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Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Classroom Community, A Caterpillar, And A Lesson In Love

Lessons Learned

A Lesson About Love

Becky brought in a large jar containing grass, a couple of sticks, and a furry, fat caterpillar. The lid of the jar had many small holes so “Fuzzy” could feel a little breeze. Right then, Fuzzy, with Becky’s approval, became our class pet. Very attentive babysitters kept an eye on Fuzzy from eight to three, Monday through Friday.  Evenings and weekends, although Fuzzy was on his own, he was never out of any of our thoughts. He was the recipient of pictures, poems, a song, and various decorations for him to look at just outside his jar. We loved him. One ordinary Monday morning everything had changed. He had disappeared into his own homemade chrysalis. So still. Kind of like a sleeping bag. How did he know how to do that? Is he lonely? We watched. And watched. We missed him. We waited. Before long, though, everything changed again. We arrived at school and Fuzzy was out of the chrysalis. He was a little bit wet and crumpled, but he was really trying to stretch and exercise in his new body. He couldn’t move very well in Becky’s jar. We had some very big decisions to make; we needed a class meeting outside with Fuzzy. What should we do? We sat in a circle in the grass with Becky holding Fuzzy in his jar. Keep him because he’s our pet, said someone. The jar is too small, said someone else. We can get a bigger jar. But he needs to fly. He can fly in a bigger jar if it’s a lot bigger. Fuzzy needs to fly in the trees and sky and play with his friends in the flowers, said Becky, that’s what he needs to do. Audible gasp, you mean let him out of the jar; let him go? He needs to go, continued Becky, he needs to be free. Becky was right, we all ultimately agreed. So right there in that circle on the grass, we each offered Fuzzy our best wishes, and thanked him for being an awesome pet. Then Becky opened the jar, set it on its side in the grass, and out Fuzzy crawled. We watched with silent smiles as he stretched and exercised his new wings. Within just a few minutes, Fuzzy jumped aboard a soft, sweet breeze and flew into an exciting new adventure. We waved goodbye. And we smiled. We loved him. We raised him. We set him free.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Compassion Is Learned In Community

Lessons Learned

Reaching Beyond Ourselves Into A Friend's Pain

They were the sixth graders. They were the top of the school. Top dogs. Big cheeses. Willing helpers. Proud leaders.  Many of the sixth graders had started at our school in Kindergarten and for years had watched the parade of awesome sixth graders  traverse the hallways with a tiny bit of an air of nobility swirling around them; a nobility swirl established within the delicate balance between privilege and responsibility. They had now arrived and honestly wore the mantel of “big deal” very well. They gently served the younger students, provided confident leadership at all-school gatherings, behaved respectfully, most of the time, and rightly earned the position of positive role-models. They worked hard, played hard, held one another accountable, and left no sixth grader out. Then came the test. Unexpectedly, Mike’s father died.  Loss and grief and anguish and questions flooded their broken hearts and cast a deep dark sadness over the sixth grade.  Mike stayed home for a few days. The rest of the sixth graders, his school family, prayed for Mike and his family and grappled with a suitable loving, compassionate response for Mike when he returned. “Why?” remained the tormenting though unanswered question which held their hearts in a vise-grip of hurt. How do you mend a broken heart, how do you stop every tear? Then came the phone call and the request.  Mike’s mother, in making funeral preparations, asked the sixth grade teachers if the students might be willing to sing their benediction at the funeral.  How do you say no? Notes went home. Each sixth grader was to discuss this with his or her family and decide independently of the other students whether or not to participate. Funerals are hard. Many students had had no experience with funerals, and the thought was more than a bit frightening and overwhelmingly sad. There would be no judgment or shame or guilt if anyone chose not to participate, as the choice was fully up to each family. Notes from families came back the very next day. A unanimous yes was the response.  Mike’s mother was called. Plans were made.  The sixth graders, in their best clothes, arrived at the funeral, and Mike smiled to see them.  This school family, this community of friends, wrapped the gift of their tender hearts and beautiful singing around their pain-filled friend and in the glances exchanged, said without words, in the most perfect compassionate response, “We love you.”

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Music Builds Community

Lessons Learned

Music Builds Community

Six languages in one first grade classroom.  Swedish. Greek. Japanese. Afganistan. Spanish. English.  Our hope was to teach them all to read.  Our priority was to build a community, to communicate, but the first few days of school made that priority seem quite remote and that hope nearly impossible.  We had no means by which to connect and our only apparent common ground right then was that we shared a classroom, a cold, lonely one at that. After lunch each day, we had a twenty minute window of time during which we played acoustic instrumental music, and the students were encouraged to either look at a picture book, quietly draw a picture, or simply relax and listen to the music. Surprisingly, most students opted to listen to the music. It was calm, soothing, peaceful, and biased toward no one language. Each mind processes music in its own language.  Perhaps music held a key. We wrote a song about counting to ten. We asked each student to count to ten in his or her primary language, which we phonetically wrote down.  We all learned how to count to ten in each of our class languages with great and enthusiastic help from each other. It was a spectacular song, made exponentially better by the robust participation and growing  esprit de corps of our classroom community.  By sharing a little piece of each other’s language, we were able to share a little piece of each other’s heart.  Our community grew. Our trust grew. Our learning grew. We became readers.  We became friends. We shared a song.

In Community, We Serve And We Care

Lessons Learned

A Neighborly Act Begins With Me Reaching Beyond Myself

The notice on the bulletin board at the apartment said blind-deaf student needing assistance with textbook transcription and basic daily life skill help, and on the bottom of the notice were several tear-off phone numbers. None had been taken. Someone out there needed help, but who was I to volunteer? I didn’t know anything about blindness, or deafness, much less both. What could I do? How could I possibly offer any help? I didn’t tear off a phone number either and proceeded to go about my day. It troubled me, though. A student needed some help, and I was hoping to be a teacher. I did have some time. I could probably learn.  I went back, took a phone number, and called. We met, I learned how to help, we became good friends, and my life was richly blessed from this great opportunity to serve. It is well known that those who serve are doubly blessed. A willing heart is all it takes to serve, and a willing heart can be of any age.  My elementary age students understand well about giving, sharing, and serving; it is built into our curriculum. Service leads to compassion. For our world to heal, our cities to heal, our families to heal, and our hearts to heal, we must deny the selfish eyes-on-me mentality and look outward recognizing the need all around, for in lifting another up our own heart is blessed. What can I do; I am just a mom, just a teacher, just a worker, just an ordinary neighbor, just a student. What can I do; I am just a kid. One person with a willing heart can do a lot. One person with a willing heart can change the world for another person.  Why is teaching and modeling this not a higher priority? Will higher test scores or greater compassion be more beneficial to the world?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Urban Community To Rural Community; The Need Remains.

Lessons Learned

Moving To The Country

We were city kids. We lived about twenty blocks from Lambeau Field, to be exact. We walked to school, biked around the block on  straight flat sidewalks, played kick-the-can with all of the tons of neighbor kids rambunctiously and delightfully swarming the area, regularly ran very profitable lemonade stands, and trick or treated and Christmas caroled door to door at a hundred very welcoming, close-at-hand doors. Then we moved. Twenty-five acres of rolling hills, wildlife-filled ravines, rows and rows of planted oats, alfalfa, and corn, endless sky with endless stars at night, and the sounds of farm animals going about their days. From paradise to paradise.  Urban to rural. Crowded, noisy and energized to spacious, still and free. Loved both worlds, but especially loved the new one. The gentle farmer across the road became our unknowing teacher of textbook-transcending lessons. In his faithful living, working, caring, patience, he shared the pure beauty of simplicity and selflessness. He never said much, but his living said it all. He and his dear wife never really officially invited us city-slicker kids to serve as slightly incompetent but ever so enthusiastically willing farmhands, yet every day in the summer to his farm we would race to offer our hands. And every day, his nod and his big smile said come on in. During those precious summers we learned about life and death, the passing of seasons, planting and reaping, making do, improvising, waiting expectantly, and countless life-impacting lessons as deep and rich as the good soil itself. Farming is a life of tremendous faith and unshakable optimism; the sun will return to warm and light the earth each morning, and spring, at the appointed time, will always awaken and emerge from under the silent blanket of winter. Under the wise farmer’s tutelage, these city kids became country kids.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Need For Community.

Lessons Learned

Time To Check In On The Neighbors

Life is fast. Activities are many. Involvements and commitments fill our calendars. Squeeze it in, pack it in, as much and as quickly as humanly possible. Often times far from families. Faster. Faster. Faster. Until in exhaustion from all of our running we realize that we have forgotten to breathe. Breathe. What are we running for? What are we running from? Can we really ever keep up with or catch up to the Jonses? What happened to chatting over the garden fence with the neighbors? Life happens in a neighborhood.  From walks around the block with strollers to training-wheel bicycles wobbily being ridden on the sidewalks, from trick or treating to selling wrapping for school, from borrowing a cup of sugar to sharing a bag full of tomatoes, from watching the house next door until the family returns from vacation to bringing over a meal when a tragedy has struck, from searching together for a lost dog to working together to drag out a fallen branch, from borrowing a cool sports car for prom to giving someone a ride to the hospital, life happens in a neighborhood. We need each other. We need to be connected. We need to belong. Children need this, we all need this. We can set a head-spinning pace and race with all we are worth to keep up with ourselves, but at the end of the day does the spoil outweigh the fatigue? What would it mean, what would it look like to occasionally jump off the merry-go-round and instead linger over the garden fence to catch up with the neighbors, to make a connection, to engage friendship?  The human heart was made to be in relationship and yet we run disengaged keeping our empty distance. Not so in our neighborhood. We made a different choice here.   Our neighborhood, although a hodge-podge collection of individuals in every way,  is modest and connected, generous and attentive, and together we laugh and share and grow up. Together we are stronger. Together we are better. Together we are blessed. Perhaps it is time to stop running and check on the neighbors.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Twenty-four Hours...

Lessons Learned

Twenty-four Hours

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? I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that those whom you love would see more of your time as a treasure beyond compare. Give them you. Your list can wait. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Coloring Outside The Lines...

Lessons Learned

Creativity In The Coloring Book

It was a Mary Poppins coloring book and the pages were all a very light green, which was extremely awesome because then one could freely use a white crayon. Everyone knows that a white crayon is the loneliest crayon in the box and rarely is selected as it cannot be seen on the usual white art and craft paper. The white crayon enjoyed a bold, frequent presence in my Mary Poppins pictures. My dad and I colored together a lot, for in his wonderful innovative creativity, he was an especially brilliant coloring accomplice. Rather than coloring in the lines, Dad used a black crayon to extend the pictures, and liberally added hats on heads, props in hands, hot air balloons in the sky, every sort of fish in the lakes, additional furniture in the Banks’ home, unexpected and delightful animals in the parks, vendors selling treasures on the sidewalks, and all kinds of excellent, wonderful, highly imaginative and creative fun. With his black crayon, my white crayon, and all of the colors in between, we smiled, laughed, and created masterpiece after masterpiece, all the while, narrating the stories of the pictures as we colored. From my earliest days, I fondly and vividly recall being encouraged to color outside the lines. This great gift of exercising and trusting creativity has joyfully served me and through my humble hands has reached hearts of students through thirty years of teaching.       

Numbers Numbers Numbers

Lessons Learned

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

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.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Black Eye...

Lessons Learned…

Children Are Children

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.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Diffusing, Deflating, Denying The Bully.

Lessons Learned…

The Gift

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.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The honesty of a child.

Lessons Learned

The Honesty Of A Child

It was a winter day and a bitterly cold one at that. Germs, viruses, and all sorts of sick bugs were swirling through the hallways of our school and every other school and mall and grocery store far and near. Although cough drops, tissues, diligent hand washing, lots of water and extra vitamin C were the order of each day, despite our collective best efforts to ward off the germ attack, we were indeed stricken. Substitute teachers were fearlessly answering the 6AM phone calls and keeping very busy in the classrooms of teachers whose tired immune systems fell victim to virulent bugs ruthlessly on the rampage. Hanging on to health with extra early bedtimes, UnderArmour as every day wear, lots of hot tea with honey, and some good cold weather genes from the Swedish side of the family, I was feeling very thankful. Then the cold sore appeared. There is nothing discrete about a cold sore, and no matter how carefully or artfully one tries to conceal its presence, to not notice a cold sore is to simply be polite at best.  The Emperor’s New Clothes comes to mind as we attempt to ignore someone’s cold sore. We cast our eyes in another direction, continue our conversations, and tiptoe around the elephant in the living room or on our face.  I thought the concealer covered by two shades of cleverly applied lipstick had done the trick and apparently my four consecutive classes of older students felt the same way, but then came the kindergartnersKindergartners are just plain honest. They suffer from no need for political correctness nor do they weigh their words to manipulate toward their agendas, they simply see something and then say something, unfiltered. Beautiful really, their honesty, which delightfully narrates life as it flashes before them.  They came into class, sat in their places, and immediately a hand shot up which was completely typical as kindergartners are always full of stories of pets, or teeth, or new shoes, or any lovely random but important topic in the moment.  Yes, Ryan, do you have something to share? What is that thing on your face? There it was. The truthful question. No malice or humiliation intended at all. Something wasn’t right and his inquisitive heart desired an answer. It’s a cold sore. Oh, do you get that when you have a cold? Maybe. Does it hurt? Not really. Okay.  And then we were on to our next task.  Curiosity satisfied. When do we lose that? When do we learn to become so very careful and calculated with our words that we forego ever really saying what we mean or truly expressing how we feel? And why? Sometimes honesty may sting for a moment, but then it’s done and the air is cleared.  Children have this right, but then somewhere along the way they learn to artfully conceal; we all do. We all become the townsfolk who line the street as the emperor begins his walk.  If you were the emperor would you appreciate the honesty of the child?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Back Story Of The Song "L-O-V-E"

Lessons Learned…

The UW Madison University Hospital School

In the midst of IV’s, hospital gowns, doctors, nurses, therapists, and colorful artwork on the walls, there was a school right there in that enormous pediatric unit. Student-patients came faithfully to the hospital  classroom every chance they had because keeping up with homework kept each one thinking forward to the glorious reunion with friends and teachers and coaches in the hometown schools they each longed for.  Having health and strength to attend school and participate each day in every part of school was indeed the hopeful dream of these student- patients.  A hopeful dream not recognized at all as such by those students who have never had to study and learn in the hospital school.  It’s so easy to take for granted things that are easy and good and ours, but things can change as the wind blows. Change, expected or unexpected, often serves to bring perspective.  These dear, brave student-patients longed for school. One particular day, I was asked to do bedside tutoring with a student-patient who wouldn’t come to the school; everything hurt and everything was wrong.  She didn’t want to talk, so we just sat that day and for the next few, as well. Homework was pointless, she asserted. Okay. Interested in singing? I ventured the suggestion without making eye contact. Stupid. Too loud. Silent sitting resumed. The next day, I offered, singing in sign language because it wouldn’t make any noise. With a combination of incredulity and hilarity and contempt, our first eye contact occurred. What? Come on, it will be fun, and I wrote this song for you. L-O-V-E, love is special, a song just for her. It worked. She loved it. We learned it and continued to sing it silently on my every visit to her room. When she got tired of singing it, she let me help her with homework.  Eventually, she agreed to come to the hospital school only to help me teach her song to the other student-patients. She thought it would make them happy and she was pretty certain I couldn’t teach it as well as she could. She was absolutely right.
She taught me about courage and honesty and perspective and connection and love and joy even in the pain. My song for her is one I have shared every Valentine’s Day since then with the students in my own classroom. Should you desire to share this song with your children, grandchildren, or students, LOVE can be found at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store, called "Arts Infusion Collaborative," for which there is a link on the top right side of my blog. Blessings to you and Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

What to do with six more weeks of winter weather...

Lessons Learned

On The Toboggan

Out the back door of our home in the country was a gigantic hill covered with trees, bushes, and berries of various sorts, and wandering circuitously through them all were paths, some secret and some not as secret. These paths were the routes to countless adventures upon which the children, grandchildren, Labrador Retrievers, and other friends would meanderingly rove throughout all four very distinct seasons of the year. But one particular path contained no winds or bends; it was stick straight. It was the fastest way to the bottom of the hill, and it was the winter season’s path of choice among the crowd of adventurers. It was the toboggan run, this path that was carved straight down through the trees. Upon this path, upon the toboggan, the riding team could quickly gain enough speed to send the forested world whizzing past in a white and chilly blur of excitement. With dogs frolicking and barking, pig-tails and snow wildly flying, raucous laughter rippling among the woods, and several evel knievel cousin toboggan drivers taking turns at the helm, time danced away on the wintery breeze for these rosy-cheeked adventurers on the back of the toboggan. Once through the trees that hugged the steep, straight path, the toboggan would burst out full-steam into the vast open field that rolled in gentle downward waves across twenty acres.  Hanging on to each other  fiercely yet hilariously with woolen-mitted hands, carefully keeping all appendages tucked safely and streamliningly onboard, the esprit-de-corps riders enthusiastically chased the previous riders’ path hoping beyond hope to exceed their distance record. Then together, with all woolly hands on the rope, the rider team, knee deep or more in snow, would lug the beloved toboggan back to the hilltop for another greatly anticipated run by another anxiously awaiting rider team.  Over and over and over and over again we learned to play, to share, to help, to be on a team, to love the outdoors, to take turns and be glad for each other, to drive, to ride, and that laughter and cousins and winter are another perfect recipe for awesomeness.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Lessons Learned


Self-esteem, most simply said, refers to how one feels about one’s self. Inside. Do you feel valued? Do you feel affirmed in the unique gifts you possess? Have you been encouraged? Do you feel empowered to exercise your gifts and humbly share what you’ve been given? Positive self-esteem should lead one to a genuine confidence and security, clad in humility, which propels one to try new things, learn new things, and be willing to tackle a challenge. Classrooms, homes, and workplaces should be absolutely filled with behaviors and interactions that lead to this. There’s a contentedness and a quiet strength that emanate from true positive self-esteem; a peace deep down inside. It feels wonderful because it’s right. It costs nothing but the price of caring.  Mistakenly, however, we have come to view overly inflated egos and arrogance as positive self-esteem, and this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Swollen egos and showboat arrogance come from a shallow and insecure place that covers itself in the glory of the spotlight, the deafening roar of the applause, and struts pompously around energized by a regular diet of superlative after superlative after superlative. In this false “awesomeness” everyone clamors for a piece of you because of what you do or what you have or anything else external to whom you really deeply are inside. Everyone clamors for the image of you because by being close to you others can ride on the wave of your very important image and feel very important, too.  But it’s empty. It’s not substantive. And when you are no longer the best, when you are no longer the star, you will be discarded, passed over and forgotten by the fickle wave-riders and camera flashers.  Empty. Hollow. Broken. Sad. The end result of the joy ride of huge egos and shameless arrogance is the antithesis of a positive self-esteem. You have not been valued, you have been used. True, real and right positive self-esteem development values the uniqueness of you, gently challenges you to develop your gifts to chase your dreams, courageously holds you accountable to continuously aspiring without compromising or settling, and quietly speaks affirmation to your heart through meaningful words that encourage who you are which in turn inspire you to become all that you can be.  To truly foster positive self-esteem development in someone, you must know that individual well, be willing to invest time, and deeply care about what matters to him or her.  With a positive self-esteem, a child, or anyone for that matter, can and will soar.