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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

All I Want For Christmas Is Your Time

Lessons Learned

Please Read To Me This Christmas

I have always contended that reading a book is to the mind what being on vacation is to the soul; a brief, delightful, adventurous respite from the status quo and daily routine. It allows, no invites, us to disengage from the rat race pace which seems to swallow up our joy and drive up our blood pressure.  It is a place where the lockstep of life is temporarily replaced with wandering wonder of imagination and relaxation. Reading fully engages the imagination. As one journeys through the pages of a book, the encountered printed words paint vivid pictures seen clearly in the imagination and catch one completely in the creative swirl of plot, scenes, settings, and characters. Engaged. Captured. Enthralled. Have you ever been read to? Do you remember the magical feeling of being lost in a story, happily tangled in its moods and actions and relational webs? Do you remember not wanting the story to end? When did you last read to someone, whereby offering them a self-less, generous gift of a vacation to imagination? If we desire to foster imaginative development and creativity in children we must read to them. We must let them play, to be sure, but we must also read more than regularly to them. Their minds must practice the art of imagining, seeing the pictures made by words, and resting in the stillness of attentive listening. To build creativity, to stretch attention spans, to revel in the happiness of sitting side by side on the couch and sharing the adventure of a story, this is a deep and lasting treasure that costs nothing more than time. When there is not enough money for a family vacation, travel together to the library and check out a large stack of books to read together. When the busy-ness of the day has exhausted all reserve energy, sleep has been a bit sporadic, and tomorrow and the next day are looking to be more of the same, sit together on the couch and read, read, read together. When it rains the entire month of June and three little boys are longing to get outside to play, pitch a tent on the porch, bring snacks, a flashlight, a few toys, and a large stack of books, and travel imaginatively together to exotic, exciting places far and near.   Between the infusion of excessive screens and the cultivated impatience of continual demands for extreme immediate gratification, the quiet creativity of listening to a story has become desperately endangered. The gift of being read to is indeed priceless and needs to be high on everyone’s list this Christmas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Guest Blogger- Grandpa A: Life In The Wisconsin Northwoods Beginning 1927, The Christmas Season Story Two

Lessons Learned: Guest Blogger- Grandpa A

It All Happened In A One Room Country School: The Christmas Program

The Christmas Program was the academic drama production of the year, and all of the uncles and aunts, grandparents, and friends, as well as the parents attended. Every child had a part, and every child was also a part of the choir. The children sang Christmas carols and other Christmas songs. The music was everyone’s favorite and each and every child had a chance to be a soloist. The singing was followed by the pageant. The pageant was either a humorous story celebrating the joy of the season, or it was The Christmas Story from the Bible, complete with the wisemen, the shepherds, and the manger scene including the Christ Child. There was no attempt to separate church and state; life was much simpler when I was growing up. At the end of the program, one of Santa’s helpers appeared and gave candy to everyone. We all knew that this Santa’s helper was the kind neighbor who happened to have a red Santa’s helper suit. His appearance at the conclusion of the program, and the treats he shared always brought great excitement and happiness to all. It was a much anticipated, very joy-filled event that we so enjoyed year after year.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Lovely Busy Days Of December In An Elementary School

For thirty years, I danced in the lovely swirl of December in an elementary school. With exuberance  at an all-year high, sparkly artwork celebrating the hallways, concerts, programs, and pageants exciting the calendar, and creative gifts secretively being crafted and wrapped with an anticipatory energy that was nearly impossible to contain, we tried to continue marching through lesson planned academic curricular content, but needless to say, distraction was a fierce opponent. Creative work that supported learning, encouraged focus but fun, and still reflected the beautiful themes of December were favorite tasks of the students during these happy days. One set of five sheets that we especially loved to work on can be found at the link below at my TeacherPayTeacher Store, One Arts Infusion Collaborative.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Subbing At Christmas Time:)

Lessons Learned

Subbing In The Christmas Season

It’s a cold morning. It’s still dark out and the frost on the windows brings winter’s chill inside. With a piping hot cup of my David’s best coffee in hand and bundled snuggly up in a fleece robe, I peruse the sub plans before me on the kitchen table. Lessons, pages, expectations, and extra material in the event of a dire need for Plan B are all brilliantly and thoughtfully well-constructed, and tucked alongside them  is my own personal stash of drop-back-and-punt items that always work in a pinch. Materials needed, check.  Thirty years in the classroom so nothing will surprise me, check.  Sense of humor, check.  Grace, patience, compassion in every pocket, check. The only unknown now remains the students. When you have your own classroom, you know your students, the motivation behind their every behavior, the subtle look that reminds you of a quiet burden being carried by one of them, a special need that you covertly make accommodation for, a celebration, a struggle, an event, an appointment, all of which create the color of the lens through which each student sees and then engages the day. Being a sub, you have little or no prior knowledge as to how to best serve and to care for these students with whom you will be sharing a day or more, so when the morning bell rings and they take their seats, you just do your best to follow the plan while encouraging the students to follow the rules.  We all know that having a sub is rather like being on a field trip whereby the students carry an added sparkle in their eyes in recognition of the fact that at least some part of this experience will most certainly be exceedingly fun or humorous or both and quite entertaining at the very least. With that in mind, you just sort of courageously ride that wave of expectation balancing forever between management and sensitivity, fun and firmness, and too much rope or not enough, holding the image of Mary Poppins as an ideal. Education is a relational entity. Everything about it is wrapped up in relevancy and meaningfulness, neither of which can occur without empathetic awareness and understanding. Anything relational takes time, and time is what a sub simply does not have the luxury of claiming. So you go in there and you do what you can to care for those kids who, whether they know it or not, are trusting you to teach them.  Today, I have the added excitement of Christmas being just a couple of weeks away. Hallways will be lined with sparkly projects. Preparations and rehearsals for evening concerts and programs will be the cause of tremendous additional bustling and schedule rearranging in every inch of the school building.  The students will be flying with exuberance, as they should be.  So I will wear a flamboyant Christmas sweater to remain in the swirl of this lovely joyous Christmas spirit that I will be privileged to be a part of for a day. In this precious season of love and hope and peace, those are the exact gifts I hope the students receive from me today.  Well, my coffee cup is now dry, the sun is newly smiling at the horizon’s edge, and it’s time to get ready for subbing at Christmas time.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Guest Blogger-Grandpa A: Life In The Wisconsin Northwoods Beginning 1927, The Christmas Season

Lessons Learned: Guest Blogger- Grandpa A.

It All Happened In A One Room Country School:
 The Christmas Season

(This week is Grandpa A's 87th birthday! With pure joy and rapt attention, we hear Grandpa's incredible stories about growing up in the Wisconsin Northwoods and then offer them to you here as a sweet glimpse into the heritage by which we have all been touched. Be blessed by Grandpa A's birthday gift to all of you in this first of a three part Christmas Blog.)

The Christmas Season started the first week in December. The Christmas Tree had to be chopped down, taken to school, and decorated. The Christmas Pageant had to be prepared and presented at the Christmas Program, which was always some evening between the 15th and the 20th of December. The school room had to be decorated, and the stage needed to be built in the front of the room. The stage was constructed of perhaps a dozen 3/4 inch by 4 feet by 7 feet storm doors which were usually used to cover the windows when the school wasn't being used. The dozen doors were placed on top of wood saw horses that were about one foot high. Every country school had a Christmas Program, so scheduling became important as some grandparents had kin in three or four schools, and they certainly did not want to miss any of their grandkids' performances.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Especially In This Season Of Thanksgiving...

Lessons Learned

Please Know, That I am Thankful For You

In this precious season of Thanksgiving, where we quiet our hearts in humble acknowledgment of our long list of blessings, do we recognize and count among our treasures all of those dear family members, friends, and other neighbors and co-workers who simply yet ever so importantly bring a smile to our faces each day by just getting the job done, tirelessly helping, serving without asking, caring without counting the cost, giving without expectation, over and over and over again offering excellence, or selflessly pouring themselves into making life easier for someone else? These significant individuals are frequently forgotten in the busy blur of checklists on clipboards because in their sacrificial giving they do not demand or complain or kick or scream; it’s not in their nature. Their generous nature gives and serves and cares until, because of lack of encouragement or appreciation, they find themselves empty.   It’s really quite simple.  When the car is running out of gas, you fill the tank; that is, if you want the car to continue moving. People are not dissimilar to this with respect to appreciation and encouragement. Kind, gentle, affirming words fill the soul with energizing joy despite the age of the hearer. And kind, gentle, affirming words are free of charge; no need to add a line to the budget.  Balm to the soul. Impetus to run a little farther.  Uplifting to the heart.  The push to carry on, to try harder, to jump higher, to get up again, to not walk away.  Sometimes, all that’s needed is thank you. And yet it seems we have a strange propensity to hoard these sorts of words, as if uttering them diminishes us or will serve to arrest aspiration in the hearer. We, however, freely and generously pour out our unsolicited opinions that bite and snip, our whiney complaints, and our interminably long lists of chores and orders, in much the same manner as a spigot stuck on high. Is it really easier and more beneficial to beat people down with the work harder speech than it is to offer the encouragement or appreciation speech and watch them work harder of their own volition in response to verbal affirmation? Which stirs the most meaningful motivation? Which builds and nourishes the strongest loyalty? Which empowers for the long-term? In our classrooms, which, in obsessive pursuit of metric excellence, have frequently become places of scripted interaction driven by the time constraints associated with high-stakes testing, the unscripted but life-giving words of affirmation which desperately  need to be said and heard often get lost in a stressful flurry. Unless I tell you it’s not good, assume that it is good and keep at it. What sort of motivation does that limp verbiage inspire? Emptiness is the result of that limp verbiage. And no one can run on empty.  We direly need to stop. We direly need to breathe. We truly and absolutely need to look one another in the eyes and speak encouragement and affirmation and appreciation to one another. Students. Colleagues.  Family members. Neighbors. We’re running on empty and the fuel to share, the fuel we need is free. This Thanksgiving, when you are finished counting your blessings or perhaps before you even start counting, reach out to each and every individual who breathes life into your life through the blessing of their kindness and thank them, thank them, thank them for their great gifts that deeply and regularly enrich your life. Thankfulness, encouragement, and appreciation are blessings that desperately need to be shared. No more neglectful waiting; it’s time to lovingly and sincerely fill some tanks this Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 17, 2014

"My heart will be blessed with the sound of music"(Rogers and Hammerstein)

Lessons Learned

The Piano. The Catalyst.

I was young, maybe three or four, when the piano that had belonged to Great Aunt and Uncle arrived. They called it a baby grand piano; I called it magical. Its polished brown wood glowed in the living room lighting where it majestically occupied an entire corner of the room. It was fine and elegant and breath-taking, and even though I was just a little one, I was thoroughly captivated by this magnificent treasure.  I couldn’t take my eyes off it, nor tear myself away from sitting on the exquisitely embroidered piano bench, despite the fact that my feet seemed miles from the floor.  The white and the black keys beckoned my tiny pre-school fingers, and the sounds emerging from the long strings inside in response to my touch were comforting and somehow familiar such as the voice of a friend. I loved our piano. Our home, from my earliest recollections back in the early 60’s, was always filled with the grand and glorious sound of Rogers and Hammerstein musicals billowing out of our hi-fi drawing each of us regularly into spontaneous dance. To know the music, to feel the music, to engage the music and to revel in its joy was the standard MO at home. That being said, it is no small wonder that songs were forever swirling in my imagination. Music was like breath to me and it spoke a language to my heart that brought comfort and blissful joy. And now a piano. The canvas upon which my imagination could play. I would listen to the hi-fi or the radio and then race to the piano to recreate what I had heard, and then back again and forth. Hours. Days. Weeks. Years. Then came lessons to bring form and understanding to a gift that was already there. Years. Deep deep prayers filled my heart in articulation to God of my longing to write songs to bless others, to reach others, to serve others, to be balm and whispers of hope and shouts of dissention and peals of jubilation, capturing what only music can when all else falls desperately short of adequate expression.  Such prayers uttered with the sincerest of desire over a lifetime offer no surprise when such music begins to flow and flow and flow. A career of music to bless truly evokes infinite thanksgiving from the heart of this one who fully comprehends with overwhelming humility that I have been permitted to continually glimpse the brilliance and the beauty of answered prayer in acknowledgement of the truth that God provides the music and I offer my hands to play. I am thankful for this gift that sets my soul on fire and at the same time reaches beyond my small longing into the bigger need of others around. I am so very very thankful.