Tuesday, August 19, 2014
First Week Of School Lists: Overwhelming!
The days just preceding as well as just following the first day of school are filled with immensely long lists of things needing to be accomplished. Lists of things to get, things to do, and things to remember absolutely inundate these hours and days with a frenetic sort of constricting “have to” and “hurry up” feeling. Very, very stressful. Whether one is a parent, a student, a teacher, an administrator, or any other school staff individual, everyone is being outrageously pressed to be ready. Each one up and down the power chain is pressing, with best of intentions but very hard, on the one just below to be really ready. Being really ready seems to mean to have more, to be more, and to know more. More information, more supplies, and more responsibilities are among the “more” list, and in a day of diminishing budgets, increasing class sizes, and highly pressure-filled expectations from every direction pressing upon each and every individual involved in the entire educational experience, this type of “more” is beyond stressful. It seems getting ready, chasing down the completion of lists and lists of “more” tasks and things, is fully wrapped in stress, and unfortunately, stress is completely counterproductive to true, rich, deep, meaningful learning. How should one prepare for school? How might one best be ready to tackle all that will need to be accomplished throughout the year, whether one is a parent, a student, a teacher, an administrator, or any other school staff individual? Might I suggest that the most productive way to be ready for a new school year is to be encouraged, to be affirmed, to be emotionally built-up with kind, positive, and strengthening words. Chasing the endless list of chores and orders builds inner turmoil when the “one more thing” that needs to be done simply cannot, leaving one to sink into the defeating mire of frustration; just not good enough. Defeated before the day begins, this chores and orders mentality will take us nowhere strong or creative because it will crush that spirit. Administrators, to have a great day, continually encourage your teachers and other staff and do not assume that they know they are appreciated. Teachers, to have a great day, smile, breathe, and speak kind and affirming words to your students. Parents, to have a great day, remind your children/students that you love them, that you are proud of them, and that you know it’s going to be a great day for them. Students, to have a great day, listen to your teacher, be kind to your classmates, and do your best. You see, great days have less to do with what we have and much, much more to do with who we are and what we have been encouraged to believe we can be. “Often in daily living, the things we need to hear and say; get lost in chores and orders, then time brushes them away.” Be an encourager, and start the school year with great strength.
Monday, August 18, 2014
He Has RSV. Huh?
Twenty four hours. In the pediatric unit of a hospital. Any time spent here with your child for a reason other than visiting someone else is equivalent to eternity. RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, was the diagnosis for my nine month old. His breathing was raspy and labored and the discomfort his little body felt from this struggle left him so very restless and irritable. My heart ached watching him fight this insidious enemy as in his hospital crib he attempted to sleep tethered to wires and monitors. With permission, I lifted him from the foreign, strange-feeling crib and cradled him in my arms where rest and a bit of sleep more easily came. All night long, I prayed over this angel in my arms, as the excellent but stretched-way-too-thin medical staff frantically ran from room to pediatric room tending monitors and needs. Between RSV and the Rotavirus, on that particular night during that particular year, every pediatric bed was filled, and sick, hospitalized children were filling beds in other units. Two children died. Rocking and praying my son through the night, there was peace in our little room despite the overwhelming and overarching anxiety wrapped around a stay such as this. The hospital night in that pediatric unit was noisy with the cries of children whose bodies were in tremendous distress and I wept for them through the night as their painful, fearful cries went on. I asked our nurse why their parents were not allowed to hold these children to calm their little bodies? Their parents were not able to stay the night, for circumstances and reasons that demanded they not stay. These little ones cried and cried alone, and I cried wishing I had more arms and more time to hold and rock and pray over these other precious lives struggling with sickness. Sometimes there simply is not enough time to do all that we need to do because life is busy and hard and full of choices that frequently leave you feeling that none of the options are really that wonderful. Perhaps this is the place where we need to step in for one another and fill in those gaps with our time. We all have hands and hearts and arms to hold and rock. We all have bits of time here and there that we could offer up to help. All we really need is a desire to do something about the cries filling the hallway. A desire to help, to serve, to care, to reach into someone else’s need, to lend our hands, our hearts, our prayers; this is all we need if we desire to be good neighbors. A long night at the hospital became a well-needed wake-up call. We need each other. We need to love more and care more. The world is crying.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Students, Parents, or Teachers?
Who feels the greatest excitement on the first day of school? The most stress? The wildest hope? The deepest concerns? Is it the student who anticipates a new promise-filled learning adventure? Is it the parent who hopes beyond all hope that his or her child will be noticed, celebrated, encouraged, challenged, and cared for? Is it the teacher who has been preparing for just this class at just this time with every ounce of passion, skill, empathy, creativity, optimism, and energy he or she possesses? When I was a student, I believed that students felt the widest swing of emotions as they bravely faced that first day and then each day after that trying to do the very best they could despite their worlds often swirling in multi-directions around them. As a parent of young children, I was quite certain that parents had a corner on the plethora of feelings as they sometimes reluctantly sometimes exuberantly released their best joy, their sweetest hope, their most priceless treasure to the lockstep of standardized education. Then I became a teacher and understood that hope, promise, possibility and achieving potential ultimately reside in the heart of an excellent teacher. To know and to strengthen each student, to support and to embrace each family, to fill each day with wonder and adventure, to stir up a burning desire to discover, to inspire creativity that begets innovation, to laugh, to cry, to hold accountable, to believe in “yes you can,” these are the duties that an excellent teacher commits to pursue and accomplish with each new class with each new year. All involved in that first day of school, students, parents, and teachers, are inextricably intertwined, and all of their collective emotions palpably fill the hallways which themselves are lined with brilliantly colored bulletin boards welcoming all aboard. This is the first day of school; the first day of school when everyone brings the best they have and are in hopes of becoming the best they can be.
Monday, August 11, 2014
So Much More Than Book Learning
They were the sixth graders. They were the top of the school. Top dogs. Big cheeses. Willing helpers. Proud leaders. Many of the sixth graders had started at our school in Kindergarten and for years had watched the parade of awesome sixth graders traverse the hallways with a tiny bit of an air of nobility swirling around them; a nobility swirl established within the delicate balance between privilege and responsibility. They had now arrived and honestly wore the mantel of “big deal” very well. They gently served the younger students, provided confident leadership at all-school gatherings, behaved respectfully, most of the time, and rightly earned the position of positive role-models. They worked hard, played hard, held one another accountable, and left no sixth grader out. Then came the test. Unexpectedly, Mike’s father died. Loss and grief and anguish and questions flooded their broken hearts and cast a deep dark sadness over the sixth grade. Mike stayed home for a few days. The rest of the sixth graders, his school family, prayed for Mike and his family and grappled with a suitable loving, compassionate response for Mike when he returned. “Why?” remained the tormenting though unanswered question which held their hearts in a vise-grip of hurt. How do you mend a broken heart, how do you stop every tear? Then came the phone call and the request. Mike’s mother, in making funeral preparations, asked the sixth grade teachers if the students might be willing to sing their benediction at the funeral. How do you say no? Notes went home. Each sixth grader was to discuss this with his or her family and decide independently of the other students whether or not to participate. Funerals are hard. Many students had had no experience with funerals, and the thought was more than a bit frightening and overwhelmingly sad. There would be no judgment or shame or guilt if anyone chose not to participate, as the choice was fully up to each family. Notes from families came back the very next day. A unanimous yes was the response. Mike’s mother was called. Plans were made. The sixth graders, in their best clothes, arrived at the funeral, and Mike smiled to see them. This school family, this community of friends, wrapped the gift of their tender hearts and beautiful singing around their pain-filled friend and in the glances exchanged, said without words, in the most perfect compassionate response, “We love you.”
Thursday, August 7, 2014
I miss her. She had end stage cancer. Although she had battled cancer twice before and won, this time was different and she was very tired. She was a mentor, a role-model, a light in the darkness, an endless giver, a perpetual hugger, a tireless servant, a champion for the voiceless, a babysitter for my boys, and a dear, dear change-your-life kind of friend. She was the person who, when she entered a room, all in the room were made better simply by her quiet, loving presence. She, in her vivid and brilliant imagination, constructed programs to serve those in greatest need in our community and then somehow managed to graciously sidestep the voluminous red tape of well-meaning committees and enact her loving programs, always serving up smiles, hugs, and assistance. She danced ballet. She painted beautiful pictures. She basked in God’s glorious creation all around her. She fiercely loved her family and her neighbors. She loved. She lived. And in her living and loving she taught us lessons of infinite and eternal importance without ever writing a lesson plan. She poured more life and living into her short years, than most people do in ten lifetimes. When the end was near and exhaustion was mercilessly gaining, her husband called and asked if I had a few minutes to visit with her. Dropping everything at the tiniest chance to give to this matchless giver, I raced over. He said she was tired and that a few minutes would be all she could muster. Whatever she wanted. Whatever she needed. So we talked and talked and laughed and reminisced and before long, she asked her husband for an old photo album which together we wandered through with waves of emotion swinging from giggles to tears. It was precious, precious time. A deep and lasting gift from her which I will forever cherish. We shared time, the priceless treasure. The gift had nothing to do with the right most eloquent words to say or the loveliest purchased present; to be sure, and any thought to any of those would have diminished the true gift which was simply shared, treasured, beautiful time. A perfect time that I was blessed forever to share. Time. She passed and left the world much more beautiful than she found it. I am a life changed because she lived.
Saturday, August 2, 2014
Wipe The Slate Clean
Within the first few days of school one particular year, a young student very innocently, very sincerely posed undoubtedly the most compelling question of all when he asked, “Can I change?” Wondering if he was seeking permission or questioning possibility, the teacher probed, “What do you mean?” The student, who carried, along with his new backpack, a red-flag reputation in teacher-talk, proceeded to spill his heart through the story he shared about his school experience so far. Not a good listener. A little disrespectful. Frequently yelled at. In the lowest groups. Probably a trouble-maker. Never invited to a birthday party. School was stupid. Mom told him he needed to change, and he needed to change now, because things were not going to ever get better if he didn’t. Can I change? Do I have the strength and courage necessary to turn this behavior boat around? Even if I can, can others accept this new me and change their expectations and opinions of me? If their perceptions are cast in stone and unchangeable, why should I even try to be different than the bad boy they expect? This was a tremendous amount of significant contemplating for a young mind to be processing during those early days in a school year when most were struggling to line up in the proper order and to recall their locker numbers. The teacher, realizing that questions of this sort which come right from the deepest chambers of a student’s heart, felt overwhelmingly humbled to be entrusted with this huge amount of vulnerability. The student’s eyes were wide, trusting, and demanding. This answer was to be as important as the question in terms of behavioral trajectory. With focused eye-contact , tender vocal tone, and unmistakable belief, the teacher promised that precious little boy that each year was a new year, that each day was a new day, and each one was a new opportunity to begin again with a clean slate. We all make mistakes and bad choices for which we are not proud, but apologies, grace and forgiveness are powerfully strong. It’s never too late to turn around. It’s never too late to make a new and better choice. Now is the time. Start now. This is how we learn, and this is how we grow. “Yes, you can change,” said the teacher. “This is going to be a good year,” smiled the boy. And it was.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
For Pete’s Sake. Own Your Behavior!
The knee-jerk response to most every “shouldn’t have done it” incident is I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it! Regardless of the age of the spokesperson, two to ninety-two, this response more often than not remains consistently uttered, for it represents the finest in Teflon outfitting defending one against all sorts of true or false but always uncomfortable allegations. I can be watching a student do the very thing he or she has been instructed not to do and when called on it will almost unequivocally, bordering on the brazenly, assert, I didn’t do it. Many times a day. This phenomenon is certainly not exclusive to schools and students, however, for these students have had to be carefully taught, which they absolutely have been. The I didn’t do it mentality and societal norm seems as automatic to human nature as bowing for applause. I didn’t do it is usually followed by a bit of anemic bantering along the lines of yes you did, no I didn’t, yes, no, etc. where it then fizzles to conversational complacency, a very safe place where it quietly rests until it is needed again. It never gathers moss nor grows dusty waiting, though. In complacency it is deemed not a worthy fight, and in complacency it is perpetuated with increasing shamelessness. But it’s a lie. A big, fat, bold-faced lie. I am not sure why we are okay with this. Over and over and over again in every walk of life and living from classrooms to legislative halls, from snarling interactions with referees, police officers, and parents to defensive exchanges with neighbors and road rage enthusiasts, we fight to abscond from the responsibility of simply owning what we do. The reality is, despite what our insecurities may shout at us, owning our actions, fessing up to our behavior, or begging the pardon of our screw-ups does not in fact really hurt that much. Mild embarrassment perhaps. Or maybe a pinch of shame. But honestly, bearing responsibility for our good or bad behavior strengthens integrity and is honorable. We all make mistakes with great regularity for it is in our very nature to push back a bit against the rules, even the most compliant among us. Own it. Claim it. Confess it. Apologize for it. Then be free of it. If you refuse to own it, it will in fact own you, and you will be diminished by it. The automatic I didn’t do it response is not good enough for today’s students, or yesterday’s for that matter, because it doesn’t call students forth to be strong or to be responsible, both of which they will need to become the leaders they are capable of becoming.