from which he fell and said, "Now, you are home. And if you really want to fly you must jump from your next and do what I have instructed."

            The little Bird was terrified, "But, I am afraid." he said.

            "Of course you are afraid," said the Great Tree, "because you know that once before you fell from the nest. Now, my little bird you must jump and trust that you will fly if you do what will come naturally to you."

            So, the little Bird walked over to the edge of the nest and climbing on the side jumped with all the courage he could muster. He opened his wings and waved them like the Great Tree had told him--and before he knew it he was gliding and then he was flying up--up and into the air--he was free at last and it felt very natural.

            Now, that the little bird could fly he flew over to the Mr. Donkey, Mr. Dog and Mrs. Hen to show them that he could fly--but they just snorted, growled and cackled at him because they were busy pleasing their master.

            Finally, the little Bird flew over to the Great Tree and thanked him for his wisdom that inspired his ability to fly and asked the Great Tree, "How come you know so much about flight and being free when you are always in the same place all the time?"

            The Great Tree, humbly bowed its branches and said,


            "Oh, I may be in the same place all the time--but I am grounded here. My roots go deep into the earth and they are free to move where the sources of life are to be found--just like your nest is to you--and no one can take that away. I have branches that extend as far as they want to go just like your wings and no one can limit them or stop them from waving in the breeze. My trunk grows high up into the sky just like you are able to fly into the sky and no one can keep it down. You see--when were doing what comes naturally and we become masters of our own flight and we can truly be free. Now, fly little bird--fly and be free."

Reflection by Ken Willers
Peering over the edge of our life and experiencing fear. Should I take the next step? Can I take that risk? Only the one asking the question can find the courage to answer.

Safety resides in all the structures around us. We can certainly live our life as obedient, loyal, cheerful and productive individuals and, in doing so, find contentment.

"What good is flying if you are only to stay stuck in some other place?" 

I wrote this story in 1990 while sitting under a tree discerning my future. At the time I was as a religious preparing for the priesthood. Although priesthood and religious life were not part of my 'flight pattern' my vocation to Catholic education has kept me grounded while catapulting me a direction of 'flight' I never dreamed possible.

Discovering our life sources and being grounded in our everyday commitments move us beyond contentment to the exhilaration of 'flight' where we live for a higher purpose and fear is just one more undiscovered opportunity. Now fly...fly and be free!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Don't be the Reason the Lights Go Out!

The Chapel of Lights

            Once Upon A Time, there was a Spanish nobleman who lived in a castle. The land, as far as one’s eye could see, belonged to him. His family was his pride but in time the children grew up and one by one they moved out of the castle to lands he had given them. When the last son moved away he became very lonely. He decided to build a chapel where all of them might come to worship together. He did not tell his children about his plans, but he built a beautiful chapel high on the side of a mountain. From its front door he could see the entire valley, the castle and all of his children’s homes. When it was finished he called his children to his home and then took them up the side of the mountain to see the new chapel. When he asked them how they liked it, he could see that they were deeply moved. One by one his sons gripped his hand. His daughters gave h im a kiss. He was very happy. “The first service will be this Sabbath night,” he announced. “We will gather as the sun sets behind the mountain.”

Then on e of his daughters noticed that there were no lights in the chapel. “Father,” she cried, “you forgot to put lights in the chapel. How can we meet at night?”

But the father answered, “No, daughter, I did not forget the lights. Each of you shall be a light.” As he was speaking, he walked to a closet and came out with hand lanterns. He had a lantern for each son and daughter. He passed them out to the family, saying: “Each of you shall carry this light as you come to the chapel. It will light you way here and your return to your homes. There are hooks in the chapel where each of you will hang the light during the service. Remember, if any one of you is missing, the chapel will have just that much less light because of your absence. We need the lights of all for the perfect chapel light.”

Reflection by Ken Willers
You and your colleagues are the lights of hope to the Mission of Catholic education. Your presence and participation help our Catholic educational community find its way through dark and troubling times. And now more than ever we need to be united and supportive of this Mission. I would like to encourage all Catholic educators to continue to be faithful to their call to the Church's Mission of education and to be present to their community. The light and effectiveness of Catholic education is diminished when even one educator is is absent from living his or her vocation.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Are You a Malcontent Teaching Children?

At the Gate

Once upon a time, A woman sat at the gate of her town to greet and interview all the travelers wishing to enter her village. She would greet the traveler with a gracious hello and ask one single question. From this answer she would be able to advise the traveler whether her town was the place for them to enter. One day a traveler passed by and sought entrance. The woman greeted the traveler warmly and asked, “Explain for me please what life was like in your previous town?” The traveler said, “I had no friends, the previous village was a hard place to live. The place was cold and lonely and there were many things about the village I didn’t like.” The traveler continued to describe a miserable place and was grateful just to leave it. The woman at the gate replied, “My friend, you will find the same type of place and people here. You may enter if you wish—the choice will be yours.” With that the traveler moved on—and thanked the woman for the warning.

The next day another traveler came by the gate and was asked the same question before entering. The traveler thought briefly and told the woman that his previous village was a hard place to leave. The traveler said, “I had many friends, the place was warm and inviting and there were many things about the village I liked.” The traveler continued to describe a wonderful place and was sad to leave but knew it was time to move on. The woman at the gate replied, “My friend, you will find the same type of place and people here. You may enter if you wish—the choice will be yours.

Reflection by Ken Willers
Do we create our own reality? Sometimes I think we do. Have you ever met people who are never happy? They seem to move from one complaint to the next or from one place to another yet they seem to bring their dissatisfaction with them. I hate to say it, but some of these malcontents are teaching our children.

You have probably worked side-by-side with them. You know, they are the colleagues who seem to always be complaining about the students, the parents, the curriculum and so on. Each year seems to be as dismal as the year before and what so regrettable about these malcontents is that it will never get better for them. So, what should the rest of us do?

All of us have faced dissatisfaction on our journey though life and our response to it, perhaps, is what determines the type of traveler or educator we will become. If we bring with us our ability to engage, improve and contribute wherever life leads us, we create bonds, friendships, and community. The same is true for the classroom and school environment. As long as we are willing to engage, improve and contribute to the school in which we find ourselves, I believe we will find contentment because we are actually creating it along the way.

Hey, now what we have met at the gate…lets enter and build a school within which our children will thrive. Together we will shape our Vision into our Reality.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Teach the Child NOT the Subject

A story for everyone to read. 

The Animal School 

by George Reavis

Once upon a time, the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world.” So they organized a school. They adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming, and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming, in fact better than his instructor; but he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webfeet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school, so nobody worried about that except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running, but had a nervous breakdown because of so much make- up work in swimming. The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of from the treetop down. He also developed “charley horses” from over exertion and then got a ‘C’ in climbing and a ‘D’ in running. The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class he beat all the others to the top of the tree, but insisted on using his own way to get there.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their child to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

Reflection by Ken Willers 
This interesting parable makes us reflect on the role education plays in the lives of our children. Let’s keep this parable in mind when we meet as teachers or parents to discuss a child's progress at school. How do we embrace our children with their strengths and weaknesses? How do we encourage them to use their gifts while recognizing areas for growth?

Schools must embrace a child right where he or she is, in a loving and caring environment. Educators should inspire a child to move forward so he or she can reach beyond his or her own expectations. All children possess potential not yet realized, our obligation as educators and parents is to help our children discover their abilities and develop them to the fullest. 

Ken Willers
Principal at the School of the Madeleine
1225 Milvia Street
Berkeley, CA 94709
510-526-4744

@21stCenPrinKW on Twitter

Friday, December 13, 2013

'But We've ALWAYS Done It That Way!'

The Ham

I Once Heard A Story about a little girl who used to watch her mother prepare Ham for dinner. In preparing the Ham the mother always cut off 2 inches from both sides of the Ham. 

The Girl asked her mother one day, "Mom, why do you cut 2 inches off the sides of the Ham before you place the Ham in the pan and then in the oven?"

 "Well, you see," said the mother, "I learned this trick from my your grandmother--I used to watch her and that is what she used to do before she put the Ham in the pan and then in the oven."
 "I see," said the little girl, "but why?"
 The mother thought and said, "I think it's because it makes the Ham taste different--it gives it a distinctive taste."

One day the little Girl was at her grandmother's house and they were both the kitchen preparing Ham for dinner. The little girl watched her grandmother cut 2 inches off the side of the Ham just like her mother.

The little girl asked her grandmother, "Grandma, why do you cut 2 inches off the sides of the Ham before you place it in the pan and then in the oven?"

"Well, you see," said the grandmother, "I learned this trick from my mother--this is what she used to do before she put the ham in the pan and then in the oven."
 "I see," said the little girl, "but why?"
 The grandmother thought and said, "I think it's because it allows the heat to go all the way through the Ham while it's cooking."

It so happened, not too long after, the little girl was at her great grandmother house and she was in the kitchen watching her great grandmother preparing a Ham for dinner. Her great grandmother cut 2 inches off the side of the Ham, place the ham in the pan and then place the pan in the oven.

The little girl then asked her Great Grandmother, "Granny, why do you cut 2 inches off the sides of the Ham before you place it in the pan and then in the oven?"  

"Well, you see," said the Great Grandmother, "If I don't cut 2 inches off both sides of the Ham I will never be able to fit the Ham into my pan."

Reflection by Ken Willers
Sometimes we do things because we’ve always done it that way and many times we don’t even know why. Breaking old habits can be hard. 

Harder still and even more important is to understand the value behind our actions so if change is necessary we know what the true cost of change may be and how it will impact our lives.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

How to Create High Performance in ALL Students


Here's a true story that I read in a “great” book entitled, Developing the Leader Within You, by John C. Maxwell.

A principal of a school called three teachers together and said, “Because you three teachers are the finest in the system and you have the greatest expertise, we’re going to give you ninety high-IQ students. We’re going to let you move these students through this next year at their own pace and see how much they can learn.”

Everyone was delighted––faculty and students alike.

Over the next year the teachers and the students thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The teachers were teaching the brightest students; the students were benefitting from the close attention and instruction of highly skilled teachers. By the end of the experiment, the students had achieved from 20 to 30 percent more than the other students in the whole area.

The principal called the teachers in and told them, “I have a confession to make. You did not have ninety of the the most intellectually prominent students. They were run-of-the-mill students. We took ninety students at random from the system and gave them to you.”

The teachers said, “This means that we are exceptional teachers.”

The principal continued, “I have another confession. You’re not the brightest of the teachers. Your names were the first three names drawn out of hat.”

The teachers asked, “What made the difference? Why did ninety students perform at such an exceptional level for a whole year.”

The difference, of course, was the teachers’ expectations.

Reflection by Ken Willers 
Our expectations have a great deal to do with our attitudes. What type of expectations do we have for our students? What kinds of attitudes do we project onto our students? By believing our students will succeed we transmit an attitude that instills in them confidence, discipline, and hope. 


Our attitudes are opportunities to bestow success on our children. In other words: ‘Our Vision for our students becomes their Reality.’