Saturday, July 26, 2014
The month was June and summer vacation in Wisconsin had just begun. All of the kids in our neighborhood exuberantly and together trekked seven blocks daily to the city pool. Summer paradise, unquestionably. Every minute at the pool was perfect from the first plunge to the banana popsicle we’d each buy for the drippy wet stroll home. Something at the pool, however, had me thoroughly captivated. It was the high dive. I was seven that particular summer. Only the bravest of the brave ascended those metal steps leading to the bouncy plank which seemed to catapult divers first through the clouds then into the deep end of the pool. I was mesmerized. To want something so badly, yet at the same time to be so absolutely intimidated by it, left this curious youngster in a very perplexed, very conflicted place. Come on, try it, urged the older siblings and neighbor friends. It’s not that hard, and we all will be right here. Right here? What exactly does “right here” do to help when you are ascending those steps alone, walking the plank alone, and mustering the courage for a leap through the clouds alone? Smiling to affirm their sincere encouragement with unbudging feet seemingly affixed to the poolside concrete, I continued to longingly watch the leaping. Even though just seven, I was a good YMCA-trained and competitive swimmer who understood the steely nerves required when poised on the starting block waiting for the starter’s gun to sound and the swim race to begin. I had a growing collection of swim ribbons and a strong shot at being a Junior Olympic participant. But the high dive was different. Day after glorious day with friends at the pool flew by on the wild wings of summer but with the issue of the high dive looming unrelenting on the edges of my young mind. I had to make the leap. The question was when. Gathering courage is no small or easy task, for it demands a daring charge of the will, a very deliberate choice to sidestep fear and reserve believing that the gain is worth the cost. Watching others leap did not evoke increased bravery, it simply taunted. It was time. Without fanfare, pomp and circumstance, or any salubrious pronouncement, I crossed the poolside concrete to the metal steps, ascended them unflinchingly but with a few butterflies, and walked the bouncy plank to the end where I curved my toes around the fiberglass edge, took a deep breath and leaped. The older siblings and neighbor friends didn’t have time enough to amass a cheering section, but they all did pause in their playing to witness the splash. There. I did it. I took the leap, pierced the water’s surface with pencil straightness, submerged, and then re-emerged with a quiet victor’s grin. Life was never quite the same after the leap because there was a new confidence, a new boldness that from then on kept a bit of a bridle on those things that attempt to intimidate and subsequently paralyze action. I learned to leap that day, that summer when I was seven, and it has been a lesson of greatest significance throughout the next fifty years. Learning to leap benefits all learning as each new topic, new chapter, new unit, new school year, new skill, and on and on demands a willingness to set aside “I can’t” while reaching instead towards “yes.” With a month until the new school year begins, with a new job prospect on the horizon, with a dream itching to be chased, with a relationship whispering for more effort, with a need crying for your giftedness, with these and infinite others tickling at the edges of your awareness, perhaps it is time to practice and prepare for some life changing leaping. Take the leap. It is time.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
A Glimpse Into The Creative Spirit
Time. Patience. Non-judgment. Safety. These things all are mandatory for a creative spirit to feel free to create. A creative spirit comfortably and frequently dwells in a place of great vulnerability. This place is one where wide open emotions, wild imaginings, and novel, exciting connections intersect. It is an exhausting and exhilarating place all at once. The birth of an idea occurs in a place where a brave creative spirit is willing to take a great risk and expose his or her heart. For example, a composing artist might be inspired by a landscape, an event, a relationship, a life story, or any other of an infinite number of inspirational sources, and then the seed of that inspiration takes root in imagination’s fertile soil. While germinating, the inspiration, for a composing artist, develops an identifying sound and a musical color which will ultimately be creatively translated into a melody. Sometimes this creative process takes a great deal of time, sometimes it unexpectedly bursts forth from seemingly nowhere, but in any case, it cannot be timed, measured, demanded of, or really even controlled. It just is as it is. Which comes first, the lyrics or the melody? There is no standard recipe. There is no prescribed order or flow chart design. It just is. And when pen finally puts creativity to paper, we see the fruit emerge. The fruit of this particular creativity is a song. A unique melody. A unique combination of words. A unique color of emotion extracted from the original inspiration. This unique musical composition depicts the artist’s very own musical connection to the object of inspiration, and to be invited to hear this melody by the artist’s hand is to indeed be considered a trusted confidant. Words need to be few in this moment of hearing a new song. One who snaps to reckless judgment, one who values to the highest priority the narrow parameters of extreme efficiency, one who typically favors status quo in general, one who is easily distracted and unable to simply breathe in the awesomeness of newness, one to whom nothing is ever quite good enough, these would rarely be the ones invited into this moment of creativity unveiled. These are actually the ones who bind the creative spirit within boxes of ordinary, predictable, beigeness. Within these boxes creativity suffers and dies, for creativity must be free if it is to exist at all. Be gentle with the creative spirits in life, in your home, in your classroom, in your workplace. They see the world a bit differently. They see possibilities unnoticed by others, and possibilities stir hope. Sometimes the possibilities they see drive them, compel them to travel to distant places. The compulsion to see and to know and to pursue the possibility burns inside the creative spirit, unrelenting and intensifying until the bags are packed and the journey has begun. And the standers-by, the loving, safe, supportive arms that have held them all along need to loosen their hug and let them go. Let them go despite the fears, despite the tears, for a creative spirit is destined to fly, to seek, to soar. Although dream realization and dream shattering disappointment forever dwell concurrently as equal possibilities, the hope of the realization fills the heart and motivation of the ever-optimistic creative spirit. The try is worth the quest. The hope is worth the risk. The dream, the faith, the belief, the conviction is so unwaveringly fierce that doubt is buried and forgotten. A creative spirit is willing to leap into the unknown for the strong promise of what could be. They defy despair, and the gifts they bring to the issues of life which we all grapple with both individually and corporately may just hold the promise of a solution. Would that we each seek to be mentored through a season by one who is a creative spirit and experience first-hand the jubilation of possibility.
Monday, July 14, 2014
In a world that shouts, incessantly argues, and demands to be right and first and best and every other superlative seemingly worthy of claiming, I believe it might be a good time to step out of the fray, to willingly wait, to patiently listen, to calmly respond, to humbly serve, and to be secure enough to be gentle. The bombastic, super aggressive personality and approach to life and living is truly obnoxious at best and hate-stirring, blood pressure elevating and ineffective to boot. Why do we so unreservedly choose such immature and non-productive behavior? Why? Do we erroneously assume that this unflattering and out-of-control behavior is a suitable MO for communication? Can we not hear our own anger and frustration in this attack-ish tone? Can we not see the combative response this evokes in others? Why not try gentleness. It feels so much better. Gentleness quiets the heart and stills the soul. Gentleness beckons cooperation, collaboration, and a lovely esprit de corps. Gentleness invites the building of a bridge and risks the extending of a hand to lend support and hope. Gentleness heals. Gentleness is as a balm to another’s wounded spirit. But, despite our intellectual understanding of the merits of gentleness, the world still shouts and we, in our knee jerk reaction, shout back. At every age there’s shouting. Recently I noticed just how much cartoons shout at our children; they will undoubtedly live what they learn. We shout our frustrated and hurried “good byes and have a good days” to our little ones as they collect yet another tardy slip at the door, thus beginning their days in disappointment and despair. Families shout because being right takes priority to being loving. Spectators at sporting events shout at referees because a public temper tantrum is an impressive way to support one’s team. Coaches, directors, and teachers shout because the number of decibels of vocal volume is directly proportional to the desire of the athletes, cast members, or students to obey. Shouting is apparently power. Power, who doesn’t want it? Kids shout at parents, siblings, teachers, etc. etc. etc. because everyone else is shouting. They have been well taught. We don’t shout at our home, not because we are some sort of wallflower, mousey type of family, but rather because shouting hurts feelings, and it definitely hurts ears. If a student shouts at me, which hasn’t happened much in my thirty years of teaching, I speak calmly and gently back. We need to breathe. We need to relax. We need to count to ten, take a walk, or listen for a minute to our own precious heartbeat. Life is a great gift and gentleness is a way of handling life with honor, grace and respect. Choose this day to be gentle and then reap the wonderful rewards of the peace and joy this brings.
Sunday, July 13, 2014
Dr. Hill presents a very creative, very understandable explanation of Type 2 Diabetes, a serious condition affecting a great many people.
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Woo hoo! Three and a half hours each morning with first and second graders for a full week with the goal of “creating” things sounded like an awesome adventure to me; an arts integration enthusiast and specialist. Because creativity requires one to see something new or perhaps to see a new possibility for something that is not new, I thought it best to begin with ordinary, familiar items and use them as our diving board into the lovely pool of imagination. We need to imagine to create. So out came the tinfoil, duct tape, pipe cleaners, burlap potato sacks, popsicle sticks, tissue paper, glue, pony beads, wooden beads, shoe laces, yarn, 64 crayons, empty plastic coffee canisters, small clear glass vases, thin-wired coat hangers, polar fleece, and at least one hundred brown paper bags, and with that outstanding imagination-tickling assortment of tools, we began. Weaving was a great place to begin and paper weaving was easy, quick, and looked excellent without hours of practice. We handily graduated to weaving through burlap with pipe cleaners, feathers and yarn, and a shoe lace. Our creations were exciting, unique, and brought gleeful smiles of pride. After reading a Native American folk tale, we created friendship necklaces; one to keep and one to share. Our final activity the first day was to create tinfoil sculptures; anything each student wanted to make, but it needed to be accompanied with a clear verbal description and presentation to the class. I, then, ask each of them to make a canoe sculpture reminiscent of the one in the story we read. The homework assigned them was to float their canoes in the sink or bathtub at their homes. Hours flew and smiles never left. Day after day, project after project, story after story, we imagined and we created, all interspersed with lively ongoing conversation and an occasional nature walk outside in search of twigs or leaves or small stones on the ground for use In future projects. We played. We laughed. We exercised our imaginations. We learned new stories about new characters. We learned about and experimented with new art forms by recycling and rejuvenating ordinary, familiar items. We created something brand new from something that had always been there. We needed no kits nor step-by-step directions, for our imaginations led the way. Creativity Camp was a beautiful opportunity for the brilliant imaginations of children to romp happily and fully free, unrestrained by the highly structured, highly scheduled lockstep that is frequently life when it is not summer vacation. Why couldn’t Creativity Camp be a regular part of an academic curriculum? The benefits would surely ripple infinitely through young hearts and lives.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
From The Garden of Play, Amazing Things Will Grow
To be able to problem solve is unquestionably an extremely desirable and highly useful skill. Problem solving requires a mind that sees connections and extrapolations, it requires considerable confidence, and it must be carefully cultivated. Problem solving grows from seeds of divergent thinking which grow from seeds of creativity which are watered, weeded, and sunshined in the childhood garden of unstructured, fully imaginative, and wonder-filled play. The priority of this sort of play is critical, for the impact and power of this sort of play desperately underestimated. Kids need to play. Creatively play. With duct tape, tinfoil, pipe cleaners, rocks, boxes, old socks, and all of the things all around them that can readily become something else with a pinch of imagination. All children have imaginations. One of my students informed me that imaginations live under people’s hair. Absolutely right. All children love to play. They must play. Have we traded forts out of blankets for technology toys? In our pursuit of vast opportunities to enrich our kids, have we enslaved ourselves and our kids to schedules so structured that there’s little to no time left for unstructured play? Have we sacrificed the garden of play for captivating screens and a light speed, leave-you-breathless pace? Have we maintained a healthy balance in our culture of extremes and superlatives? What are our children learning from our choices? If we are to cultivate a generation of problem solvers, a generation of well-balanced deep thinkers and innovators, we must, we must let them play.
Monday, June 30, 2014
Not That There's Anything Left To Say, But....
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.