Monday, November 17, 2014
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.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Interestingly, even as a Sub, one is a treasure keeper. Even as a Sub, one needs eyes of the heart that perceive and then respond gently but deliberately to the subtle personality dynamics and uniquenesses of each new class. They(the students) come with their gifts and, depending on affirmation or not, they quickly and aptly assess the value given them. This personal, internal assessment, accurate or not, has a clear bearing on confidence and subsequently, behavior. Each child, each student is a treasure. Unique. Priceless. Beautiful. Even as a Sub, one must tenderly tend to this treasure. Truly, each classroom is a miraculous treasure box filled with infinite, marvelous treasure, and that sparkling treasure is, of course, the students. Uniquely wired, uniquely gifted, unique in every conceivable way, these precious students enter our classrooms and our hearts unknowingly seeking the unique gifts we possess in order that they might be inspired to reach, stretch, grow, dream, and imagine. Their confidence, their compassion, their success will be their future and ours, as well. Not long ago, I asked an elementary class, “Is love a dessert or a vegetable?” After considerable discussion, the entire class responded, “Both, because desserts are delicious and fun, and vegetables are something you need.” “Okay,” I said, “Is love winter or summer?” “Both,” they replied again. “Winter because it draws you close in hugs to keep warm and summer because it makes your heart feel free and joyful.” We questioned and answered for a lovely long time. Each one fully engaged and bubbling to the brim with clever, divergent responses. The children never ran out of ideas. They never ran out of enthusiasm for chasing and concocting creative solutions to questions. They never ever ran out of imagination; children don’t you know. Inexhaustible. Boundless. This is fortunate, for one day these inventive minds will be required to help solve the complexities of life facing us all. So we stir the fire that lights their eyes, their imaginations, and causes them to believe in and use the great gifts planted in the rich soil of their hearts. Treasure. Here is the treasure. For the duration of but one school year, or in the case of a Sub perhaps just one day, we teachers are charged with the privilege and immense responsibility of caring for and cultivating the treasure entrusted to our keeping, bravely leading them on captivating and daring adventures through every content area and sometimes simply gathering them all in closely together on the reading rug for a magic carpet ride through the pages of a book.
Thursday, November 6, 2014
A Day As A Sub
The term “Sub,” at least in an educational realm, conjures a multiplicity of images running the gamut from stern, unsmiling autocrat where fear and distance command submission, to loosey goosey, bff where control is surrendered with the very first popularity seeking smile, and every hue, tint, and shade of classroom management style in between. Regardless of the image or actuality, however, the thing remains that a Sub is a target and waves of expert archers show up with each new class that walks in the door. As a student, I remember Subs and, deep down inside, feeling very sorry for them but clearly never doing anything constructive to allay the wide-eyed look of desperation that undoubtedly appeared sometime before 9AM and lasted until the 3PM bell. Shame on me. As a pre-teaching career, newly graduated from college Sub, I switched sides of the table and stepped extremely tentatively, even a bit sheepishly into the first classroom, knowing full well that turnabout was fair play, what goes around comes around, and all of the rest of those philosophical truths that simply pointed out the obvious; may you get what’s comin’ to ya! Let the arrows fly. I liked Subbing. It was always new. I tried to walk the tightrope between autocrat and bff, and quite honestly, some days were definitely better than others. But I did like it, except the one time I was assigned to middle school PE and had to ref a basketball game during my lunch hour that day. The only thing I knew about basketball was how to be a cheerleader for it, and my ignorance was only accentuated by the fact that I was wearing wooden clogs, a plaid woolen skirt, and a monogramed sweater; not at all suitable for one seeking the appearance of possessing a certain degree of authority. It was a truly tragic and hopeless event, but, hey, when the lunch bell rang sending players and crowd parading back to afternoon classes, we turned the page and chalked it up to what does a Sub know? I was a music and drama specialist, for Pete’s sake! This brief stint as a Sub was followed by a lovely 30 year career in education; the career of my dreams and of my heart. And now, well now it’s time to Sub again. It’s good. I like it. A little math, science, spelling, reading, projects, presentations, recess duty, pre-k through 5th grade; Subbing is always new. Yesterday, though, was the first day I Subbed in my specialty of music and drama, and it was magical. We sang and sang and sang through every class through the entire day. Every song was new to the students, but they learned them all and sang them all with great gusto. We talked about stage presence and projection and the proper way to bow. Unreservedly, each class enthusiastically and wholeheartedly took up the challenge of learning the new songs and by the end of each class we had prepared our performance for us and it was undeniably fabulous. They knew it and couldn’t stop smiling. I knew it and was so proud of them even though I barely knew their names. They fully engaged and were willing to give this Sub a chance, and I am so very thankful they did.
Friday, October 31, 2014
How do you measure the light in an eye
When a meaning’s discerned or a point becomes clear?
How do you measure the rush of a “yes”
When affirmation catapults you past your fear?
How do you measure the encouraging effect
Of a smile or a hug that says, “yes, I believe?”
How do you measure the thrill of the warmth
When a new hopeful chance is the gift you receive?
How do you measure acceptance’s joy
When a bridge is constructed to link heart to heart?
How do you measure connections great strength
When a hand has reached out to you right from the start?
We measure the numbers. We plot on a grid.
We calculate, calibrate, glad that we did,
Because when we can metricize, measure, compare,
And reduce growth to numbers, there’s no humanness there.
So it’s easy to cut, reduce or down-size,
As we look on the numbers, not into their eyes.
Sometimes the value, the victory, the gain,
Is intangible, immeasurable, yet so very plain.
For how do you measure the change in a life
That relationally occurs when the meaning is deep?
Like the growth of a seed buried deep in the earth
Which erupts in a bloom from its soil covered sleep.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Must Everything Be Measured?
In a word, metrics. How do we measure up? Are we faster, better, or stronger than the last time we checked? Are all of our measurable qualities demonstrating continuous improvement? Success of any organization or entity, these days, boils down to numbers and can readily be assessed on the pan balance of comparison. Good numbers constitute good work, and good work is the all in all. Eons and billions are spent monitoring and managing metrics, and profit empires are built on such. This is humongously meaningful for countless things such as those that are inanimate, but what of those that are not? What about people? With respect to people, there are a number of immeasurable qualities which significantly influence successful outcomes. Many of the immeasurable qualities that powerfully contribute to success are contingent on the affective culture or mindset of the people involved. In the flurry of checklist assignment dispensing, deadlines pressing in, paper gathering, number crunching, outcome analyzing, and bottom line ramifications, where are the people? Where are the feelings of the people? Machines heartlessly and most effectively produce brilliant metrics. The human variable notches down the effectiveness because this pesky variable has feelings; unquantifiable feelings that can and do unpredictably tip the balance. Drat and double drat. Take schools, for instance. Are all of the boxfuls of voluminous paperwork generated and tabulated for each student honestly, truly honestly improving that student’s understanding of content, application of understanding, and capability of producing connection building scaffolding? I do not think so. From my vantage point of thirty years in the classroom, I see the areas in most dire need of bolstering among students to be relational. Feelings, communication, empathy, and compassion are all immeasurable and they all lead to understanding. Understanding leads to meaning-making which suddenly brings relevance into the educational picture. Encouragement is another immeasurable but remains by far the single most important and long-lasting motivator. We can try to motivate extrinsically but when the novelty of the incentive wears off we’ve lost. Encouragement, on the other hand, cumulatively builds confidence and commitment and requires no paperwork, simply words spoken from one heart to another heart. A leader comprehends this human need and harnesses its power as a strong motivator of people. A leader comprehends that to create and to innovate, which exist at the top level of Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning domains, the affective environment needs to be one of encouragement. The affective environment of a metrics driven organization is fear, fear of the pan balance upon which each one’s efforts are regularly measured. Fear can surely be a motivator, but in a very sad, unhealthy, and dysfunctional sort of way. Fear binds creativity. The data obsession of a metrics environment aligns all efforts on an efficient and lock-step path of conformity which is neatly quantifiable, but deals the death blow to all things time-consumingly creative. The pendulum swing of those cultural values to which we most deeply cling is presently at its widest arc in metrics glorification, but it will swing back because historically it always does. Numbers can never and will never paint the whole picture when the hearts and dreams of people are involved.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Lessons Learned: Guest Blogger- Grandpa A
It All Happened In A One Room Country School: Janitor
Janitorial Service was done by students on a monthly basis; consisting of many responsibilities. The janitor was responsible for opening the school at 7:30AM, building a fire in the stove when necessary, and keeping the wood fire going to heat the building. After school each day, the blackboards had to be washed, the waste paper baskets had to be emptied, the paper towel containers had to be filled, the drinking bubblers had to be emptied and cleaned, the floors had to be swept, and toilet paper had to be put in the outhouses as needed. The path to the school and to the outhouses had to be cleared of snow in the winter. The wood box in the school had to be kept full of wood. The water bubbler had to be kept full of water, which had to be pumped from the water pump in the pump house in front of the schoolhouse. At the end of the school day, the building had to be locked by the janitor. At the end of each month, the janitor needed to wash the floor and attend to other cleaning needs. I served as the janitor for two years; during both fifth grade and sixth grade. The monthly compensation for the janitor was $6.00 for the spring and fall months and $8.00 for the winter months, with an additional $2.00 compensation for each end-of-the-month cleaning. This was big money in those days, and, in my case, it enabled me to buy a $21.95 red bike from Montgomery Ward. This new bike had a light on the front fender and a carrier for a passenger over the rear wheel. Nobody else had a new bike. I was a pretty lucky guy.
Monday, October 13, 2014
The Two Hundredth Blog Article: Deeply Inspired By Mom
I remember hearing “no, it’s just not a great idea” probably only once when I was growing up, and that was in response to my request for a horse. I had even saved about $125 and had spoken with the neighbors down the road about renting a stall in their small barn. I was going to help clean their barn in exchange for a portion of the rent and teach very expensive guitar lessons to my sister for the remaining rental fees. It was a perfect plan in my twelve year old mind and I felt a pinch stymied by the resistance I encountered when I laid out the details for my parents. They encouraged instead riding lessons, saving the money, and playing guitar with my sister just for fun. The direction of the plan shifted quickly and easily to acquiring suitable attire for riding lessons and for fun at the stable and then involved engaging my sister in riding adventures while putting on hold the guitar.
“Yes, you can!” was the response most familiar to my ears through the growing up years and as I result, I believed I could. Affirmation brings sunshine and nourishing water to a child’s growing confidence, and it was never in short supply in our home. Affirmation such as this leads to confidence which leads to a willingness to take a risk or to try something new or attempt something requiring more courage than perhaps you would ordinarily believe you possessed. My parents modeled confidence because they had grown up affirmed. We saw them regularly step out in faith and tackle very challenging tasks in life and, by watching them, we learned the power of affirmation, encouragement, and support. We learned to pray and to trust and to step out boldly, laying bravely aside the fears that could paralyze and swallow up all daring efforts. To try is not the absence of fear, but rather it is the presence of trust and a willingness to believe. “Yes, you can.” Get up. Go on. Reach out. Speak up. Yes you can. Only your doubt can limit your possibilities. Stand up. Plunge in. Raise your hand. Keep at it. Yes you can. I have lived this way. I have raised my children this way. I have instructed my students this way.
So two weeks ago, at 84 years of age, Mom stood before a large, lovely gathering of women and spoke on the topic of footprints we follow and footprints we leave. She spoke on the power of affirmation and the call on each of our lives to pour into those around us of the great gifts we have each been given. With an antique basin and pitcher which had belonged to her grandmother as her props, she encouraged the women to pour into others as her dear grandmother had lavishly and continually poured into her life the priceless, powerful gifts of patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, selflessness, and love. All of these gifts affirm and bless and help us feel confident to reach beyond ourselves and jump a little higher. Yes you can. You can be a guest speaker at 84. You can be an affirmer, a pourer, and one who speaks encouraging words that mean yes you can into the hearts of those around you. You can. Yes you can.