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Thursday, May 29, 2014

On Retiring

Lessons Learned

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Reflection informs anticipation. The past informs the future.  Memory informs expectations.  And all of these have significant bearing on one’s perception of today. Thirty years as a teacher will in two days be boxed up and passed on to the next one who very soon will fill my classroom with new dreams, excitement, hopes, and strategies to inspire learning for all children. How does one begin to process the width, the depth, breadth, the height, the gravity, the magnitude, and the overwhelming relational experience of thirty years in the classroom? From the highest pinnacle of elation to the deepest depths of despair and every conceivable tint and shade of every hue of every emotion in between, this is the gamut of feelings regularly traversed by a teacher through the years alongside thousands and thousands of students and their families, colleagues, administrators, and school support staff, community helpers and neighbors as together life is lived and journeys are shared. It consumes you in the most excellent way for you ceaselessly and willingly pour yourself and all that you know and understand and are into making a positive difference in the lives you are given to touch. It is beyond humbling to comprehend the trust, the vulnerability and the belief parents offer you as they bring the treasures of their heart, their children, to your classroom. They bring you the best they have, having done the best they can hoping their little ones will thrive and grow and aspire and achieve under your gentle yet firm, inspiring and challenging tutelage. The responsibility of teaching is honestly staggering and the full acknowledgement of that truth is an ever-present lens through which you view and engage the everyday goings-on in the classroom.  Teaching is without a doubt, an epic job with layers and layers of life intertwined with ripples of the shared experiences rolling out for years and years to come. I have loved teaching as I love life, and despite my flaws and weaknesses I have given my best and my all to what I believe matters infinitely much; that being inspiring, encouraging, protecting, leading, caring for, and believing in the children. In reflecting on a career I have loved, I joyfully anticipate the next chapter of service to others, for all that I have learned through all who have been entrusted to my care will most assuredly lead to countless more collaborative journeys.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Vulnerability Of Creativity

Lessons Learned

To Dwell In Creativity

A creative spirit frequently lives in a lonely place. Not bad lonely, just slightly misunderstood lonely. To create, one needs to be comfortable with vulnerability, and if not completely comfortable with vulnerability, then at least aware of the weight of this demand. To create, one needs to imagine possibility and unexpected connection and to do this one needs to drop the wall of fear that neatly and typically holds us captive and safe within our prescribed conventions and protocols. Dropping the wall of fear to see beyond it, is terrifyingly and exhilaratingly vulnerable. A willingness to live there is risky, but it is the only place for a creative spirit to feel the freedom necessary to dream and imagine. Creativity flows like a faucet through the imagination of the one who seeks to see a new connection or hear a new combination of sounds, but living in this refreshing flow is inefficient and immeasurable, whereby rendering it inconsistent with the standard rhythm of life which is much more lock-step and non-threateningly predictable. So in choosing to be a creative spirit, one is choosing to be different, and different is vulnerable and can be lonely.  The process of creating is extremely intense and focused, yet at the same time wildly invigorating. In the process of creating, one hears and sees through the heart of imagination in response to an idea or thought and then captures that idea in a new way through any of an infinite variety of creative vehicles. My choice is music, and it has been since I was a child. Unexplainable as it is, other than to say it is a gift, creating music fills my soul and gives voice to the emotion wrapped around an idea, a thought, a situation, or a chapter in a life story. Inspiration for the creative process can occur at most any time and it compels the creative spirit to engage; convenient timing or not is rather inconsequential. From the moment of engagement, out pours the creativity unrestrained.  When at last the creative piece is complete, there is a frozen moment of awe, when for the very first time the one who has dreamed and created views in actuality what previously had existed only in the heart of imagination. Breathtaking. Perfect. Thoroughly and absolutely unique. This precious moment of awe is a very vulnerable place where no judgment or critique is ever welcome and only the gentlest of viewers are allowed.  The creative spirit is strong of heart and faith and optimism, but in this moment of awe, the creative spirit is indeed fragile. If you are ever invited into this moment with a creative spirit, accept it as the true gift it is, offer nothing but your stillness, and allow the awe to bless your heart.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

No Family Is Perfect, But Love Is Perfect.

Lessons Learned

Love Is Perfect

Jack’s father never showed up to introduce himself. Jack’s mother was killed by a drunk driver when Jack was four. Jack was an only child. But Jack was not alone because Gramma moved in with her suitcase full of love and filled their home, their upstairs flat, with optimism and joy. Although their pile of worldly treasure could have been contained in a child’s shoebox, their heart-treasure was an ever-overflowing cup. Strong. Confident. Proud. Family. There is no perfect number for a family. There is no perfect family. But love is perfect, and my first graders in Jack’s class informed me of that. A family is a circle of love where your hand is held, your face will be kissed, where your dreams can safely swirl, and where, wrapped up in a hug, you can freely spill your tears unjudged upon a Corinthian thirteen shoulder. The need to be loved, to be heard, to be seen, to belong is desperately, life-changingly great and demands a free gift of the heart which is in the full possession of each of us. Nothing fancy. Just something selfless. Within the circle of a family, between the interlaced fingers, flow the faithful , endless prayers of each one for each other.  The bonds of love are infinitely strong across the miles, across the years, and provide deep connection and peace that fully transcend our foibles, imperfections, and errors. We love. In family reunion, at graduations and weddings, at sporting events and concerts, at awards ceremonies and celebratory dinners we lay aside our busy bustling routines and race to be together, to draw close together in a strong circle to remember the joy, the peace, the strength, the promise, the uniqueness, the comfort, the hope, the blessing, the perfect love that is family.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

He Taught Me...How Blind Eyes See

Lessons Learned


There were so many things I had wondered about blindness and deafness, and not simply the sterile, scientific, factual ramifications, symptoms, or causes of these particular special needs, for infinite pages of information about and research concerning blindness and deafness were readily available; undoubtedly enough material to support a lifetime of articles to be written. No, I wondered about the feelings associated with the everyday, ordinary, walking-through-life experience of being blind and/or being deaf.  Was the silent, dark world sad or lonely or scary? Do you imagine sounds? What would you imagine spring to sound like? In your imagination, do you see pictures? Colors? My dear blind-deaf friend, who taught me more than most of my college textbooks, welcomed these sorts of questions driven by curiosity and an earnest desire to understand and be sensitive. He frequently chuckled at the endless stream of questions that I would clumsily fingerspell into his hand.  He was pursuing a PhD in Computer Science and was the first true genius I had ever met. One day, in the midst of transcribing a textbook to braille, which was always an excellent time for listening to him explain his thoughts, ideas, and feelings, I asked my friend, “What is your favorite color?” His instantaneous response was, “Green.” There was not a moment’s thought. There was no pensive pause for contemplation. Just an automatic, “Green.” He had obviously considered this before and confidently trumpeted his answer. How? and why? were my knee-jerk responses. His beautiful response was one I will never forget.  He smiled as his soft, clear voice replied, “I know that green is the color of living things. Living things are hopeful and fresh and lovely. Because of that knowledge, I am certain that green is a color that I would love.”  There was always something ever-optimistic, ever-hopeful, and ever-believing about my most amazing friend. In his silent, dark world, he ceaselessly pursued learning, service to others, and joy. In his silent, dark world, he chose possibility and promise and fully discarded self-pity and self-doubt. He believed. He knew hope. He trusted in the goodness of those around him and generously gave of the greatness that was in him. In his silent, dark world, he heard life’s music and saw the light. He taught me.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Build Bridges Of Collaboration And Watch Cities Grow Stronger And More Kind

Lessons Learned

Celebrate Your Hometown

Forbes Magazine has more than once listed Rockford as being among the most violent cities in America in addition to other equally unflattering distinctions. But to us it’s home. It may not be perfect but there is a tremendous lot of good here, and it is all of this good that we focused on when we wrote a musical play about Rockford’s story. We engaged the support and participation of more than 20 local organizations as we planned this project known as “Hometown History.” It became a grand celebration of Rockford’s story, our shared story, for which our Mayor issued a proclamation. We raised money so that all District 205  3rd graders could be transported to the stunning Coronado Theater to see and hear our shared story free of charge. The entire event felt like a huge hug for our city and certainly served as a step toward building bridges of hope and trust between neighbors. This big, affirming collaborative event received a Mayor's Arts Award for Cultural Event of the Year, and that is a credit to all of the countless  neighbors with willing hands who gathered their hearts and raised their voices in a resounding “Yes” to our city. This event was not a one shot deal, however; for there will be more and more until the bridges of collaboration and hope and trust out-number the walls of fear and despair that divide and isolate us and cause us to concede to Forbes. What do they know? They see numbers, we see neighbors.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Gift No One Asks For But Everyone Wants

Lessons Learned

Always In Season

Bridges connect east to west, uptown to downtown, north to south, city to city, and because of these bridges, we can easily cross one side to the other.  This is significant. Our cities today are under siege from a desperation, a loneliness, a despair that originates in hopelessness and chronic dysfunction and culminates in a fear-wrapped paralysis that can no longer see possibility. Our families today are under siege from a materialistic world that paints a spectacular mirage of how successful life ought to look, despite the fact that the closer one steps toward that lie, the more one horrifically realizes that it is not there.  So the pace is quickened, the dial on the treadmill is turned exponentially up, blinders are donned in hopes that faster and more focused can conjure OZ. It cannot. We wallow in the frustration of our delusion and live angrily because what the world tells us we want, we cannot have. Our schools today are under siege from a bureaucratic system so heavily laden with infinite, infernal paperwork, that the attempted fulfillment of our metrics obsession which is theoretically designed to enhance individualized instruction, does in fact consume an inordinate amount of prime, meaningful, relational, teachable time, leaving our students more stressed with little to no academic gain.  Our lives are under siege so we build walls and live alone. We give up.  We strike out at those around us and weep quietly in the darkness.  This is all wrong. Our lives are designed to be lived relationally, in community, sharing hearts and gifts and hope one life to another. Our hands are designed for reaching and helping not hoarding and hiding. We need each other. We need more bridges. Bridges to connect east to west, uptown to downtown, north to south, heart to heart in our cities, our families, our schools, and every aspect of our lives. Within our mirrored walls we see only ourselves and, truth be told, we do not like what we see. It’s selfish. We need us. We need bridges. We need to look out, reach out, for then we will find out that in serving and caring and connecting, we ourselves are blessed. We all fully know that a far deeper satisfaction is felt in giving a gift than in receiving a gift. The thing is, each life is packed with gifts, heart gifts that cost nothing to give yet mean everything to receive. The gifts of time, of compassion, of gentleness, of listening, of smiling, of helping, of patience, of generosity, of forgiveness, of willingness, of mercy; these gifts and so many like them cost little to nothing but have the strength and power to change a life, to balm a wound, to heal a pain, to offer hope. These gifts are bridges, the bridges needed by our cities, our families, our schools, and by all of us. As giving a gift is always in season, perhaps this season we need to consider the gift of a bridge.