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Friday, January 23, 2015

Each Chapter of Life Has A Learning Curve...

Lessons Learned

Keep Learning

After thirty years as an elementary teacher, the time had come for a change. Changes in family circumstances, changes in perspective, changes in health, changes visible and invisible, changes subtle and changes huge, none of which are particularly comfortable or comforting, all drive the move into a new chapter.  Life is change, really, and each new chapter comes with significant blessings and trials, smooth water and rough through which we must faithfully and fearlessly navigate. I am thankful that I walk with God and that He holds me up, for I know that on my own I would crumble. So one plunges into the deep end of a new chapter, and with that comes most assuredly a restructuring of a daily schedule. Perhaps more available time, perhaps less, but in any event, it is accompanied by a need to re-establish time priorities. In my case, a bit of time became free, and with that acknowledgement came a plethora of choices. As a teacher, one recognizes the critical importance of remaining forever a perpetual learner, because seeking to more fully understand and comprehend in any and all arenas of knowledge, keeps one’s mind sensitive and sharp. Hmmmm, what to do? Well, from the time I was about fifteen years old, I have been writing melodies and filling those melodies with poetry on one topic or another. Hundreds of songs, written on scraps of paper, cafe napkins, inside the back cover of old textbooks, and filling pages of piles of composition notebooks, have spilled from my heart onto paper of one type or another but have never made it to transcription on musical staff paper. Written down lyrics with the melodies locked for forty years in my mind has surely resulted in countless forgotten and lost songs, but what about now? So in some widows of newly available time, with staff paper, a pencil, and many erasers in hand, I have begun the arduous, albeit rewarding, task of attempting to unlock and transcribe melodies, of attempting to learn how. Note by note over endless hours, recalling, playing and re-playing, referring to the formatting of already published music, I learned and practiced simple, very simple transcription and began for the first time to see the music that had only previously swirled in my mind and heart. Page upon page of children’s music, simply written, has emerged. Music that had been specifically written to enhance and support curricular content, to provide opportunities for multi-modal instruction, and to engage higher level questioning and deeper level thinking was now on the paper before me. It is a bit overwhelming, probably not dissimilar to meeting someone for the first time after hearing about that individual for years and years. There is much more learning to occur and much more music to transcribe, but it has begun. Stuffing it in the piano bench upon completion seemed unsuitable and maybe somewhat wasteful, so subsequently, I have opened an online Teachers Pay Teachers Store to sell it, to share it. My store is called One Arts Infusion Collaborative, and gradually I will fill its cyber shelves with scores of children’s educational sheet music forty years in the making.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Just Love More.

Lessons Learned

2015. New Year. New Hope. New Promise. New Commitment.

In a word, love. Thirty years of teaching, twenty-nine years of marriage, twenty-seven years of parenting, and fifty-five years of life have taught me that in triumphs and trials and everything in between, a strong, good answer to every circumstance and every relationship is simply to love more, to be patient more, to be gentle more, to be sacrificial more, to listen more, to believe and hope and encourage more.  The world is hard and clearly in need of gentle helpful hands and tender serving hearts. When burdens become too great to bear, we so frequently stagger alone under the crushing weight of it all somehow erroneously believing that either others do not want to be troubled or even worse that in sharing a burden we are admitting weakness or that something about our lovely fa├žade is less than all we are hoping it will appear to be.  We are designed to live in community. Together we are stronger.  What we share in common is far more important and valuable than the differences that divide us, and yet the differences draw fire and judgment from our bully pulpits of dogmatic and highly opinionated insecurities. The differences erect thick, impenetrable walls of fear and distrust. We need each other desperately still we struggle to move past the firing squad of suspicion.  Rather than exercising compassion, we often opt to exert power. Rather than crossing the street, we pull the blind and lock the door.  Rather than engaging, we turn a blind eye and blame our accursed, albeit self-created, busy-ness.  In our classrooms, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, each one we see is in dire need of love, acceptance, affirmation, connection and the joy that these gifts bring.  These gifts are free to give and to share and yet their value reaches infinitely beyond the bounds of the world’s greatest treasures. It’s a brand new year. The slate is clean and ready for the rewriting of a fresh inspiring chapter.  Perhaps it is time to make some changes. Perhaps it is time to try loving more, giving more, serving more, caring more. Perhaps it is time to build bridges of hope and trust, for the only tool necessary is one that has existed in our hearts from the very beginning; love.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"What Can You Do With A General When He Stops Being A General?"

Lessons Learned

“What Can You Do With A General When He Stops Being A General?”

“White Christmas” is, by far, our family’s favorite holiday movie. The lines, the songs, the choreography, the gestures, the elaborate sets and costumes completely engage each and every cousin, aunt, uncle, and grandparent gathered around the living room watching and listening and singing along to this classic  with full smiles.  And if a gentle snow begins falling outside our home at the end of the movie, just like the final scene of the movie, well then, all the better. Fabulous. Absolutely fabulous. In the story, General Waverly retires from the Army and struggles a bit to find footing in the new life of retirement after a very busy and decorated life in the service; hence the song, “What can you do with a General when he stops being a General?” Retirement is a chapter, a season of life that many eagerly anticipate for years and years, as the thought of increased discretionary time is unequivocally alluring. The thought of even available time outside the typical spin cycle of life’s frenetic daily pace is the longed for daydream that frequently tickles one’s imagination while galloping on the treadmill of climbing and achievement in a job or career. But then it finally arrives, retirement that is, and regardless of how giddily anticipated  it has been and for how long, it still arrives like the screeching halt of touchy brakes. Boom. Stop. Fini. With your box of belongings draped over your arms, you head to your car as your cubical is dusted off and prepared for the next player who has been charged to pick up the ball and run. The drive home is washed with emotions ranging from jubilation over the “my time’s my own” reality to a pinch of concern in response to the perplexing and confusing question bubbling up inside wondering who exactly one is apart from a long time job or career. Hello. Redefining or reinventing one’s self requires some deep contemplative time, so right now in this exact moment on this awkward drive home, a pinch of emptiness douses the jubilation.  Tomorrow morning, lounging in a bathrobe until 10 AM may be great medicine for the heart and soul, but will it feel so decadent morning after morning after morning after morning? Somehow I feel as though we are innately wired to want to regularly bring our gifts to the table of need and offer our best to tackle challenges that exist around us.  No two individuals are the same and the gifts possessed by one are the gifts needed by another. By sharing and serving in this manner, growth and progress occur. In bringing home the box of belongings, one is essentially withdrawing from the exchange of gifts for the enrichment of all, and that simply cannot be; not permanently anyway.  I retired last June. Thirty years in the classroom for this teacher, and it was unquestionably the career of my dreams and of my heart. But it was time. Time for a change. Time to breathe. Time to reassess. “ What can you do with teachers when they stop being teachers?”  For a short while, one can busy busy hands with part time jobs and engage minds accustomed to spontaneously creating exciting plans and activities that magically build bridges of learning for learners of all ages and all ability levels all of the time with various good and meaningful projects, but at some point, the desire and need to serve and share consistently, deeply and significantly will become overwhelming.  Teachers are meant to teach; it’s who they are. But the where, the when, and the how, that would be the trick. Needs most assuredly abound in our families, neighborhoods, and communities, and the skill set of a veteran teacher could provide valuable support when reaching into these needs to offer hope and help. Retirement is a change, not a checking out.  Even in retirement, especially in retirement,  teachers must continue to teach, minister to individual needs, build a warm collaborative esprit de corps, open the doors of possibility, and lead the charge of encouragement and affirmation regardless of the classroom or arena in which they serve. There’s much work to be done; no time for the bathrobe today.

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.