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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.