Sanctuary: Blog

Failure is an option!

Submitted by: Sarah Yanosy, Director of the Sanctuary Institute


Most teams, including my own, live by the credo “failure isn’t an option.”  I was reminded yesterday that sometimes failure is not only an option, but a good option.  In a collaborative conversation with a group of agency leaders, we were each sharing our respective opinions about pursuing a particular grant application.  We knew we had some great ideas, some solid leads, and a good measure of ambition.  What we didn’t know was whether it was viable for us to complete the process in the time frame.  In the past, this team has collectively put its shoulder to the wall and pushed forward.  We are not quitters, and we don’t like to fail!  Usually, this serves us well.  Yesterday, though, felt different.  At one point, one of our executive leaders commented that perhaps it wasn’t realistic to pursue this prospect.  


There was something incredibly freeing about hearing that failing to seize this opportunity might be ok.  We took a few minutes to weigh the benefits of giving up against the costs, considering how practice or rest might better prepare us for the next challenge.  We got off the phone with the agreement to report back to each other after following up on a few remaining leads, but with the agreement that we would not go forward unless there was a strong viable new direction.  Within one hour, three of our teammates sent excited e-mails about conversations that resulted from their outreach after our call.  It was almost as if having the luxury of entertaining “failure” as a viable option loosened up our abilities to think more creatively.  Rather than to confine ourselves to the strict standard of “this must work”, the team members began to explore the question “what if we try this?”  without the worry that it might fail.   We started with the assumption that it would, but would be pleasantly surprised if it didn’t.   This is what I love about working in a social learning organization:  failing can have the paradoxical result of driving creativity and innovation rather than promoting defeatist and rigid thinking.  So, all hail to the fail!

Bullying: A different point of view

Submitted by: Brian Farragher, Executive VP and COO, ANDRUS


This Spring, the Wall Street Journal’s Nick Gillespie wrote a piece suggesting that all this talk about bullying– including documentary movies, new training programs and multiple legislative initiatives– was an all too familiar over-reaction to a few tragic but isolated incidents in which things really got out of hand.

Mr. Gillespie seemed to suggest that all of this hand-wringing about bullying is unnecessary. He argues that our children are safer today than they have ever been.  He also seems to think that all this concern about bullying, and our associated attempts to make everyone feel included and affirmed, might actually be making our kids frail and weak.  To Mr. Gillespie, the idea that no one should ever be left out, disappointed or laughed at seems not only unreasonable but actually undesirable.

I have to admit, I do agree with Mr. Gillespie on a couple of fronts.  I remember going to birthday parties as a child and bringing a gift. I never got a goody bag, but it was okay that the birthday boy or girl received a gift rather than everyone who showed up. When I played baseball or basketball as a child, I got a trophy if my team won the championship.  You did not get a trophy for participating. I am not a big fan of the idea that “everyone has to get something” and I do think these practices have left many kids feeling entitled.

Bullying, however, is a very different issue and I know it can do serious damage to a child’s feelings of self-worth and self-efficacy. It is hurtful and destructive and I believe it is on the rise.  Unfortunately, I also feel we are often barking up the wrong tree with our anti-bullying efforts.

The harsh reality is our children do what we teach them to do.  If we want insight into why our kids are bullying each other, all we need to do is turn on the television and watch how the adults treat each other.  Pundits call each other “pinheads” and “Nazis”.  Our political leaders lie or tell half-truths about their opponent’s position.  Professional athletes don’t feel good enough about scoring a touchdown, they also have to stick the ball in an opponent’s face.  Children see grown-ups bully our neighbors, the guy behind the deli counter, their soccer coach, or any of a host of other people we feel are not as important as we are or who have an opposing point of view.  We also do our fair share of bullying our children.   The lack of civility is stunning.  Then we scratch our heads and wonder why our kids bully each other.

I have watched over the years as we have taken all kinds of steps to make our schools safer; installing metal detectors and cameras, employing zero tolerance policies, and on and on.  Ultimately we focus almost exclusively on physical safety and rarely on other dimensions of safety…like social, emotional and moral safety.  We consistently fail to realize that when people feel disrespected, marginalized or humiliated, physical violence of some sort is likely to erupt, regardless of our policies, procedures and technologies.

One benefit of anti-bullying programs is that they do shed light on the fact that how we treat each other matters, even when we are not physically hurting each other.  I am afraid, however, that most of these efforts will fall short because no matter what we “tell” our kids, we consistently “show” them something else.

Writing Poetry with Emotional Intelligence

Submitted by: Michelle Grogan, Reading Specialist/ELA Coordinator, Orchard School, ANDRUS

“A poem begins with a lump in the throat.” – Robert Frost

Poetry and Emotional Intelligence – there are no two better combinations!  Just the words Emotional Intelligence are so full of imagery. Emotions are feelings of sadness, happiness, anger, excitement, fear, anxiety, just to name a few. Being intelligent about them, aware and knowledgeable of what we are feeling  and why is a huge accomplishment for anyone.  Even more so for the students we are charged with taking care of, both emotionally and academically.

The Orchard School is committed to managing individual emotions in a positive manner (not exactly an easy feat in anyone’s imagination but an important one to understand and master) and to treating everyone in the community with respect and dignity. This month happens to be Poetry Month, a time when we focus on teaching and celebrating the art of poetry writing with our students (again, not exactly an easy feat, but one that is just as important as all the other writing genres they will learn over the years). But why would poetry writing and emotional intelligence be such a great pair?

When I think about poetry (and I am not afraid to admit that it is not my own personal “go to” for enjoyable reading or written expression), it immediately brings feelings and emotions to mind. I am a story writer. I thrive on creating characters and situations and worlds outside of my own personal comfort zone (I don’t think I would act or say some of what I have my characters do and say in my books), but there are so many people out there who thrive on the emotional release that a poem offers. And I think that in itself is why teaching poetry writing to our students –who struggle so much with understanding, managing and expressing their emotions in a healthy way –is so important.

As a teacher I know the challenge of getting our students to see the connections between emotions and poetry.  We tend to get caught up in the mechanics and structure of the writing rather than the depth of feeling of the words. But as someone who has worked with emotionally and behaviorally disabled children for the last decade, I can see beyond the structure and mechanics to the beauty the words carry and the beauty our students create with even their simplest attempts at writing a poem. When a student writes a couplet about Spring, and I can feel the happiness and light shining through the words he/she chose – that right there is . . . indescribable.

“All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” – William Wordsworth

“It is the lava of the imagination whose eruption prevents an earthquake.” – George Gordon Noel Byron

Lessons from my Kindergartener

Submitted by Sarah Yanosy, Director of the Sanctuary Institute


Robert Fulgrum wrote “Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.”  I am lucky enough to have a kindergartener myself this year, and she has taught me some profound lessons.  One night this week, I was feeling particularly overloaded.  With the battle of getting my son to take a shower ahead, I gave in to the following bribe:  “We can have McDonald’s tonight if you take a shower without giving me a hard time.”  He quickly agreed, and we picked up our food on the way home from the afterschool program.  I know I have blown my chance of winning Mother of the Year.  Hope persists for 2013.  My daughter and I put the food out on the table while my son got in the shower, hollering “wait for me” as he turned on the water.  I don’t remember agreeing, but I am quite clear now that my lack of response signaled tacit agreement to him.  It was a very long shower.  When he made his way to the dining room table, dripping water from his hair, he gasped in horror.  “You started without me!”  He flung himself into a living room chair and announced that he was not going to eat.  I don’t think I was even aware that I had eaten them, but there was an incriminating empty box of fries in front of me.  An equally incriminating and empty box stared up at my daughter, Sidra.  “But it was just the French fries,” I replied indignantly.  “Seriously?  You are going to have a fit because I ate some French fries?  You were in there forever!  Your sister and I were sitting here waiting, and we just got hungry.  Jonah, I don’t even know what to say to you right now.”  

I was completely exasperated.  And then came the voice of reason.  Sid came up and whispered in my ear.  “Mommy, I know what you could say.  Just say sorry.”  She was right.  And that is just what I said.  He came begrudgingly to the table, though I am still unclear if it was because of my heartfelt apology or the wafting sent of his own fries.  I realized that my actions had meaning that I had not intended.  They seemed so harmless to me, simply implying that I needed salt and grease to edge away the frustrations of the day.  But to him, they meant something else:  that I had not kept my word, that his company at the table wasn’t worth waiting for.  Again, Olympic-style training for Mother of the Year will be required for any chance in 2013.  The good news is that he is resilient and forgiving, and this really was a fairly minor infraction in the grand scheme of our relationship.  But it was also a good reminder to me that “I’m sorry” goes a long way, and even kindergarteners know that.

The Gift of Mystery

Submitted by: Nancy Woodruff Ment, President and CEO, ANDRUS


For some years now – as many as ten perhaps? – with some irregular but still reliable frequency,  ANDRUS has received checks from the same mysterious person to support our work with children.  The envelopes have a return name and address, the checks are signed by the donor and have his address in the corner, and the amounts are always generous.  There is never a note enclosed and never a clue about the donor’s intentions.  Over many years, we have reached out to the him by mail and telephone.  He has never responded to our letters and the calls recorded on an answering machine are never returned.  We have some precious few web-accessible facts about him: where he went to school and when he graduated with what degrees, and his profession.  We assume he cares deeply about children because of his generosity but we have no idea why he has chosen ANDRUS for his philanthropy.  Over the years we have engaged in fantasy about his motivation – perhaps he has some connection to ANDRUS through a relative or he personally knows something of the troubles our children face. Were we just high in the alphabetical listings when he first made his choice?  We have even speculated that he feels compelled to share his success with others who will never achieve what he has. Always our musings end with the recognition that we just don’t know.

Today, I signed yet another letter to this mysterious man to thank him for yet another unsolicited gift.  It occurred to me that I could curb his elusiveness by searching more assertively on the web. A keystroke or two brought me to the multiple listings for him, including the linked in website.  A quick stroke and I was on his page -  no photo (no surprise) but off to the right was a list of names stunningly well known to me who are part of his network, and mine.   For a moment I couldn’t breathe simply from knowing how easily I could could get the answers we want.  I could find out just who he is and what ANDRUS is in his world.  But I won’t.  I quickly signed out with the intention to honor his privacy.  He has given important gifts to the children we serve with his contributions.  He has given those of us who care for them a different but equally valuable gift — being grateful that there are people in the world who truly don’t want recognition but simply care about doing good.