Give Me Patience

What is it about people that makes them create fiefdoms? What is lacking, personally, that drives one to seek dominion over others or to self-aggrandize?

I have worked in a number of environments over these last four decades and have come to highly value a few kinds of people: those who support others out of kindness rather than expectation; drive an agenda for the greater good rather than the personal; work with passion well into mid-career; and act with integrity even in the face of personal loss.

I am lucky enough to have worked with a number of such folks. I would call them out by name, but I don’t think they would appreciate the kudos.  They acted as they think human beings should, and would not appreciate the attention for going about their business as usual.

But I do want to call them out collectively – to let them know that I notice and appreciate them.

It is in bouncing off of the opposite personas that we come to more highly value the integrity and grace that is rare. Human foibles are many. We are all guilty of treating others unkindly, of jumping to wrong conclusions, of devaluing the efforts of others. As long as we acknowledge – and try not to repeat –  these missteps, we can continue to move forward with integrity.

I am trying to be patient, to channel the integrity and grace of those I esteem. The first is an easier mark, but I am struggling with the latter. If we offer the bully grace, does she not continue to bully? At what point does integrity force us into conflict no matter how much we might like to avoid it? These questions plague me.

I have been bullied, seen others bullied. As I age, it is one of the behaviors I find most offensive. The more covert the practice, the more insidious.

Today I am working at patience and grace. Wish me luck.

The Courage to Listen

As you can see, I have neglected this blog, though not my writing in general, as other types of writing have consumed my time.  That academic time consumption is a part of this entry – though it may not be visible to the reader – it led to a diverting of attention. That mental and physical focus is in need of alignment so that it might fall closer to the mid line between professional and personal. Today’s post is an attempt to reconnect to things of value.

As celebratory times come upon us, the bitter-sweetness of missing beloveds is most acute. I sat recently in the audience of a speech delivered by my oldest child. As she began, my anxiety was high. It was as if she stood on the verge of a busy road and I was too far away to judge the traffic flow or put my arm out to block her from stepping into its path.  I was forced to trust that her instincts and experience would keep her safe, hopefully even drive her success. Ironically, it was this idea of trust with which she began her talk. From her perspective, I had revealed my trust in her by outwardly supporting her decision to leave a coveted college slot when her inner voice compelled her to do so:

That fall, as I moved into my dorm…, I immediately knew something was
wrong — I wasn’t in the right place. My parents, bless them, trusted that I
would make the right decision, even though I know they were probably
terrified I was ruining my life by giving up a scholarship and countless other
opportunities…. I won’t belabor the point, but I did listen to
my gut, and I did leave, before orientation…had even ended — and
it was the right decision….

I settled in to listen, no longer anxious of her well-being, but marveling at her ability to tap into just what her audience seemed to need from her:

As a child and arguably still as an adult, I am naturally a very introverted,
and even shy, person….If I could…, I would be a forever student….So, naturally, I went straight into graduate school…. I was nervous to begin…, and that natural feeling of uncertainty poked at me— all of those other people are so successful! how can I ever compare! … As I navigated what to do after graduate school, I felt stuck— moorless, even. Who am I if I’m not a student? What do I do now?

As she continued, my pride grew, but so did a creeping melancholy. I was relieved that my husband was taking photos, as I sat mesmerized by the conflicting emotions filling my heart. Pride – for I’d had a hand in producing this human who connected to the world with integrity and passion. Love – for I glimpsed the little girl I remembered embedded in this woman. Respect – for I admired the fearlessness of her self-revelation. Sadness – for I knew that there were others, missing, who would have reveled in this moment with me.

My mother, dead these past five years, saw this potential from the moment of her first grandchild’s birth and I would have given much to have seen her face at this verification of her vision. The void where her joy and pride would have been, crashed into me and the wave threatened to sweep me right out of the happy present. But then the words broke through:

…enjoy where you are right now, in this moment. Be excited about your future, but also enjoy your present. Even if things don’t go the way you envisioned at first…You will be just fine.

And I let my child teach me; I returned to the moment and embraced all of the emotions as right, and worthy, and true. It was, after all, part of her message that the trials of life were where growth began:

…remember to stay curious. Don’t be afraid to not know something…knowledge truly begins at the moment you realize how much you don’t know.

And it made sense – or at least, several hours later, it did. Even five years on, I am still learning how to reconcile the discordant emotions of joy and sadness. Just keep moving forward; Mom wasn’t missing the moment; she was living within it. A part of every delivered word. I heard her voice from her granddaughter’s mouth when she encouraged the audience to “read voraciously” and “express a genuine interest in people.” And most of all in her exhortation on “the importance of a well-crafted…written correspondence,” and to “please be kind to each another.”

Though it is difficult not to turn to Mom and enjoy these glorious moments in the corporeal sense, it is deeply satisfying to know that I can feel her presence if I am just able to acknowledge it.

Thanks, daughter, for the wondrous gifts you continue to bestow. I strive to be courageous and worthy enough to receive them.

 

My Flexible Classroom Journey

I love this article for so many reasons! Though I work mainly with college freshmen and those preparing to teach secondary students, the concepts shared here are useful in all educational settings.

Respect your students. Find the least intrusive way to educate. Play to their strengths. Revel in their differences and idiosyncrasies. Recognize that we ALL like to choose for ourselves. Love what you do enough to invest in it completely.

#Innovate4Littles

About 2 years ago I moved from a traditional classroom set up to a flexible classroom. I’ve learned some things along the way and made some adjustments. I noticed that different groups access flexibility differently. I’m going to share with you my growth process for flexible seating. For reference, Year 1 and Year 2 are years that I taught kindergarten. Year 3 is the current school year and I am teaching first grade. Year 1 was the year I began BYOD as well. You can read about that here.

Year 1:

My school purchased hokki stools for each grade level. They were evenly split between the classrooms. If you’re not familiar with these, they have a rounded bottom and when you sit on them you have to use your core to balance. I got 3 hokki stools and spread them around the room for my kinders to sit in…

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24 Things Women Over 30 Should Wear

These photos spoke to me this morning as I, too, am irritated by women who tell other women what and how they should be. If you’re offended by spicy language, don’t read any further, but I am not and love the sentiment. I don’t need anyone’s permission to be myself.

Warning:Curves Ahead

This morning, as I was perusing my Facebook timeline, I happened upon an article that a lovely friend shared. It was entitled “24 Things Women Should Stop Wearing After Age 30”, and it triggered Maximum Eye-Rolling from everyone who took the time out to read it.

Written by Kallie Provencher for RantChic.com, this “article” (I use the term loosely) highlighted things such as “leopard print”, “graphic tees”, and “short dresses” (because “By this age, women should know it’s always better to leave something to the imagination”). Kallie, it seems, has a number of opinions on what women over 30 should and shouldn’t be doing, having also penned “30 Things Women Over 30 Shouldn’t Own” and “20 Pictures Women Over 30 Need To Stop Posting Online”. (What is this magical post-30 land where women are suddenly not allowed to do or own so many things?!)

Motivated by Kallie’s “article”, I decided to…

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What Do I Expect from Elementary School? Not this.

Laura Eberhart Goodman has captured the essence of our problem in U. S. education. She speaks for the parents and children who are currently impacted by our “race” toward something no one appears able to define or validate. I have been in her shoes and am thankful to now be addressing this problem from the side of academe. Though still mind-numbingly frustrated, I am trying to attack the stupidity and hubris by continuing to practice the kind of teaching I know works. As Goodman states: “academics follow naturally if the proper environment for learning is there…it’s not rocket science.” This statement does not diminish the preparation for and hard work of teaching. It exemplifies teachers’ superiority in the education discussion; the simple part is paying attention to the true experts.

Boils Down to It

When I put my children on the bus in the morning, the wish I call out to them after kissing their heads, is, “Have a good day!” Pure and simple.

Now, I know that not every day can be a birthday party, and not all things in life should be made into a fun activity. My wish is not overly naïve or idealistic, it is simply that they enjoy their day at school.  It is my hope that even if there are moments of the day when things don’t go well, or times when they are frustrated, or they find something to be particularly challenging, the overall feeling when they return home is not negative.

I want them to have had enough positive experiences, enough moments of engagement, enough creativity and fun built into their day that “good” is the predominant mood descriptor.

That is not currently the case.

The…

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Stories – spores waiting to propagate knowledge

books on shelf

I think about stories all the time – if fact, I think in stories – after all, what is more transformative than a good story? I came to this thought while on my daily walk, listening to Bram Stoker’s Dracula via audiobook. I find I am not just intellectually following the plot as Harker climbs down the castle wall into the vampire’s room; I am viscerally reacting to his terror with heightened perception. And then the steam-of-consciousness thoughts begin firing: How did Stoker come to his editorial choices? Did he mean to imbue his female characters with feminist qualities? That line by Van Helsing on perception is perfect for my lecture on folklore’s multitude of stakeholders. My brain is in critical mode. And that’s exactly where I want my students’ brains; so how do I facilitate this transformation from passive to active learner?

For me, it is story that is the trigger. Give me a good story and I will ask questions, empathize with the author or the characters, form alternative scenarios, leap to subjects that seem disconnected, but are merely extensions of a thread that has been teased from the narrative. I began to intentionally apply this supposition to students years ago, but in unstructured ways that had hit or miss success.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to embed some of my practices in a course called Finding Ourselves in Folklore, a writing intensive, freshman seminar that is driven by content of the professor’s choosing. I use a selection of folktales, fairytales, ballads, and critical readings to engage students on issues of perspective and applying a critical lens to what they think they know.  As I refine the course activities and assessments, it is clear that I get students’ best work when they are personally embedded. This epiphany is stunningly obvious, but the difficulty has been in finding the connector points into the content. I can’t always read folklore relevant to each and every student. Some students don’t even want to be there; they took the course because it was in a good time slot! What to do?

This semester, I began by forcing them back into their childhood cultures. We ended our first class meeting with a group song. I had them stand with me and ask that they join in where they could. So, most of us sang and performed the accompanying choreography to “Head and Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” a preschool song that most of my 28 freshman students knew. It was my foray into connecting them to our new community – the one in this class, at this liberal arts school, in a small Southern town – with something both endearing and silly.

As we debriefed the next class on how so many of us came to know the same song, though few students were from the same geographical regions, they began to talk about their lives. I have several international students who did not share this common experience with the song, but spoke of similar experiences within their culture’s domain. Most students participated in the discussion and the exercise gave us a point of entry to the complex topic of folklore and culture.

We went on the next day to shore up their geography skills (a deficit noted in earlier semesters) with an activity that had them pin point their hometowns or birth places on a world map. We noted the “neighbors” and those who had travelled great distances to be here. We each said something about these places, revealing bits about ourselves in the process. I say we, because I joined them in these activities. To remain aloof and separate from this class culture is artificial and detrimental to my goal: that all will find their identities represented in the course in one way or another and this connectedness will serve to connect them to all the course goals, including the improvement of their writing skills.

Each set of course readings has a corresponding writing component in which they have the opportunity to connect their experiences with the discourse. No – not all students are doing the homework – but almost all are. And no, not all are reading critically – but we are working on that skill as well. Along this line, I find that immediate feedback on their efforts is imperative. Once they knew I was invested in what they had to say, I found they were willing to invest more of their time and effort in the work. Again, not true for all, but for most.

The feedback I value most is their interest. They are staying after class to continue a discussion or to ask questions about a thread that has become personal for them. To have such positive rapport early in a semester is invigorating and makes me a more engaged instructor. I hope my engagement translates into enhanced effectiveness.

Post Script: As I reflect on this story, I realize that I have inadvertently teased out one of those lateral threads and found a way to attack a manuscript about using maps that had me stymied.  Woot!