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Thursday, August 29, 2013

It's About Time...

Lessons Learned…

Time

Twenty-four hours in each day is all we have to accomplish all that needs to be accomplished. With our multitudinous lists of busy-ness, we stuff our days from beginning to end in a manner that might resemble an attempt to stuff nine pounds of potatoes into an eight pound sack. So we run instead of walk from thing to thing and find ourselves exhausted when the clock ticks bedtime and our list has not been fully accomplished. Never mind, though, for there’s always tomorrow, and the “unfinisheds” can be added to tomorrow’s list. Tomorrow’s list simply grows and grows in parallel with the frustration due to ever-growing lists. And so it goes, but the truth remains, that each day still has twenty-four hours. Additional hours cannot be bought, borrowed, or traded, despite any gallant attempts to do so.  For instance, standing eight or nine deep in a local checkout line pushing a full cart of  necessary bargains, I turned to the waiting customer behind me and asked if she had noticed which aisle contained “time;” a box or a can, it didn’t matter to me. With a facial response that began as annoyance, then turned to perplexity, and ultimately to a cunning smile, the neighboring customer asserted that she had been unable to locate the time aisle as well regardless of the fact that she was fairly certain that she had heard that they had been running a special on it today. That explained it. Time was all gone, and we were simply too late to have cashed in on the special. After a shared and knowing chuckle, we resumed our silent, pensive waiting. Time. There is never, ever, ever enough, and that is precisely why time is priceless. Time is a priceless gift. Exactly how one spends his or her time speaks volumes concerning one’s truest priorities.  All excuses aside, the picture painted by one’s time expenditures will be the mirror of what one values most dearly. I would contest that relational time invested is far more meaningful and satisfying than “things accomplished” time.  Yet, we lose ourselves in our busy-ness, and sometimes go days without engaging in deep, significant, meaningful relationship building conversations, for there quite simply is just not enough time. This is ridiculous, tragic and completely twisted around. The human heart craves relationship, and yet, this is among the first things cut when the tomorrow’s list is drawn.  Why have we continually sacrificed what our hearts need, to chase an illusion that society seems to demand? In families, what is the picture of our time? In classrooms, what is the picture of our time? Today, what is the picture of your time? The issue of time is gargantuan.  To be continued…


Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Little Encouragement...

Lessons Learned…

Chores And Orders


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.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Stronger Together Culmination...

Lessons Learned...

Collaboration Celebration Song

Here is the original song we shared with our city as together we celebrated all that is fine and excellent and strong about our hometown:





Stronger Together 5 And Final...

Lessons Learned…

Collaboration 5 and Final


Interviews. Rehearsals. Articles. Rehearsals. Meetings. Rehearsals.  A growing list of enthusiastic collaborators. Photographs capturing stunning local historic structures, gorgeous local settings, and familiar hometown images were snapped and recorded on postcards to share.  A mayoral proclamation acknowledging and celebrating the special event was declared. Funds were raised to transport all of the city’s third grade students to the beautiful theater. Funds were raised to rent the theater and for all other involved expenses. New, strong friendships were made as elbows were linked in support of our city and our story. Together we worked for a common good. Together we learned. Together we celebrated.  And everyone was proud of the gifts they brought to our “city hug,” and rightly so.  The beautiful event came and went with all of the pomp and circumstance necessary to lift local hearts and spirits, if even for just a brief shining moment. The event received the Mayor’s Arts Award of Cultural Collaborative Event of the Year; a tremendous honor truly to be shared by countless participating neighbors. The greatest honor, though, was in being a part of the passion which fueled the collaborative efforts.  We did something; we had to do something.  But change, the long-term sort of change that truly bumps one off Forbes list, will require an ongoing stream of bridge-building collaborative events and the ensuing relational blessings.  Friendships grow. Trust grows.  Compassion grows.  Fear diminishes. Walls come down as bridges go up.  And cities can heal. They can. Together we are stronger. Together we are better.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Stronger Together 4...

Lessons Learned…

Collaboration 4


The biggest, oldest, grandest theater in town had to be the venue for the sharing of our story. All of the city’s third grade students would be the invited VIPs. Specialist artists would be engaged. Ethnic clubs would be encouraged to participate. Students from two very culturally  different schools would collaborate to create and perform an original piece together under the inspiring direction of a very loved, local, gifted, celebrity artist/educator. An  art contest. An essay contest.  An elite orchestral ensemble of local students performing.  A film of the local dance company performing an original dance to an original song beautifully  performed through the breath-taking  hallways and stairways of the biggest, oldest, grandest theater in town. A local documentary filmmaker creatively chronicling the entire extravaganza. The mayor would be there. Local movers and shakers would be there alongside parents, grandparents, and neighbors of each and every performer. Museums, organizations, and visitors to our city would all be invited to hear, learn, and celebrate our strong shared story. But funding? All ideas need a bit of help to move them to action. Through countless meetings, contacts, and conversations, extremely generous contributions were made, affirming the idea and propelling it forward.  A fire of excitement and pride and goodwill was stirring and growing within our hurting community.  Some walls were coming down as the bridges of collaboration were beginning to span from heart to heart. Something good was happening.  To be continued…

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Stronger Together 3...

Lessons Learned…

Collaboration 3


Writing a musical about the story of our city starts with reading; a gargantuan amount of reading.  Articles, books, online sources, photo journals, and archival museum diaries highlight the readings, all of which are interspersed with formal interviews, casual conversations, and visits to local historic sites. Meaningful, significant, informational treasure is all around town waiting to be recognized and given voice. Countless events and characters emerge and are set upon a timeline as the readings bring shape to the story of our hometown. The tone of the events and the feelings of the characters determine the color of the songs to be written, for the waves of human emotion become the musicality of the story. The story called home. Although hours and hours and hours and hours of time are invested in this creative retelling, this still remains just one small artist’s simple rendition of a grand and important story that will ultimately need many voices in many different ways retelling, reminding, and refreshing so that this critical story, our shared story, our common ground can be remembered, celebrated, and passed forward to bring its strength to those who will be the hope. This piece of the collaborative project will be rehearsed until perfected, while other exciting, creative pieces are being imagined and enacted all over town, all preparing to come together for a beautiful event that will hug our city. With all creative pieces bubbling in a full boil, all other collaborative pieces continue meeting and gathering numbers as further details of the hug are tended. To be continued…

Stronger Together 2

Lessons Learned…

Collaboration 2


How does it look to hug a city? How should it look? It seems somehow that despair is derived from a place of painful loss, and from this perspective, our city has suffered tremendous economic hardship in the loss of jobs due to the loss of large anchor corporations in fairly recent years. In our economic loss, we have suffered a severe identity crisis and a crushing blow to our historically defining independent spirit. Floundering in this place of loss, where violence easily erupts, we have been swept to our corners in fear. A hug. In brainstorming “a hug” for this city, we determined it could resemble an identity reaffirmation through a retelling of our city’s story, our shared story, and a reminder of the strong common ground upon which we all stand right now. Together. United.  A  shared story depicting our strong, proud past for all to hear, remember and claim would be the starting place around which we would invite neighbors to bring their creativities, ideas, and passions to help build our large city-wide celebratory hug. We would research and write an original musical about our city’s story, rehearse it with our students, and then engage many others in the community to lend their gifts to strengthen our hug. We had to start somewhere and we determined to start here.  To be continued…

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Stronger Together...

Lessons Learned…

Collaboration 1


The unflattering and very disheartening distinction by Forbes Magazine as being among the top contenders for Most Violent City In The US was the topic of discussion over lunch at an outside cafĂ© with a good friend.  We, just a couple of ordinary teachers from a nearby elementary school, talked passionately about this hurting city which was the home to much excellence and a home we loved. As with all frustrating luncheon topics on the discussion docket, denial is an expected and frequent response, as is anger, and general complaining, but not one of these responses “does anything”  other than drive up blood pressure and perpetuate negativism. Not good enough. We determined right then to “do something” to bring a lift, a smile, a hug to this, our hometown which was tangled in a dark despair not unknown to countless hometowns these days. We determined right then to gather a local team of optimists, believers, neighbors and other such enthusiastic, collaborating, hometown helpers who would willingly, cheerfully work alongside us to build bridges of hope and trust into the corners of this beloved, beleaguered community. We determined right then that any effort brought forth in good faith to serve our neighbors was worth the try.  We determined that together we could be stronger, together we could be better, and that together we could begin to chip away at the paralyzing, isolating fear that dwells in the wake of violence.  Collaboration held a key. To be continued…

Monday, August 12, 2013

Too Much Testing?

Lessons Learned…
Numbers Alone No Nourishment Provide


In education today, as well as in most other areas, it all comes down to this; numbers. Scores. Metrics. Performance Data. These numbers drive funding, define success, delineate projections, and determine accountability for students, teachers, school districts, and states. As numbers are crunched, compared, and evaluated on flow charts and bar graphs presented in large beige-colored conference rooms to suit-clad metrics philosophers, perhaps it is easy to forget that these numbers represent children filled with dreams and wonder, anxious to explore the world and imagine and discover answers to challenging questions. States, districts, teachers, and students are staggering under the inscrutable weight of cold, hard continuous metric achievement, which unquestionably demands the classroom focus to be statistical. The highly-pressured demands of this frequently result in unethical choices made in survival-type desperation. Unfortunately, although true learning cannot be quantified as such nor contained in neat statistical, numerical boxes, it seems it has become reduced to this very thing. Teaching to the test is not learning. Teaching to the test inspires no imaginative and possibility-filled divergent thinking, clever invention, or mind wandering creativity. Teaching to the test opens no new windows of discovery, but rather denotes a more “shoveling in of information” style of fact dissemination. As there must be some sort of balance in all things in life, there appears to be no balance in this now. The metrics pendulum has swung to an unhealthy, inappropriate extreme with respect to educating children and is in dire need of honest, immediate scrutiny and re-prioritization if we are to truly nurture and nourish tomorrow’s hope.

Monday, August 5, 2013

New School Year, New Start...

Lessons Learned…

Can I Change?


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.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Good Neighbors Come Running...

Lessons Learned…

At The Horse Show


Buttons. I was to ride Buttons during the annual horse show held at the neighbor’s farm and riding corral. Buttons was a biter and a bit prone to unpredictable behavior, but only when she turned her ears back. As long as she kept her ears in place, I would only be a little nervous about her, us and the entire extravaganza.  We were novice riders and had just finished our first season of riding lessons. We were also city-slicker kids trying our best to learn how to be country kids, and this horse show was quite the event of the season drawing participants and spectators from a wide range of neighboring farms.  Hair in braids, flannel shirts, jeans, and sturdy boots, were the prescribed costume, and from that aspect, we were fully ready for the show to begin. Any participants without cowboy hats were supplied with one to wear in the show thus completing the appropriate look.  We put on our hats wishing we had a mirror, but we knew that the look was right, and we were just thrilled to be a part of the excitement.  The spectators lined the corral fence and amongst them were our parents.  The judges took their places. The announcer bullhorned a crackly welcome, stirred up the crowd, then commenced the show with the Pledge of Allegiance. Event after event. Rider after rider. Individuals and groups entered the ring demonstrating fine skills and command over these very powerful animals. When our names were called, Buttons and I entered the ring with the rest of our group of beginner contestants.  Please walk your horses.  Perfect. Please trot your horses. Perfect. Please cantor your horses.  Buttons ears went back and my blood ran cold. She took off running like there was no tomorrow, passing every horse on the inside, and gaining steam.  My thoughts were a flurry during those tenuous moments where speed and fear and recalling the need for showmanship collided.  Smile. Our instructor impressed upon us that to smile when passing by the judges demonstrated poise and confidence and control of the situation.  Although I clearly had none of those, I managed to paste on a smile which surely was nothing more than a blur as Buttons and I ran for the roses.  My hat flew off and may well have been trampled, but I stayed on, thankfully. Several neighbors came running into the ring with the instructor at that point and managed to catch Buttons just as she was eyeing the fence and the vast field beyond.  Calm was restored. Hat was recovered.  Lesson learned, when trouble strikes good neighbors come running.  Additional lesson learned, keep smiling.  What a show!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

No Bullies Allowed...

Lessons Learned…

The Beaded Necklace


I was hired to fill a long-term substitute teaching position in a fourth grade classroom just months after my December college graduation.  Young, eager, optimistic, all appropriate and helpful attributes for a new incoming sub, nicely complimented my satchel stuffed with freshly acquired scholarly educational theories, philosophies, and cutting edge fail-safe strategies designed and promised to reach all and teach all. With squared-shoulder confidence and change-the-world spirit, I entered that classroom and encountered reality. Reality always somehow seems to smack of a bit of disappointment.  People can frequently behave so disappointingly human regardless of their ages. Human nature depicts endless layers of self and emanating from this myopic vantage point can be a fairly insidious disregard for others.  Somewhere between taking lunch count that first day and starting our new novel, the leaning-toward-the-toxic classroom cliques magically appeared with great clarity and unapologetically. This group. That group. The power group. The Loner. Just one loner.  She steered clear of the fray, kept her eyes down, and tried to fly under the radar. They “let” her do so to a certain extent, that is to say, after “they” snipped and cut enough to make sure she knew that her radar flying was by their permission. Power. The lust for power starts young, but where exactly does it originate? I sincerely want to know that.  It’s poison, of that I am certain. To the oblivious or insecure teacher, it will run rampant and dominate your classroom in extremely covert, though devastating ways. It is the root of bullying. And bullying is at the root of a pain that can be so excruciating, so consuming, so silent that it completely debilitates in its rendering of powerlessness. Who bestows this power? Who perpetuates it? Do we all? I was just a young long-term sub walking into a classroom with its established and accepted climate, but my eyes, as those of one who understood the wrath of a bully, remained fixed upon the loner.  I would help her in quiet, unassuming ways. An encouraging word in passing.  An affirming smile.  A “random” opportunity to teacher-assist on an errand to the office.  An extra superlative word written on a corrected assignment. Continual, covert building up day after day after day after day.  The bullies, the exclusive cliques, the power seekers were not given voice other than to participate according to my directions. We were one class. We would learn to care for each other and recognize that each one brings gifts and stories that are unique and worthy of being celebrated. Not one more than another, but each one. On  my last day with the fourth graders, the loner who no longer was one brought me a gift that she, her mother, and grandmother had made.  It was a stunningly beautiful beaded necklace strung in the Native American tradition of their family and their tribe. She simply said, “Thank you for noticing me.”  Her simple message did more to inform my teaching than all of the stuffing in my satchel.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fair Expectations?

Lessons Learned…

The Black Eye


Kids are resilient; everyone says that. They are resilient to the extent that their minds and hearts are malleable, they are willingly vulnerable and trusting until they learn otherwise, and they have little to no choice concerning their circumstances. They are, at their young age, along for the ride of life and fully at the mercy of the scruples, opinions, perspectives, insecurities, and personalities of those to whom they’ve been entrusted. Raising kids is such an incredibly humongous and significant responsibility with unbelievably long-range rippling ramifications frequently accepted with absolutely flippant and casual consideration. Kids are resilient becomes the fallback excuse for complete irresponsibility, and that is simply not good enough for these treasures known as kids who bring unique gifts to this world that no one has ever seen yet.  Although it may not clearly show, these little ones carry the burden of our incompetence, our irresponsibility, our immaturity, and all of the rest of our unresolved adolescence, and even though covered under the guise of resilience, occasionally the burden shows up unexpectedly.  He was just six young years old, but he had been to a war zone far too many times. He smiled and laughed and played, studied and learned alongside his classmates, but it was unmistakably evident that a rage was simmering just below the surface. With extra patience, grace, and love an intuitive teacher would serve and reach out to a child such as this one every day, every day, every day. The burning desire, the motivating hope to make a difference especially in this burdened life would be a daily over-riding mission to an intuitive teacher.  Could the rage silently consuming him and confusing him be assuaged with generous and regular doses of all things good? I hoped so.  Kneeling down one morning to help him with his backpack, I noticed he was visibly agitated. You okay? No. No. No. I am not okay. Nothing is okay. Everything is bad. Everything. Everything. Everything! The final everything was shouted as he wound up and punched me in the eye and then melted into a sobbing, remorseful puddle of tears and shame and frustration and anger and fear. I hugged him until the sobbing quieted. The class was silent and stone still, yet with deer-in-the-headlight eyes, their deep concern begged to know why. Sometimes life is just very hard and it makes your heart really hurt. That’s why we need each other.  Over the next days and weeks we gently unwrapped the paining issues and engaged the strong, necessary support to help bring healing and peace to that precious little six year old.  Children are children and their resiliency is that of a child and should never be overestimated to accommodate errors of the adults in their world.