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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Birthday Check

Lessons Learned

The Birthday Check

“What would you like for your birthday, Honey?”
“There isn’t anything I need, but how about if we give a check in the amount of my age to The Salvation Army for my birthday? We could call them and make an appointment to share the gift and the story of the birthday check with them.”

Agreed. Perfect. Sealed with a hug and a kiss. Sixty-one years of love and marriage perpetually brought this precious couple to a very familiar place of selflessness, compassion, and generosity. Eighty-five years meant eighty-five dollars, and just imagine all who would be blessed and served by that! With shared smiles and heartwarming joy, Grandma and Grandpa excitedly made the call and secured the appointment for the very next day, Grandpa’s 85th birthday. Dawn December 5th arrived rosy and frosty with all of the salubrious birthday pomp and circumstance necessary to adequately proclaim 85 beautiful years of life and living. Songs, and gifts, and cards, and cake, and a family parade up the stairs in jammies, bathrobes, and slippers all contributed to the lovely, delightful morning birthday rumpus! Breakfast in bed, calls from family and friends far away, and giggles from the crazy re-lighting birthday candles launched the perfect birthday. Peals of gleeful laughter and frolic frequently, gracefully melt into sweet pools of memories and recollections of previous similar birthday shenanigans, and this wonderful day was no different. Joy emerged from the memories. Love swelled in the reminiscing. Life shared with family is the richest and most priceless treasure on earth. Gifts and giving are curious, lovely things and today was going to be new. It was now time to prepare for the appointment.  Grandma and Grandpa traveled to local The Salvation Army facility with the birthday check in hand.  Grandpa, walking with his cane, and Grandma, holding his arm, ventured into the building and were immediately greeted by the  Director and his wife who were anxiously awaiting the arrival of this wonderful birthday chap and his wife. They exchanged warm hellos and proceeded into his cozy office where they sat together and unhurriedly shared stories and smiles.  It had been a tough year for The Salvation Army and spirits were a bit discouraged, until Grandma and Grandpa called about the birthday check.  Their gift was an affirmation and a blessing that came in a moment of need bringing hope and promise.  Together they shared a magnificent and significant time, and as the appointment drew to a close, they joined hands and prayed with very thankful hearts.  This birthday gift given with the sole intent of blessing those in need, indeed, deeply blessed and enriched them all.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Learning That Changes Lives

Lessons Learned

I’ll Remember

Thirty years in public and private classrooms and I am here to assure you that many of the most significant, most powerful and life-changing lessons at school occur outside the narrow, lock-step lines of the common core in a nebulous, necessary place where relationships, affective learning, and meaningful connections dwell. Where the common core seeks to throw each one on the pan balance of you versus the standard expectation, this “other place,”  by offering each one a mirror, invites each one to look deeply inside and construct a bridge from old understanding to new. As bridge builders, we are challenged to engage in our learning rather than simply being a repository for information. This “other place” is one where we encounter and grapple with friendship, courage, creativity, compassion, bullying, aspirations, inspiration, despair, grief, hope, possibility, the “why’s,” the “but you don’t understand’s,” tenacity, boldness, fear, loss, and every other such thing as is simply synonymous with being human. We stand together in this “other place,”  no one better, no one worse, just everyone trying and in the process, building bridges.  One particular year, somewhere between a spelling test and a new math unit, we encountered death. Our beloved janitor passed away. This jolted our school world, this world we shared each day. His unrelenting kindness touched us all.  Keeping the hallways neat as a tac, he moved from one fixing task to the next while always maintaining a vigilant protective watchful eye as might a soldier posted on the wall to guard those within. Gone.  And in his absence we somehow felt insecure and alone. His wife called and wondered if the students, who all meant so much to him, would be willing to sing at his memorial service. Of course! was the unanimous decision.  With all of our hearts, with full strong voices, with great love, and a few small tears, we shared the gift of music with his wife, his family, and all who loved him. That memorial service changed us all; it bonded us. It built a bridge between our hearts and all who attended the service. It was absolutely an “other place” of learning, lightyears away from the common core,  but elbow to elbow with life and significance and meaningfulness.
Find here 2 links to a TeacherPayTeacher store where you will find the song written about this experience, a children’s song called “I’ll Remember:” 1 link for simple sheet music and 1 link for an mp4 file with lyrics for singing along:

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

New Year, New Chance; Right?

Lessons Learned

Time To Begin Again

Fall. A new school year. Within the first few days of school one particular year, a young student very innocently, very sincerely posed undoubtedly the most compelling question of all when he asked, “Can I change?”  Wondering if he was seeking permission or questioning possibility, the teacher probed, “What do you mean?”  The student, who carried, along with his new backpack, a red-flag reputation in teacher-talk, proceeded to spill his heart through the story he shared about his school experience so far. Not a good listener. A little disrespectful.  Frequently yelled at. In the lowest groups. Probably a trouble-maker.  Never invited to a birthday party. School was stupid. Mom told him he needed to change, and he needed to change now, because things were not going to ever get better if he didn’t.  Can I change? Do I have the strength and courage necessary to turn this behavior boat around?  Even if I can, can others accept this new me and change their expectations and opinions of me? If their perceptions are cast in stone and unchangeable, why should I even try to be different than the bad boy they expect? This was a tremendous amount of significant contemplating for a young mind to be processing during those early days in a school  year when most were struggling to line up in the proper order  and to recall their locker numbers. The teacher, realizing that questions of this sort which come right from the deepest chambers of a student’s heart, felt overwhelmingly humbled to be entrusted with this huge amount of vulnerability.  The student’s  eyes were wide, trusting, and demanding. This answer was to be as important as the question in terms of behavioral trajectory.  With focused eye-contact , tender vocal tone, and unmistakable belief, the teacher  promised that precious little boy that each year was a new year, that each day was a new day, and each one was a new opportunity to begin again with a clean slate. We all make mistakes and bad choices for which we are not proud, but apologies, grace and forgiveness are powerfully strong.  It’s never too late to turn around. It’s never too late to make a new and better choice.  Now is the time. Start now. This is how we learn, and this is how we grow. “Yes, you can change,” said the teacher.  “This is going to be a good year,” smiled the boy. And it was.

Monday, August 3, 2015

What Are You Teaching Today?

Lessons Learned

The Lesson of Green

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.

Who am I teaching today and what? How about you?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Elusive Patience

Lessons Learned


Who’s in the waiting room at the doctor’s office? Patients.  What does it take to wait for something? Patience. How do you learn to be patient? By waiting. That being said, what is a character quality dangerously close to becoming extinct in today’s society? Patience. Why, in a world where we strive to have it all, does this patience quality remain so desperately elusive? Why are we so unapologetically and unflatteringly  impatient? Tragically, we’ve handily passed this immaturity on to our children and its obnoxious effects run rampant through classrooms, summer camps, athletic teams, and most gatherings. Impatience has become the MO when we disagree, when we feel inconvenienced, when we’ve been embarrassed, when we do not know what else to do with our frustration, when we do not get what we want when we want it; impatience has become our temper tantrum and it’s driven by insecurity and selfishness. Impatience drives up blood pressure, destroys relationships, looks foolish, and demonstrates a gross lack of self-control. Why do we so automatically choose this impatience over and over and over again? I simply do not understand this.  I am a teacher, a mother, a wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend, and through these valued relationships I have never found impatience to be an effective means by which to teach, learn, listen, give, care, or share.  Impatience de-values. Impatience degrades. Impatience decides that I am more important than you. Sad. That is just tremendously sad. That anyone would choose I, me, and my above you or we truly reflects the empty, lonely heart that prefers walls to bridges.  We can turn this Titanic around, however, but not without a willingness to wait, to listen, to forgo the last word, to surrender first place, to lay down my will, and to deliberately choose calmness, the greater good, the dream of someone else, a quiet voice, a gentle answer, peace. We can do this. We can teach this to our children. We can be patient. And by practicing patience, we will heal our hearts, heal our relationships, and heal our land.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Snowboarding In July? In Illinois?

Lessons Learned

The Improbability, The Impracticality, and The Impossibility of Creativity

To say yes, or to say no, that is the question. I challenge you, over the course of one day, to count the number of times you say yes to your children and also the number of times you say no. Then examine your heart to determine your reason for saying each. Which is easier to say? And is it easier because it requires less of your effort or your time ultimately? If your choice is based on which is easier for you, well then maybe that’s simply not good enough. It’s not practical. It’s not really even possible. It can’t possibly work. It may not even be very safe. A prerequisite for creativity, for discovery, for innovation, for learning, growing, understanding, wisdom, or even wondering is certainly not necessarily safety. These things are all quite risky and often involve stepping out of the safety box; the boring, predictable box of status quo. Well, on numerous occasions through the course of many years raising my 3 boys the yes or no issue cropped up, and this particular day was rather typical…
 It was an ordinary July morning about to become an extraordinary one as well as an indelibly etched memory simply because of the word “yes,” which is creativity’s favorite word. In a world of “no’s,” where everyone has a reason why not, why you shouldn’t or can’t, why it’s ridiculous or a great waste of time, or what would clearly be better, which is all about those who are the naysayers and how their ideas trump anything thing else on the table, the brave, small voice of yes fiercely fights to stand firm and hold open the door of possibility. Nothing crushes the possibility or the actuality of creativity more completely than a no face, a no spirit, or a no personality, yet no is easiest answer, because, like a hot knife through butter, it cuts off the inefficiency and messiness associated with creativity and keeps us all neatly in lock-step, robotic and only superficially engaged. Once you say yes, the lid of Pandora’s box flies to the wind and time is caught up in the swirling wonder of imagination; a place of play and a place of seeing things differently.  This is a precious place where joy and innovation collide and burst together into a splash of technicolor brilliance. It was pouring with rain this hot July morning, and it had been pouring with rain on and off over a number of days in a row. Inside activities, experiments, and projects were ongoing in every corner, when one of my sons casually presented the genuine wish of his heart in that moment, “I really would like to go snowboarding today.” In the nanosecond subsequent to the proclaimed wish, my mind raced between yes and no, why and why not, practical or impractical, possible or impossible, ridiculous or exhilarating, and I attempted to buy a pinch of time with the obvious  question,  where could we go in July? As if the entire seemingly problematic gap between winter and summer had been fully scrutinized and mentally bridged, hence resolved, prior to the question, the response was simply and immediately, mud is as slippery as snow. Hmmm. Of course.  So with the yes door flung wide open, we loaded the board in the car and set out in the pouring rain to find steep enough muddy hills adequately suitable for mud-boarding. The perfect hill was discovered.  He was absolutely right about mud being slippery as snow.  Run after run after run with increasing laughter, increasing rain soaked mud caked clothes, and increasing competence on the mud slope, my son lived his July wish. Joy. Test and full affirmation of what to some no faces might have seemed a ridiculous impractical impossibility. An idea dreamed, an idea tried, a wish fulfilled. All because of yes.  Every yes most certainly builds significant confidence toward the next new idea, which is exactly the place where creativity loves to dwell. Are there enough yes’s at school? Are there enough yes’s at home? Are we wearing yes faces enough so that this next generation of dreamers can imagine, then plan, then build an exciting and hopeful future?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Read To Us, Mommy.

Lessons Learned

Read To Us, Mommy.

Three little boys.  Three busy, inquisitive, active, always-cooking-up-something-very-exciting boys. It was summer and there was endless playing to do and countless adventures to be had. Experiments, inventions, and explorations  all regularly occurred as a direct result of treasures unearthed at garage sales, on winding bike paths, in the garden, the sandbox, the kitchen, and jumping from the pages of books.  Free, imaginative, creative, unstructured play ruled our days, recharged our hearts, and engaged the most important kinds of thinking.  Running, flying, launching, constructing, splashing, connecting, shoveling, climbing, swinging, shrieking, catapulting, and every other conceivable action verb propelled us through delightful escapades. And when exhaustion from an overabundance of enacted verbs overtook us, rest in the form of this consistent  request always followed; read to us, Mommy.  Together, we left our overheating flip-flops at the door and snuggled on the couch with a big stack of books. One very rainy June we even pitched a tent on the porch and read our daily pile of books in there.  Ten books per boy each week from the library as well as shelves full of gift books, garage sale books, homemade books, and old family books kept our literary repertoire full and fresh. For hours we’d play. For hours we’d read. Hours upon hours upon hours upon hours.  We stretched out attention spans and grew our imaginations as we listened to story after story and chapter after chapter.  From Fox in Socks to Stone Fox,   and everything in between, we laughed, we cried, and we adventured.  When we were too tired to run one more obstacle course, or to chase one more catapulted and floating parachuter, or to climb one more time to the top of the swing set, we were not too tired to be read to. Precious, beautiful, important time, reading together.  Priceless treasure. And now my boys are grown.  We all still love to lose ourselves in the pages of a great book.  What are you doing this summer in between activities and action verbs? With all my heart, I hope that you are gathering a stack of books and convening with your kids on the couch or in a porch tent to read together, whereby investing in priceless treasure. Read to us, Mommy, is a powerful, precious thing to hear.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Happy Father's Day 2015. Thank You So Much, Dad.

Lessons Learned

Coloring Outside the Lines

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.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Gift Of a GREAT Teacher

Lessons Learned

The Best Piano Teacher

She had a stunning reputation for excellence. Unquestionably, in a very wide geographical radius, she was the best of the best. She was the Head of Piano at the local liberal arts college, and every music student there was indelibly enriched to pass through her brilliant tutelage enroute to his or her degree. She could be handed a pencil-scribbled accompaniment manuscript on opening night, and, in the shadows of the dimly lit orchestra pit, she could carry the entire cast of performers through the show magnificently without a single glitch. Her excellence was their confidence. She could play anything. To me, she was magic. As a high school freshman, I was handed many scores of very difficult music in preparation for accompanying several of the high school choirs, as well as vocal and instrumental soloists. As incompetent as I felt, I knew that in lugging this bag of music to her home for weekly piano lessons, there was hope for me as long as a little of her magic could rub off. Through the weeks and months, she taught, she played, she explained, she modeled, she mentored, she tutored, and she led me by the hand through this treacherous bag of music. Unrelenting, we worked note by note and phrase by phrase without any doubt that this all would be fully accomplished in the necessary timetable. I had my doubts, actually, but she never did. She believed. She encouraged. She ran alongside. She made me believe, too. The concerts and performances freshman year were accomplished beautifully and with significant relief on the part of the young accompanist. The sophomore, junior, and senior years flew by with increasingly challenging and greater volumes of music, but with this precious tremendous piano teacher leading the way, no musical challenge was insurmountable. We worked, oh how we worked! She informed me that “impossible” was not an adjective, it was a choice; a choice to surrender. And no student of hers would surrender. Handel’s “Messiah.” Beethoven’s “Halleluiah Chorus” from the Mount of Olives. Books full of vocal solos by Haydn. Trumpet solos by Vivaldi. “Mass” by Leonard Bernstein. Gilbert and Sullivan. Rodgers and Hammerstein. Lerner and Loewe.  Scores spanning the centuries were dissected and reassembled in her living room as this very active learning process surely kept every single neuron firing. Side by side we worked. Side by side I learned every drop of musical understanding I could from her. Infinitely blessed was my life through her gifts and her time. Changed forever was my life because of her tireless pouring of musical passion into my heart. How does one begin to quantify or even explain this sort of teaching excellence? Genius? Yes, I believe she was a genius. She was a genius who felt music with every one of her senses and exuded its fire and glory through her every pore. We corresponded for many years after I went off to college and on into a career in teaching and the creative arts. She remained a strong encourager and a profound voice of inspiration in my life until her passing. An unfathomable love of music, an incomprehensible passion for teaching, these are among the treasures she planted in my heart, and these are among the blessings I pray I bring to my students.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Lessons Learned

Road Rage, the Adult Equivalent to a Temper Tantrum

When driving, have you ever had someone follow you so closely that it seemed they might climb right into your trunk?  Although, your speedometer insists that you are maintaining a suitable law-abiding pace, her face in your rearview mirror clearly and vehemently disagrees. You could almost watch the fire engine red creeping up her neck in flagrant, irrational rage except that keeping your eyes on the road is a higher, albeit less entertaining, priority.  What is that but sheer impatience turned radically ugly. What drives that crazed, possessed fury laser-focused at the stranger ahead, who has done nothing but drive in full accordance with the law? I believe that we are forgetting how to breathe, despite the simple anatomical fact that breathing is an involuntary process which is controlled by the brain. It seems we frequently revert to toddler temper tantrums when we settle in behind the wheels of our cars. While grocery shopping one day, I witnessed a full out temper tantrum by a child who wasn’t going to get a toy at the grocery store.  The answer “no” was more than he could take, so on the floor he flailed with kicks and screams and a bright red face. He held his breath but continued his flurry of chaotic movements. (Not dissimilar to our road rage neighbor.)  His mother stood quietly, patiently there, her eyes perusing the shelves for the best-priced tomato paste. She was breathing. She maintained calmness and stilled her heart by pausing to breathe. When the young chap realized that the intended outcome was not to be, the tantrum downgraded and then fizzled at which point, he began to breathe again.  “No” is the word we cannot easily accept, especially when it thwarts what we want when we want it. No, you cannot drive faster when I am driving slower. Tantrum. No, you cannot push me to drive faster when I have decided to drive the speed limit. Tantrum. No, you cannot make me change my mind about speeding by shouting at me in the rearview mirror. Tantrum.  So with fire and daggers flying from your eyes, you spew hate in my direction, simply because you cannot travel the speed you wish. You don’t even know me and I am a little bit afraid of you already. Adult temper tantrums are ridiculously unflattering and bespeak a desperate narcissistic immaturity that is horrifically disappointing. If you require immediate medical attention, please call an ambulance as they are licensed to exceed the speed limit, and we will all pull over to let you through. If, however,  you are running late for your hair appointment or the ballgame or even work, please just set your alarm for a few minutes earlier thus allowing time to breathe. Breathing will certainly make you a more respectable citizen and will incidentally help make the world a kinder, gentler place for us all. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Own It, for Pete's sake!

Lessons Learned

What? I Didn’t Do It

The knee-jerk response to most every “shouldn’t have done it” incident is I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it! Regardless of the age of the spokesperson, two to ninety-two, this response more often than not remains consistently uttered, for it represents the finest in Teflon outfitting defending one against all sorts of true or false but always uncomfortable allegations. I can be watching a student do the very thing he or she has been instructed not to do and when called on it will almost unequivocally, bordering on the brazenly, assert, I didn’t do it. Many times a day. This phenomenon is certainly not exclusive to schools and students, however, for these students have had to be carefully taught, which they absolutely have been. The I didn’t do it mentality and societal norm seems as automatic to human nature as bowing for applause.  I didn’t do it is usually followed by a bit of anemic bantering along the lines of yes you did, no I didn’t, yes, no, etc. where it then fizzles to conversational complacency, a very safe place where it quietly rests until it is needed again. It never gathers moss nor grows dusty waiting, though. In complacency it is deemed not a worthy fight, and in complacency it is perpetuated with increasing shamelessness.  But it’s a lie. A big, fat, bold-faced lie. I am not sure why we are okay with this. Over and over and over again in every walk of life and living from classrooms to legislative halls, from snarling interactions with referees, police officers, and parents to defensive exchanges with neighbors and road rage enthusiasts, we fight to abscond from the responsibility of simply owning what we do. The reality is, despite what our insecurities may shout at us, owning our actions, fessing up to our behavior, or begging the pardon of our screw-ups does not in fact really hurt that much. Mild embarrassment perhaps.  Or maybe a pinch of shame.  But honestly, bearing responsibility for our good or bad behavior strengthens integrity and is honorable. We all make mistakes with great regularity for it is in our very nature to push back a bit against the rules, even the most compliant among us. Own it. Claim it. Confess it. Apologize for it. Then be free of it. If you refuse to own it, it will in fact own you, and you will be diminished by it. The automatic I didn’t do it response is not good enough for today’s students, or yesterday’s for that matter, because it doesn’t call students forth to be strong or to be responsible, both of which they will need to become the leaders they are capable of becoming.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Language of Kindness, The Language of Friendship, Everywhere the Same

Lessons Learned

Crossing Over The Bridge Of Friendship

A graduate course in Cross-Cultural Educational Trends was going to lead me on a grand adventure across the ocean, to a cozy, beautiful town in southwest England. I was to live with someone I had never met or even spoken with, observe and serve at a Church of England primary school for about two months, and find my way to various places across England for meetings with professors and other grad students in this course. There were neither cell phones nor computers. It felt very far away. I felt very alone. I felt small and not particularly brave.  Students must feel these very feelings whenever they need to start in a new school, in a new town. I would never down-play or disregard or discount or minimize the weight of that emotional strain ever again.  Lesson already learned before even setting foot in the classroom or the host’s home. My host was extremely generous, compassionate and very kind. She was an outstanding teacher and an excellent friend. Our two mile walk to school each day was filled with endless conversation along narrow English country roads lined with flowers and dotted with cottages. Our daily walk took us right past a quaint, busy bakery where each morning the fresh, delicious smells beckoned us to stop for our breakfast of a warm hot cross bun. Many lessons were learned on our walks and many more lessons were learned in the classrooms and among the precious and very welcoming families.  Children are the same everywhere. They love to play and sing, run and laugh, ask questions and tell stories. Families are the same everywhere. They love their kids, attend the kids’ games and concerts,  and do the best they can. Neighbors help neighbors. Kind, gentle words lead to kind, gentle responses. Food brings people together. Sports bring fun. Music brings life. Laughter brings health. Communities are proud and are full of stories. As is always the case, there was significant book learning that was covered and tested in the course, but the life-changing piece of the course was unequivocally relational and emerged in the sweet connections made with these lovely, gracious new friends.

A Closing Thought To Taunton
Farewell my friends of recent days
To heart and home you’ve op’ed your door
And gently guided in your ways
A foreigner of distant shore.
Though words fall short when meaning’s deep
The best I have to share
Is in my heart for you to keep
A candle burning there.

darcy hill

Monday, April 27, 2015

Music Works

Lessons Learned

Why Music?

They were from the far east side of town, and we were from the far west.  Our lives, our experiences, and our schedules were worlds apart despite the few miles that separated us. It’s not that we couldn’t have been friends; it’s just that our paths would never have crossed. That is, until “The Project,” that cast us all on the same team, transitioned from dream to enactment. Two very different fifth grade worlds were about to collide and in that collision, be called upon to create and then perform a rap depicting the story of our city, our shared story.  It was to be a part of a much larger original musical work entitled, “Hometown History,” and was dreamed and written to be shared by children to an audience of all neighbors from all neighborhoods of our hometown.  It was to serve as a big affirming hug to a city besieged by violence, unemployment, and fear.  It was to be just one step toward building a bridge of hope and trust between neighbors.  The first meeting of the fifth graders  occurred at the west side school and although the air was filled with a certain amount of  tentativeness,  a pinch of suspicion, and a good dollop of curiosity, the lengthy laundry list of tasks to be accomplished while together served to quickly  focus us all  beyond our piddily concerns and doubts. We attended to the business of getting the job done and that demanded immediate cooperative effort; all hands on deck, so to speak. We worked exceedingly hard, we learned, shared, collaborated, laughed, perfected, discussed, fell short, tried again, cheered each other on, applauded ourselves, supported, encouraged, questioned, explained, tried harder, kept practicing, saw progress, high-fived,  and, after a couple of hours, enjoyed a pizza lunch together with these precious new friends.  The next few weeks were committed to practicing on our own at our respective schools.  The second meeting occurred at the east side school, and the air was filled with excitement, anticipation and warmth as we reconvened our awesome fifth grade team.  The local news media showed up to capture the joy of this creative team of fifth grade bridge builders as they zealously rehearsed their proud rap, and sang, danced, played, and laughed as all children should and do from every side of town in every town around the globe. Music brought us together. Music brought balm to hometown afflicted with fear and distrust. Music brought laughter, peace, joy and friendship. Music built a bridge of hope and possibility. Music always does.  Music levels the playing field and invites each one to play. Music is a universal language that transcends circumstances and disengages exclusivity.  Music links us, binds us, welcomes us, and calls us into a shared joy.  Why music? Because it heals our hearts and makes us better.

If you, as a parent or a teacher, need sweet, heart-warming original children’s music to bring joy, esprit de corps, and celebration to your family or to your classroom, please visit the Teachers Pay Teachers store, One Arts Infusion Collaborative, to find simple sheet music and mp4 files of seasonal  and curricularly-relevant songs.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Harriet Tubman

Lessons Learned

The Araminta Project

Harriet “Araminta” Tubman, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, had every reason to surrender to the crushing despair of slavery that oppressed her, her family, and thousands and thousands of others, but she did not succumb. Instead, against all odds and all better judgement, she ran for her life and for her freedom and did not stop until she possessed it. Even then, in the exhilaration and bliss of freedom’s joy, Harriet was not content knowing that countless sisters and brothers still remained bound in the wretched, brutal, hopeless claws of slavery. So back she went, at inconceivable personal risk, to lead more than 300 others to freedom. Harriet made nineteen trips back, undeterred by the $40,000. bounty which was being offered for her capture dead or alive. Courage, perseverance, faith, hard work, generosity, patience, selflessness, confidence, strength, and hope are just a few of Harriet’s attributes that drove her to serve, lead, and rescue others.
This summer, we will gather 100 at-risk and special needs students from grades 3-5, and teach them Harriet’s story through script, song, poetry, dance, and spirituals, which they, then, in turn will share with parents, neighbors, and all in the community through a collection of performances. The cast of 100 will also take a field trip to an Underground Railroad(UGRR) Museum, walk through an actual UGRR tunnel, and then perform Harriet’s story on the lawn of the museum for museum guests. Learning Harriet’s story will teach them history, understanding Harriet’s heroic attributes will inspire their hearts, and performing for adoring audiences will fill their souls with confidence and gladness.  With immense anticipation and excitement, we are tweaking this original musical piece in preparation for the precious children who will learn it. The TpT Store, One Arts Infusion Collaborative, contains one of the “Araminta” songs as sheet music and as an mp4 file.
Harriet Tubman: The Underground Railroad Sheet Music
Harriet Tubman: The Underground Railroad Sing Along

Can’t wait for the Araminta Project!

Monday, April 6, 2015

An Unruly Child

Lessons Learned

Tell The Truth

An unruly child. Incorrigible in many ways. Defiant. Combative. Aggressive. Befriended by other school children through fear, in their efforts to socially navigate the “walking on egg shells” feeling of coexistence with one so different from them; this was the standard and daily classroom MO in room 237. Laughing a little too loudly and often at classroom jokes that weren’t particularly humorous in order to offer affirmation and esprit de corps to one who didn’t fit; this too seemed a daily survival strategy. But this was no way to learn. And this was no way to live. It was dysfunction. Head-in-the-sand, turn-a-blind-eye, sweep-it-under-the-rug, anything-but-address-it dysfunction. What happened to the tow-the-line, call-it-what-it-is, own-it type of honesty? Can we truly improve if we do not face the problem? Can we truly grow if we do not seek to acknowledge truth? Can we be set free from the demons of defensiveness over our painful circumstances if we are unwilling to look deeply and compassionately into those very circumstances that fuel our rage and plot a path out? Hope is not found in the place where we ignore truth, but rather hope dwells in a place where we humbly recognize truth and bravely, deliberately commit to a stronger path. Hope is for every child, every student who is led by a courageous teacher, parent, grandparent, coach, or pastor who will not settle for anything short of honesty. Honesty is never the easy way, however, because honesty requires engagement and disclosure, which in turn require time, vulnerability, and trust. One child, one student, one life at a time, we must make the time for honesty, for ultimately it is the only way each one can be set on a trajectory of hope and possibility. Less than that will cripple the future and diminish dreams.  The unruly child didn’t really want to be so. The unruly child wanted normalcy and simply had no idea how to get there. The unruly child needed the honesty and compassion and strong leadership of one who wouldn’t allow any sort of settling for less. The unruly, lonely, hurting, fragile, despairing child daily struck out in the rage of accumulated pain, with actions screaming “help me” and everyone standing by saying “you’re just fine.” When did we stop telling the truth?

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Shadow of a Yeller Pierced by the Light of a Kind Heart

Lessons Learned

The Power of Kindness. The Strength of Gentleness.

That glorious summer after first grade witnessed the heart-soothing balm of the summer sunshine and the comfort and calmness of home. But as June faded to July and July to August, there loomed an anxiety-evoking reality; the beginning of a new school year. Following a frightening first grade year with an incessantly yelling teacher, trepidation filled this young heart in anticipation of second grade.  Fear, one method of classroom management and control, manifests in students through their downcast eyes, rounded shoulders, and obvious crushed confidence.  First grade accomplished this for me. Just weeks from second grade, hopes were not too high for anything better.  Upon arrival in the new classroom, we second grade students were greeted with a breath of lovely fresh air. In a word, kindness. This kindness was to escort our class throughout second grade, refilling our learning sails with a gentle breeze of optimism allowing and encouraging us to bravely and excitedly explore new oceans of learning. Kindness.  A gentle voice. Happy eyes.  Probably not attributes asked about on a teacher job application, but clearly attributes deeply affecting classroom morale and ultimately individual and collective classroom successes. Kindness pierced through the learned fear of the previous school year and nurtured a restored eye contact, strong shoulders and a sweet growing confidence among all of us blessed to be in this happy second grade classroom. I do not recall content taught nor content learned in second grade, albeit to recognize that we all advanced to the third grade. I do recall, however, with vivid and joyful recollection, the loving-kindness of a very gentle, very special, very encouraging teacher, whose tender ways brought smiles and motivated excellence. I have never forgotten to consider the tone used in delivering words to children. Kindness matters. Kindness builds up. Kindness outlasts content. Kindness is soothing, healing balm to the wounded spirit that has been staggering under the excruciating weight of another’s bitterness. Kindness lifts and restores. Kindness is free. Kindness is priceless.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

You're Hurting My Ears.

Lessons Learned

In The Classroom Of A Yeller

My previous blog article reflected on the gift of a gentle tone, a peaceful classroom, and the calmness, contentedness, and security students feel when wrapped in the comfort of this. I learned a different lesson early on in school.  1965-1966. First Grade. A big year for reading and learning, as they all should be.  Unfortunately, my first grade teacher was a yeller and her perpetually frustration-laced, roarish voice filled our classroom with fear rather than sweet wonder and encouragement. Regardless of one’s tender years, one quickly learns the survival strategies of not making eye contact  and not rocking the boat, so as to be able to inconspicuously fly under the classroom teacher’s radar and avoid being at the receiving end of her verbal attacks. It’s pretty tough to be “bad” in first grade as little ones long to love and please their teachers.  Can’t imagine the exponential increase in volume and in anger had we been naughty.  We were not naughty. We were, however, terrified, and when you are afraid, it is extremely difficult, perhaps even impossible, to learn. Fear has no place in a classroom, because it’s unfair and it’s paralyzing as it squeezes the life, the joy, and the hope out of a classroom leaving nothing but cold walls and clock hands that don’t move fast enough.  I survived. I learned to read. At home where I was not afraid. At home where I was encouraged and smiled at. At home where no one yelled at me. I wonder how my first grade classmates did? I played school at home. My best friend and I took turns being the teacher. We were never like her. The lesson she taught, which has been indelibly etched into my heart, is how not to be. I am sorry for her because she missed the joy, the opportunity, the brilliance, the wonder, the miracles that are forever happening in a classroom of discovery and delight.  I have been a teacher for thirty years, and now in pseudo-retirement, a substitute teacher. Each class, each day, each year is new and exciting and fresh and full of limitless possibility. A classroom full of children represents the hope for the future, and to have the privilege of serving in this way and tending to this great treasure is exhilarating. Teaching. It bears a weight of responsibility such as no other. Precious children, uniquely gifted, wired, inspired, filled with wonder and dreams and infinite potential to touch, change and serve this world as no one else can; these are the treasures entrusted to our care eight hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year, every year throughout their most formative years. With clay feet and great weakness, I stand before each class, each day in full knowledge of my inadequacy. What have I to give them but love, encouragement, and the best of what I have and am.  I am honored and humbled and thankful to be a teacher.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

No Need For Loud, Harsh Answers

Lessons Learned

A Gentle Answer

“A gentle answer quiets anger, but a harsh one stirs it up,” Proverbs 15:1.

In grocery store aisles and school hallways, on sports field sidelines and in performance hall parking lots, we hear parents yell at their kids and then kids yell back at their parents, and back and forth and back and forth, escalating ever escalating as if volume alone seizes the final, most authoritative word. We shout to assert control yet this very shouting bespeaks the control we have already so very clearly lost. We shout because the loudest, most ferocious bark belongs to the alpha boss dog, right? Or does it really? I believe we shout because we have not effectively learned how to lead. One of the most amazing classroom volume control strategies I have ever witnessed in thirty years of teaching, was demonstrated by a young, shy, gentle, peaceful teacher who never raised her voice above a hushed tone with students in her classroom. Their first grade voices matched her quietness. No voice was ever raised, and it was a beautifully calm room, lovely for learning. They listened for her voice and in that stillness there was comfort and security. Conversely, several doors down the hallway was a screamer whose classroom was invariably on the brink of chaos. By afternoon each day in the loud room, the decibels had been ratcheted up to an ear drum piercing roar, with everyone fighting to be heard including the teacher.  Exhaustion. Headaches. Frustration. Why do we shout? Do we lack the confidence necessary to be still, to be gentle, to be one who brings peace? In a world that regularly shouts its demands and demands its own way, a gentle soul who patiently listens and quietly responds is truly one of great strength and wisdom.  Our children have tender hearts and ears and need the careful tending of one who teaches and leads with calmness and gentleness, both at school and at home. We all need this, no matter how thick and hard our protective walls have become over time. Deep down, we long for this.  A gentle answer, a humble response, a quiet calming word breathes peace into our harried hearts. Try it. Be still. Turn the volume down. Respond with calmness, even if the impulse is to roar. Hold back that lion and watch the gentle response that returns to you.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Gift Giving...

Lessons Learned

Once Upon A Birthday

February birthdays in the Midwest will typically be wrapped in soft white mountains of snow, bone-chilling temperatures, and icicles, all necessitating multiple layers of flannel and wool stuffed under large, toasty, though quite unflattering stadium coats. This year was no different. It was birthday Saturday morning and already this teacher’s inbox was filled with lovely, warm words of blessing and friendship and kindness and love; words and happy wishes of deep and precious value, humbling, but making glad this teacher’s heart. A perfect start to a birthday. With coffee in hand, iced snowflakes painting the windows, and slippered feet propped comfortably upon a chair, the birthday teacher followed some early morning reading with a bit of fleece scarf tying. Knowing that a birthday morning meeting would bring this teacher to a downtown neighborhood where countless many would be acutely feeling the effects of the sub-zero temps, the thought of bringing a large pile of fleece scarves to a nearby bus stop seemed the right and perfect birthday gift to give.  With more than two dozen scarves folded and stacked chin high, the birthday teacher entered the bus stop shelter and placed them on the bus waiting bench. A gentleman approached to wait for the bus and the teacher encouraged him to be warm and take a scarf. He didn’t speak, but as the teacher left for the downtown meeting, the gentleman wrapped a fleecy blue plaid scarf around his neck.  The gift of giving is such a precious heart-filling gift. It indeed was a happy birthday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Lessons Learned

Teachers Pay Teachers Became An Answer

In 1981, a Master Teacher, who was my cooperating teacher, offered a thought-provoking question and subsequent challenge, that in answering and accepting, completely set the trajectory of my teaching for the next 30 years. She inquired, “What is your passion?” And immediately chased this query with the bold assertion, “Because it will take all you have and are and believe in and will sacrificially pour yourself into to reach these desperately at-risk students.” I love music. I love to write music and play music. “Perfect,” she nodded. “Then music it is. We will teach them to learn by inspiring them with music.” The children helped me write lyrics which became songs, their songs. Their songs contained their words and those words became sight words and gradually but with never-ending zeal, we learned to read their songs. In learning to read their songs, they learned to read. We sang. We learned. We reveled in the wonderment of learning. They taught me the power and the joy of using music to help students engage with content. From then on and for the next 30 years, I have seen over and over and over again, the power and the joy of sharing music to support and enhance all curricular content.  Through the years, my wonderful, courageous students have basked in the blissful and confidence evoking fun of music to learn. Even Bloom and Gardner, I believe, would have smiled broadly upon the highly creative, wildly engaging musical academics occurring day after day. Beautiful! Now, so very many years later, however,  hundreds and hundreds of songs written through all of these years to support learning have remained unscored and consequently un-sharable, inaccessible, and  stashed on a shelf, for in the flurry of  life and living as a teacher and a mom, taking precious time to learn to score music was of lowest priority. The songs remained packed in my memory with lyrics scribbled on loose sheets of paper in tattered, well-worn folders. With retirement last June came a gift of time; time to learn to score music and time to learn to share music. But where? Then came the strong suggestion of Teachers Pay Teachers, a brilliant online marketplace for the buying and selling of excellent and highly creative  educational resources, as well as a fabulous network of support, encouragement, and help for all educators. So last mid-September, Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) became the home of my new “music to learn” store called, One Arts Infusion Collaborative, and step by step, note by note, I am learning to transcribe those songs that have been swirling and dancing in my mind for an entire career.  TpT has provided a forum, a venue, a storefront, a chance for the previously inaccessible to be shared.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Only When the Snow Flies...

Lessons Learned

Embrace the Winter

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 10, 2015

19 years ago...

Lessons Learned

Valentine, The Gift of Time Is A True Gift of The Heart

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.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Quiet. Stillness. Peace. Winter.

Lessons Learned

Winter’s Lesson

Winter has arrived here. That wise, celebrity groundhog has proclaimed and affirmed what we all unquestionably know will be the case; another six weeks of wintry weather. It is winter, and our world is frozen, hushed, and cloaked in shimmering whiteness.  The snow is deep and has been swept into impassable drifts along both highways and country roads. The whistling wind sneaks into homes through unseen cracks supremely taxing even the heartiest of furnaces and demanding multiple layers of woolen sweaters and fleecy blankets for all inhabitants. It is winter. Rosy cheeks, piping hot homemade soup, and fireplaces a’blaze are the order of the day, and we smile for each delicate, unique snowflake that lands gently on a tongue.  Although the wintry conditions are certainly extreme and undeniably dangerous, there is a stillness and a peace and a wonder-filled beauty about the snow.  It’s a sparkling, chilly blanket that frosts the landscape like a fluffy dollop of butter cream frosting atop a scrumptious cupcake.  To stand outside in the snow, to walk in it, to traverse it in snowshoes or skis is to understand the stillness of it, which without the experience of it is completely indescribable. The chaos and cacophony of life at its outrageously presto pace, in its constant stereophonic dissonance, with its hyper-stimulation of lights, colors, and images can indeed numb the senses with all of its uber-overdoneness.  How can we be still? How can our children understand peace? How can we learn to quiet our hearts and rest our souls? Beneath a blanket of snow, the earth sleeps for an entire season, animals hibernate, and farmers move indoors and rest their fields.  In the stillness of the winter, the stars in the night sky seem to twinkle with greater intensity, the creaking and humming sounds of the forest are seemingly amplified, and if far enough north, the glory of the northern lights dancing across the heavens in surreal technicolor splendor is beyond breath-taking. In stillness there is infinite room for creativity and imaginative pensivity because those things that crowd and clutter our lives and bring much noise are delightfully absent. When there is stillness or peace around, it feels somehow easier to find a quiet place within. As we warm our hands during the coldness of this winter, may we be reminded to also quiet our hearts, for in the quietness, in the stillness, in the peace there is a longed for and much needed joy, comfort, rest, and restoration.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Each Chapter of Life Has A Learning Curve...

Lessons Learned

Keep Learning

After thirty years as an elementary teacher, the time had come for a change. Changes in family circumstances, changes in perspective, changes in health, changes visible and invisible, changes subtle and changes huge, none of which are particularly comfortable or comforting, all drive the move into a new chapter.  Life is change, really, and each new chapter comes with significant blessings and trials, smooth water and rough through which we must faithfully and fearlessly navigate. I am thankful that I walk with God and that He holds me up, for I know that on my own I would crumble. So one plunges into the deep end of a new chapter, and with that comes most assuredly a restructuring of a daily schedule. Perhaps more available time, perhaps less, but in any event, it is accompanied by a need to re-establish time priorities. In my case, a bit of time became free, and with that acknowledgement came a plethora of choices. As a teacher, one recognizes the critical importance of remaining forever a perpetual learner, because seeking to more fully understand and comprehend in any and all arenas of knowledge, keeps one’s mind sensitive and sharp. Hmmmm, what to do? Well, from the time I was about fifteen years old, I have been writing melodies and filling those melodies with poetry on one topic or another. Hundreds of songs, written on scraps of paper, cafe napkins, inside the back cover of old textbooks, and filling pages of piles of composition notebooks, have spilled from my heart onto paper of one type or another but have never made it to transcription on musical staff paper. Written down lyrics with the melodies locked for forty years in my mind has surely resulted in countless forgotten and lost songs, but what about now? So in some widows of newly available time, with staff paper, a pencil, and many erasers in hand, I have begun the arduous, albeit rewarding, task of attempting to unlock and transcribe melodies, of attempting to learn how. Note by note over endless hours, recalling, playing and re-playing, referring to the formatting of already published music, I learned and practiced simple, very simple transcription and began for the first time to see the music that had only previously swirled in my mind and heart. Page upon page of children’s music, simply written, has emerged. Music that had been specifically written to enhance and support curricular content, to provide opportunities for multi-modal instruction, and to engage higher level questioning and deeper level thinking was now on the paper before me. It is a bit overwhelming, probably not dissimilar to meeting someone for the first time after hearing about that individual for years and years. There is much more learning to occur and much more music to transcribe, but it has begun. Stuffing it in the piano bench upon completion seemed unsuitable and maybe somewhat wasteful, so subsequently, I have opened an online Teachers Pay Teachers Store to sell it, to share it. My store is called One Arts Infusion Collaborative, and gradually I will fill its cyber shelves with scores of children’s educational sheet music forty years in the making.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Just Love More.

Lessons Learned

2015. New Year. New Hope. New Promise. New Commitment.

In a word, love. Thirty years of teaching, twenty-nine years of marriage, twenty-seven years of parenting, and fifty-five years of life have taught me that in triumphs and trials and everything in between, a strong, good answer to every circumstance and every relationship is simply to love more, to be patient more, to be gentle more, to be sacrificial more, to listen more, to believe and hope and encourage more.  The world is hard and clearly in need of gentle helpful hands and tender serving hearts. When burdens become too great to bear, we so frequently stagger alone under the crushing weight of it all somehow erroneously believing that either others do not want to be troubled or even worse that in sharing a burden we are admitting weakness or that something about our lovely fa├žade is less than all we are hoping it will appear to be.  We are designed to live in community. Together we are stronger.  What we share in common is far more important and valuable than the differences that divide us, and yet the differences draw fire and judgment from our bully pulpits of dogmatic and highly opinionated insecurities. The differences erect thick, impenetrable walls of fear and distrust. We need each other desperately still we struggle to move past the firing squad of suspicion.  Rather than exercising compassion, we often opt to exert power. Rather than crossing the street, we pull the blind and lock the door.  Rather than engaging, we turn a blind eye and blame our accursed, albeit self-created, busy-ness.  In our classrooms, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, each one we see is in dire need of love, acceptance, affirmation, connection and the joy that these gifts bring.  These gifts are free to give and to share and yet their value reaches infinitely beyond the bounds of the world’s greatest treasures. It’s a brand new year. The slate is clean and ready for the rewriting of a fresh inspiring chapter.  Perhaps it is time to make some changes. Perhaps it is time to try loving more, giving more, serving more, caring more. Perhaps it is time to build bridges of hope and trust, for the only tool necessary is one that has existed in our hearts from the very beginning; love.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"What Can You Do With A General When He Stops Being A General?"

Lessons Learned

“What Can You Do With A General When He Stops Being A General?”

“White Christmas” is, by far, our family’s favorite holiday movie. The lines, the songs, the choreography, the gestures, the elaborate sets and costumes completely engage each and every cousin, aunt, uncle, and grandparent gathered around the living room watching and listening and singing along to this classic  with full smiles.  And if a gentle snow begins falling outside our home at the end of the movie, just like the final scene of the movie, well then, all the better. Fabulous. Absolutely fabulous. In the story, General Waverly retires from the Army and struggles a bit to find footing in the new life of retirement after a very busy and decorated life in the service; hence the song, “What can you do with a General when he stops being a General?” Retirement is a chapter, a season of life that many eagerly anticipate for years and years, as the thought of increased discretionary time is unequivocally alluring. The thought of even available time outside the typical spin cycle of life’s frenetic daily pace is the longed for daydream that frequently tickles one’s imagination while galloping on the treadmill of climbing and achievement in a job or career. But then it finally arrives, retirement that is, and regardless of how giddily anticipated  it has been and for how long, it still arrives like the screeching halt of touchy brakes. Boom. Stop. Fini. With your box of belongings draped over your arms, you head to your car as your cubical is dusted off and prepared for the next player who has been charged to pick up the ball and run. The drive home is washed with emotions ranging from jubilation over the “my time’s my own” reality to a pinch of concern in response to the perplexing and confusing question bubbling up inside wondering who exactly one is apart from a long time job or career. Hello. Redefining or reinventing one’s self requires some deep contemplative time, so right now in this exact moment on this awkward drive home, a pinch of emptiness douses the jubilation.  Tomorrow morning, lounging in a bathrobe until 10 AM may be great medicine for the heart and soul, but will it feel so decadent morning after morning after morning after morning? Somehow I feel as though we are innately wired to want to regularly bring our gifts to the table of need and offer our best to tackle challenges that exist around us.  No two individuals are the same and the gifts possessed by one are the gifts needed by another. By sharing and serving in this manner, growth and progress occur. In bringing home the box of belongings, one is essentially withdrawing from the exchange of gifts for the enrichment of all, and that simply cannot be; not permanently anyway.  I retired last June. Thirty years in the classroom for this teacher, and it was unquestionably the career of my dreams and of my heart. But it was time. Time for a change. Time to breathe. Time to reassess. “ What can you do with teachers when they stop being teachers?”  For a short while, one can busy busy hands with part time jobs and engage minds accustomed to spontaneously creating exciting plans and activities that magically build bridges of learning for learners of all ages and all ability levels all of the time with various good and meaningful projects, but at some point, the desire and need to serve and share consistently, deeply and significantly will become overwhelming.  Teachers are meant to teach; it’s who they are. But the where, the when, and the how, that would be the trick. Needs most assuredly abound in our families, neighborhoods, and communities, and the skill set of a veteran teacher could provide valuable support when reaching into these needs to offer hope and help. Retirement is a change, not a checking out.  Even in retirement, especially in retirement,  teachers must continue to teach, minister to individual needs, build a warm collaborative esprit de corps, open the doors of possibility, and lead the charge of encouragement and affirmation regardless of the classroom or arena in which they serve. There’s much work to be done; no time for the bathrobe today.