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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.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Even As A Sub, One Is A Treasure Keeper

Lessons Learned


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

On Being A Sub...

Lessons Learned

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...?

Lessons Learned


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.

darcy hill

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Lessons Learned

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

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

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

Lessons Learned

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.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Lunar Eclipse

Lessons Learned


Perhaps this has nothing to do with education or parenting or creativity or children or any of the topics I write so frequently about, but perhaps, on the other hand, it has everything to do with them.  At 6AM this morning, when the sky was dark, the air was very chilly, and the neighborhood was still mostly asleep, my husband and I bundled up, grabbed the camera, and headed for the nearby park so that we could see and attempt to capture the stunning, breathtaking splendor of a lunar eclipse. Red.  It was orange’ish red, not too unlike a huge beautiful pumpkin floating in a black turning to blue’ish pre-dawn autumn sky.  There were no words available to adequately describe the sight. Even the most superlative of adjectives all lined up together fell desperately short. So in silence we stared and smiled and breathed in with awe the magnificence that only a brilliant, magnificent Creator could create.

Monday, October 6, 2014


Lessons Learned

Please Remember That Kids Are Just Kids

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.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Don't Let The Bullies Run The Class

Lessons Learned

Each One Precious

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.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Guest Blogger- Grandpa A: Life In The Wisconsin Northwoods Beginning 1927, Anee-I-Over

Lessons Learned: Guest Blogger- Grandpa A

It All Happened In A One Room School: Anee-I-Over

Anee-I-Over is not big in the Olympics; in fact, it’s not included in the phy ed program in any of our schools or colleges. It was big, however, in One Room Schools of yesterday because they had no gyms, no swing sets, no merry-go-rounds  or baseball diamonds, and no coaches, only a three acre field with a schoolhouse, a woodshed, a pump house, and two outdoor toilets, one for the girls and one for the boys. Who could ask for anything else?

Anee-I-Over was an outside game and could be played with as few as two people, however, the excitement heightened when you had four or five on each side. The only equipment needed was a rubber ball about the size of a tennis ball. The game started when half of the players lined up on one side of the schoolhouse building and the other half were on the other side of the building. One player would throw the ball over the roof of the building, and one of the players on the other side would catch the ball before it hit the ground or on the first bounce. The object of the game then was to run around the building and hit one of the other side’s players with the ball. Half of the catching team would run around the school building one way and the other half of the catching team would run around the school building the other way. No one on the throwing team knew who had the ball, so trickery and deception and an accurate throw served well. As a player on the throwing team was hit by the ball, he became a member of the catching team. This game was good for both recesses, the lunch hour, and before classes started in the morning.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Don't You Tell Me We Can't Have Fun!

Lessons Learned


It was June and the first full, exciting, wonderful, glorious month of summer vacation. June was, unequivocally, one of the grandest most longingly anticipated months of the year, at least for the elementary school-aged boys in my home.  The June first morning weather report stopped us in our tracks, however. The meteorologist predicted significant rain in both the short-term and in the long-term of days ahead, and we were hoping beyond all hope that the foreboding forecast of supreme sogginess was a silly mistake. No way.  Can’t happen.  But the gray sky and air heavy with humidity did nothing to redeem our hope, until at last, the clouds cracked open thus beginning the unending deluge. It rained and rained and rained and rained. The unrelenting downpour saturated the ground carving muddy trenches through the newly seeded, newly washed away lawn.  With noses pressed to the windows, we watched and waited. To be sure, there were moments when the rain slowed and then stopped, but those moments didn’t last long, and although we did go outside when we could, we invariably came back in soaked and mud-covered. Now, soaked and mud-covered are not distasteful costumes to wear, at least among the members of our family, but the Great Lake sized puddles all around definitely curtailed the biking and boarding trail-riding adventures synonymous with summer fun.   Rain, rain, and more rain day after drippy day the same. Grrrrrr.  That’s it. No more waiting. Time for action. You simply cannot wait for the conditions to be right to have fun, you must make the fun. So, in that spirit, we pitched a tent on our screen porch and it became our vacation cabin. Each day, we carried different toys, activities, and projects into our vacation cabin, brought the dog, too, and for hours on end we played, built, listened to stories, nibbled on camping snacks, and enjoyed our vacation from, and in spite of, the rain. We vacationed the entire month of June in our cabin on the porch and honestly it was one of our most delightful vacations ever. With July came the sunshine and the heat and a new attempt at the lawn. Out came the bikes, scooters, and skate boards as the ground firmed up and beckoned the summerly  frequent neighborhood kick-the-can extravaganzas. Some complained that we lost June that year because of the rain, but I think we took the rain and made of those lemons a sweet and delicious creative lemonade known as camping on the porch. It was the longest, most fabulous vacation cabin adventure we had ever enjoyed before or since. It was a treasured, excellent time, that year it rained the entire month of June.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Are You Brave Enough To Say Who Cares About Being Popular?

Lessons Learned

Pursuing Popular? What Exactly Is It?

Popular. Popularity. Some people long for this with a raging passion that is fierce and all-consuming. It’s a must-have. It’s a must-be. And to not have is pretty much to not be, at least in the rules of popular. But what is “popular?” Is it a status? Is it an aspiration or an achievement or a goal or a scheme? Is it even real? I believe it is illusive and fleeting regardless of whatever else it is. I believe it is synonymous with power, that is, until it suddenly dissolves. Anything wrapped in power such as “popular” has high bully potential, and this certainly is the case. Popular is most often maintained through fear; fear of being in, fear of being out, fear of being nothing but invisible as deemed by the “populars.” I have even observed teachers who have so feared the wrath of the populars, that they allowed accountability inconsistencies to exist in their classrooms; accountability inconsistencies clear to all but addressed by none. The power of popular is very tricky to handle and almost always causes some degree of pain to someone.  I believe it has some very treacherous and destructive propensities, as well. I believe popular emotionally resembles a house of cards, which, upon its collapse, leaves a horrific wake of devastated, shattered self-esteems and desperately exposed and tramped upon feelings, which in some instances never in a lifetime recover. Why? For what purpose?  To be the king or the queen of the pile of what? And yet dreams of “popular” dominate an adolescent mentality until alas this hope of all hopes is ruthlessly dashed by another heartless aspirer, whereby one is overtly and publically deemed uncool and thereby thrown out of the running for popular. Who picks and chooses? Who sits in this omnipotent judgment seat of exalting one aspirer and crushing another with frivolous flippancy?  Is popular a supreme to the absolute extreme rendition of the classic tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” where everyone but the emperor sees the lunacy and the tragic hilarity of the situation?  To pour one’s heart and energies into the pursuit of this particular illusion of popular, which seems to be very real and important when caught in the swirling sea of it, with thrashing and drowning part of its diabolical protocol, is to leave little heart and energy available for the pursuit of more meaningful, more lasting, more healthy, and more honest aspirations. How does one determine one’s gifts or strengths or aspire to reach one’s best if one is caught in the mire of clawing toward popular?  Fear and creativity cannot coexist well. Creativity’s very nature denotes uniqueness, originality, imaginative freedom, and wonder-filled curiosity, none of which bend to the conformity expectation of aligning with popular. Popular remains the best possible copy of what the world tells it to be, and creativity simply will not be contained as such. To not align is to be discarded. To be discarded is to be relegated to nothing status, to invisible, and if a heart is strong enough to bear this, it will emerge liberated and peaceful and on track to identify gifts, develop them and use them to chase dreams and bless the world; a wonderful place for creativity to dwell and flourish. Can we help our children with this, or are we just as tangled up in it as they?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The International Day Of Peace: September 21, 2014

With the International Day Of Peace fast approaching, September 21, 2014, we, as teachers and parents, neighbors and workers, are challenged to assess our own personal efforts on behalf of peace. Peace in so very many ways is a deliberate choice to be others-centered, patient, gentle, thoughtful, compassionate, tender-hearted, and kind. Peace cannot live well in a place where the air is thick and angry with loud polarizing dogmatic opinions which seem to so quickly become fiercely held narrowly scoped self-serving demands. Louder and louder we get in our attempt to make our point over the ever growing cacophony of everyone else attempting to do the same. Louder and louder the opinionated roar deafens and frustrates and alienates and infuriates, until the pitchforks appear and threaten, and then the strongest arm becomes the voice that silences the rest. Pointless. Fruitless. Hate-evoking. No. This cannot be the way we live or teach our children to live. To come together under a peaceful umbrella and then play nicely together in the sandbox of life, we need to reach and see beyond ourselves and listen to our neighbors. We can disagree and still be loving and respectful. Despite your politics, your sports teams, your perspective on issues and headlines, at the heart of you is your heart; precious, unique, valued, priceless. You are uniquely gifted and critically important. So too is your neighbor. Peace begins by turning the volume down, laying the opinions aside, turning the selfishness off,  and loving your neighbor. It's time.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

How Do You Raise Creative Kids?

Lessons Learned

Creative Kids

How do you raise creative kids? In our highly structured, overly scheduled, and incessantly measured world, the answer to the creative kids question is one that most would rather not hear for it requires a brave leap off the lock-step treadmill upon which we and all of the Joneses ceaselessly, exhaustedly, and occasionally resentfully race each day. The dial of popular thought and status quo sets our pace, and we run and our children run because everyone runs.  We do because they do. We run because they run. We sign up because they all sign up.  Don’t  misunderstand here, though, activity is important, involvement is good, and engagement is meaningful, but we all know if we look honestly at ourselves, that we completely tend toward extremes and a distinct compulsion in the direction of obsession. Too much. Too, too, too much.  Too fast. Too much, too fast to have time to breathe, to enjoy, to think, to savor, to relax, to imagine, to play, to create is unequivocally our collective MO.  To raise creative kids, you need to give them time, margin in their schedules, to creatively play. Just as calisthenics are exercises for the body, so is play the exercise for creativity.  And play that nurtures creativity does not mean TV and movies, hand-held devices and all other screens; play that nurtures creativity means paper plates, sticks, blocks, paper, crayons, brown paper bags, wood, paint, duct tape, sugar cubes, glue, recycled materials, and an endless stream of ordinary items that undoubtedly lead to extraordinary ideas and creations with the added and very illusive ingredient of time.  The sandbox and a hose are brilliant for imaginative adventures. Blankets over chairs and end tables are brilliant for imaginative adventures. Brown paper bags for wreaths, cowboy vests, pirate hats, stuffed with newspaper for large bricks, woven for placemats, and on and on as far as an imagination can travel, these are the quintessential imagination enhancers and play exercisers. How do you raise creative, imaginative, innovative-thinking kids? Let them play. Put away the schedule for a while, and let them play.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

That Day, September 11, 2001.

Lessons Learned


It was a Tuesday morning and, at our Lutheran Elementary School, we were in chapel preparing our hearts for a precious time of worship. I was at the piano filling the sanctuary with familiar music, drawing us together. There was a calmness. A stillness. A blessed peace. The moment was unexpectedly punctuated by a teacher hurriedly striding up the center aisle toward the piano. His face reflected grave concern and his words to me just then scalded my heart and evoked deep, incredulous, and pained shock. The Twin Towers had been attacked. Attacked! His announcement at chapel was a call to prayer for our country, for families and children, and all involved and affected by this horrific tragedy.  We prayed and prayed and prayed and wept together and alone. The air in chapel was thick with fear, anxiety, disbelief, uncertainty, anger, sadness, and questions.  It was a very vulnerable and raw time with emotions fully exposed. Pilot parents. Flight attendant parents. NY family members. Traveling family members. Friends. Neighbors…. No one was untouched. No one was unscathed by the fires of this senseless, merciless, cowardly act of terrorism. We prayed some more, much more. Together we sought refuge and comfort and peace and hope under the mighty wings of the Almighty. Our Rock. Our Redeemer.  Our shelter in the storm. When life doesn’t make sense, He makes sense. When life’s promises are broken, His promises remain.  He is faithful. Our chapel that day was unlike any other chapel, for we truly, honestly needed to lay our very real, very gripping fears at the foot of the cross of the One who understands pain and will walk with us, carry us through life’s deepest darkest valleys. The chapel became even more that ever a haven of peace and comfort during the next several weeks as whole classes and individuals would come to be still and pray. 911 changed us all.  The why’s of it we will never understand. The heroism demonstrated we will never ever forget. The images of the moment will be indelibly etched into our hearts and souls. It was the day our nation wept as one.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How Do You Learn To Be A Teacher? By Witnessing Excellence.

Lessons Learned

Maybeth: A Life of Serving Others

In retirement, one is compelled to reflect on a career, on life, and on moments that shaped, defined, and solidified the commitment to and affirmation of a particular path or life trajectory. One is compelled to consider opportunities, open doors, and answered prayers that brought great confidence and great hope to each faith-filled step forward through the years. One is compelled to recall with excellent fondness the beautiful individuals whose gifted, gracious lives indelibly touched and deeply inspired one’s own  dreams and subsequently one’s own work. One such individual for me was Maybeth.  Maybeth was a member of the church I grew up in. She was a teacher whose amazing life tremendously influenced and inspired my teaching.  Maybeth was born in the late 1800’s. Her sharp, inquisitive mind and fierce commitment to learning propelled her to the top of her class each year in school. She went off to college where she studied to be a teacher. In college she met the love of her life and they were married soon after graduating. With great hopes and dreams and nothing but brilliant promise before them, they set out to share their gifts and touch the world. Within a year or two, however, her sweetheart and soul mate unexpectedly passed away. Devastation seared her heart ,and her shattered dreams lay shrouded in the black agony of deep excruciating loss.  How do you forge ahead, so young, alone? Maybeth chose to pour herself completely into her teaching, her students, and service to others around her.  She became the life-changing teacher that students never forgot. During the summers, Maybeth would travel to Taiwan and teach English to children in an orphanage. Every summer throughout her teaching career and then beyond. The children loved her and she loved them. When ultimately the day came that she could no longer make the trip to Taiwan, she chose to use her sewing machine to make clothes for the children at the orphanage. Every summer, she sent many large boxes of beautiful home-made clothing  stitched and packed with the greatest of love to the precious children who held her heart. She gave all she had to do all that she could and in so doing she brought infinite blessing to countless others, which in turn filled her heart with wonderful and immeasurable joy.  The inspiration of her passion has rippled for generations. Her life lived for others taught me.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

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

Lessons Learned: Guest Blogger- Grandpa A.

The One Room Schoolhouse

A journal is a daily record of events and observations that occur. My journal should have begun sometime around September 1, 1932 when I started first grade and I learned how to write or print.  My first grade teacher, Miss Carlson, at the Carl Von Linnea School, would not be pleased with the progress I made in writing if she were to read my writing today. That first year was a learning experience for me and my other 13 classmates. Most of the country school teachers had two years of college education, and in many cases, the teachers were not much older than some of the eighth grade students. I recall there were five in my first grade class. Four of the five graduated from college and one became an MD. The teacher taught all grades and all classes, taught music, drama, phy ed, supervised the cleaning, the heating, and was in charge of discipline. I don’t recall my problem, but I remember spending a good deal of time standing in the corner in the front of the classroom. We lived over three miles from school. One of the parents, Enoch Johnson, converted his car to a bus and transported those of us from the Minnesuing area to school.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

An Excruciating Recess

Lessons Learned

The Broken Arm

It was broken, of that there was no doubt. The bones in the lower arm were out of place and the pain of that must have been beyond excruciating.  Five minutes earlier, the first graders were all joyously and energetically swinging across the monkey-bars, laughing and cheering one another on. It was really a happy, sunny, very typical noon recess. Until the fall. Just a simple slip of the hand caused the fall onto a grassy spot, and it wasn’t even particularly high, but the landing was just right, or perhaps just wrong, to create the break. An audible collective gasp by the bystanding students, pierced by a heart-wrenching scream, followed by a low steady moan which was shrouded by an eerie playground silence, all occurred within seconds of time and perpetrated the evacuation of the playground, the call to 911, and a small circle of very focused and very concerned staff caregivers  positioned around the very brave first grader. “My brother,” the first grader whispered.  Within moments his big brother was delivered to the child’s side. Smiles, through the pain, were exchanged, and then began a faithful brotherly vigil that brought peace, comfort, security, and strength. A remarkable, beautiful demonstration of the power of family love.  Their eyes remained locked, the moaning ceased, and together they would fight through this. Very few, if any, words were shared. The peace was in the presence; the very familiar presence. Right there, right then, in the noontime breeze, on the playground grass, through intense and agonizing pain, a little but very brave first grader drew great, almost unimaginable strength and courage from the presence of his big brother, as together quite lost to the rest of us they awaited the sound of the siren and the arrival of the paramedics. The healing had begun.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

No "If Only's" Here.

Lessons Learned

Do What You Do.

If only I could do...  If only I could just be a bit more…  If only I was a little less… If only. If only. If only. These little whimsical pinings are harmless insofar as they are fleeting.  But often, these “if only’s” become rather more consuming and frequently crowd out the gratefulness and joy that should accompany our understanding of our own unique wiring and giftedness. No two individuals are, have ever been, or will ever be exactly alike. Each individual comes to this planet with a heart full of gifts, the combination of which is absolutely unique, hence priceless. Each individual is a true treasure. A gold mine.  A pearl of great price. A gift beyond measure.  As parents, teachers, coaches, directors, neighbors, friends, siblings, co-workers, do we acknowledge this? Do we celebrate this? Do we encourage one another down the path of pursuing one’s gifts, one’s passion, one’s heart? Or do we silence the song by exalting conformity and demanding its zeal-less lockstep? We’re simply not all meant to be the same. Is there room, is there time for us in our busy days, with our busy schedules, and our busy lives to discover the treasure that’s waiting to be shared in each and every precious heart? We must make time. We must. We absolutely must.  So that we will not one day look back with the heavy heart often associated with a retrospective glance, and lament, if only.
I set stories and feelings and academic content to music to help students learn, understand, and remember. It's what I do. It is my gift. It is my passion. And I am deeply thankful for every opportunity to share. What is your gift? Your passion? What stirs your soul with deep thankfulness every time you have an opportunity to share? Find this and you will find great treasure.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Yearning For Relational Strength And Balance In A Culture That Casts Us Apart

Lessons Learned

Make Time, Take Time For Each Other

Twenty four hours. This is an unchanging, unbending, unrecoverable daily allotment of time given to each of us as we awaken each day, and its expenditure is fully at the mercy of our choice-making.  Certain activities need to consume certain amounts of our time; eating, sleeping, attending school or going to work, walking the dog, brushing teeth, filling the car with gas, and so on, but there remains a good deal of negotiable time available for extraneous choices. How do you choose? Or is it easier not to choose, not to be deliberate, and instead allow the minutes and hours to fritter away, unapologetically in the daily complacency of extreme over-stimulation due to bombardment of busy-ness, infiltration of obsessive amounts of technology, and infinite choices? So we throw on our headphones and retreat to our screens where there is peace in isolation albeit unstoppable loneliness.  As a teacher, I hear a great deal about screen time as the time choice of choice.  My concern is that our children, our students, and we ourselves are abandoning our desperate longing for connection, relationship, and community in exchange for something much, much less.  We are too tired for the effort of connection, for it does require a sacrificial exertion of self to become engaged in any relational process.  And although we need it more than anything, we run from it because it demands and life simply already demands too much all day long.  Twenty four hours. It’s the same twenty four hours that our parents, and their parents, and generations upon generations upon generations of parents have had, because it never changes. The problem is, I am not sure that we are getting this right. We hurry and scurry frenetically  filling our minutes and hours with all they can possibly contain and then a bit more only to find ourselves in a puddle of ill-tempered exhaustion at the end of the day, preparing to buck up for tomorrow’s agenda of the same merry-go-round ride.  Jumping off the merry-go-round to enjoy a good book with your children in the shade of a backyard tree seems somehow robbed of its peace and pleasure by the burdensome guilt of jumping off what everyone else is managing to stay on. Somehow I know that we know the error of our ways with regards to our time and our choices, yet we remain willingly paralyzed and incompetent in our truthful effort to seek relational strength and balance with our time.  Our twenty four hours are, ever so graciously, new every day and in honor of this gift we must choose to be deliberate and teach our little ones to be deliberate, investing wisely in each other and experiencing the subsequent contentment. We desperately need to make time and take time for each other because we are wired to live connected to one another. We need each other.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

To Start Strong, Breathe. To Start Strong, Smile.

Lessons Learned

First Week Of School Lists: Overwhelming!

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.

Monday, August 18, 2014

To Make The World A Better Place, Love, Serve, And Care For Your Neighbor.

Lessons Learned

He Has RSV. Huh?

Twenty four hours. In the pediatric unit of a hospital. Any time spent here with your child for a reason other than visiting someone else is equivalent to eternity. RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, was the diagnosis for my nine month old. His breathing was raspy and labored and the discomfort his little body felt from this struggle left him so very restless and irritable. My heart ached watching him fight this insidious enemy as in his hospital crib he attempted to sleep tethered to wires and monitors. With permission, I lifted him from the foreign, strange-feeling crib and cradled him in my arms where rest and a bit of sleep more easily came.  All night long, I prayed over this angel in my arms, as the excellent but stretched-way-too-thin medical staff frantically ran from room to pediatric room tending monitors and needs. Between RSV and the Rotavirus, on that particular night during that particular year, every pediatric bed was filled, and sick, hospitalized children were filling beds in other units. Two children died.  Rocking and praying my son through the night, there was peace in our little room despite the overwhelming and overarching anxiety wrapped around a stay such as this. The hospital night in that pediatric unit was noisy with the cries of children whose bodies were in tremendous distress and I wept for them through the night as their painful, fearful cries went on. I asked our nurse why their parents were not allowed to hold these children to calm their little bodies? Their parents were not able to stay the night, for circumstances and reasons that demanded they not stay. These little ones cried and cried alone, and I cried wishing I had more arms and more time to hold and rock and pray over these other precious lives struggling with sickness.  Sometimes there simply is not enough time to do all that we need to do because life is busy and hard and full of choices that frequently leave you feeling that none of the options are really that wonderful. Perhaps this is the place where we need to step in for one another and fill in those gaps with our time. We all have hands and hearts and arms to hold and rock. We all have bits of time here and there that we could offer up to help. All we really need is a desire to do something about the cries filling the hallway. A desire to help, to serve, to care, to reach into someone else’s need, to lend our hands, our hearts, our prayers; this is all we need if we desire to be good neighbors. A long night at the hospital became a well-needed wake-up call. We need each other. We need to love more and care more. The world is crying.