Categories » ‘Adversity’

Lessons From A Mountain (and a Cool Teacher)

January 28th, 2013 by

Recently, I was browsing through the “Stop Workplace DramaSki the Diamond” blog of my wise and talented friend, Marlene Chism.  She had written a post about a recent ski trip to Breckenridge in Colorado, and the wonderful lessons she had gleaned while on (and off) the slopes.  This post is wonderful in its insight… I recommend you read the whole thing here.

But, as all good posts do, it got me to thinking.

Thinking about the one huge lesson I learned from skiing – a lesson I seem to forget and remember and forget and remember over and over again.

And, now, as I’m faced with the challenges of launching new products, and, indeed, an entirely new business, I find that I need to re-learn this lesson all over again.

What Marlene’s article brought back for me was an experience from back in my college days- I took a “recreational” skiing class at the college I was attending in Santa Fe (had to meet the PE requirement for graduation!), and I was blessed to have an instructor who, not only was an expert skier, but also an upperclassman, Resident Advisor in our dorm, and all-around cool guy that pretty much everyone looked up to.

On our final “class”… after a few weeks of puttering around on the bunny hill and some intermediate stuff… he took us to the top of the mountain for our final exam. One hill was an intermediate – he said “go that way for a ‘C’ and I’ll meet you at the bottom. For those of you who would like an “A”, follow me to a Black Diamond.”

To make a long story short, no one (at least not any of us dormitory denizens) wanted to look bad in front of Mr. Cool- and so we headed to the precipice of the Black Diamond. And it did look just that way… like a precipice.  Steep.   SCARY steep.

And I’ll never forget what happened next. He told us that, in his opinion, we had all mastered everything we needed to get down the slope. All we needed to do was push off, plan a route two or three turns (moguls) in advance, get in the flow, and, above all, don’t panic. He said that panic is what puts people in the hospital.

And I’ll be darned if I didn’t ski my first Black Diamond that day. In fact I went back up and skied it two more times before the lifts closed. I had a ball. And, yes, I fell. I almost panicked once or twice. It took me nearly 40 minutes to get down the first time. But I was in the flow… exhilarated, thrilled… in the flow. And none of us (the 10 or so of us that challenged ourselves against that mountain that day) wound up in the hospital. We all had a blast.

And I can’t help be reminded that life is like that as well. Things we’ve never done look dangerous, daunting… impossible (if you’d asked me before that day if I’d ever consider skiing a Black Diamond, I’d have said NO WAY)… you know it will be thrilling and rewarding, but too scary to attempt.

But if you trust yourself to make that initial push-off… if you plan two or three moves at a time and don’t look all the way down the mountain… if you get in the rhythm and flow of the thing… and, above all, if you DON’T PANIC – there is really nothing that your heart desires that you can’t do.

Sure, you’ll fall down a time or two, your first run may take longer than you would like… but, what the heck. It’s a small price to pay for the reward that you receive.  And the reward is doubled – or more! – if you’re in the business of transforming the lives of the students in your charge.

Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight

True words

We Have Been Dangerized

July 22nd, 2011 by

Thanks to Lenore Skenazy for her poignant blog post/article in response to the near-incomprehensible Lieby Kletzky tragedy.

READ LENORE’S POST HERE

The fact is that we DO decide in a most irrational fashion what fears to pay attention to.  Sure, the media helps a lot!  And then we obsess, often to the point of unintended and unwanted consequences.

The day after they found Lieby’s body in New York City, our site had a field trip planned; we were taking a small group of 24 five-and-six-year-olds to the Zoo.

24 children with 7 adults.

Two families pulled out of the trip- too dangerous, they said (“…you heard about that kid in New York, didn’t you?”).

At least four other families expressed concern about the trip (“you’re sure you’ll be watching them?”- as if we hadn’t been all this time, but now we were kicking around the idea we should start).

I understand the parental pull to protect your kids.  I’m a parent, too.    I get it.

As a care provider, I’m also always humbled by the trust the parents place in us every day we take care of their kids.  I always strive to keep that trusting bond at the fore of my thoughts (and remind the other staff to be aware as well) as we move through our daily activities.

And, at the same time, I really get it.  I get how freaking irrational our fears can be when driven by sensationalism.  In many ways, we are still the 5-year-old kid worried about the monster from the movie that we’re sure is lurking there under our bed.

Giving up the Shoulds

June 27th, 2011 by

Yes, I’ve said it again and again.  The key, not just to working with children and youth, but to life, is the art of being present.

This morning, I found out (again) just how hard that is to do in the face of “shoulds”.

You know those shoulds… children “should” act a certain way, co-workers “should” do this and not that, the daily schedule “should” be followed, parents “should” parent their kids this way (and not that)… the list goes on forever.

Fortunately today, I ran across a blog post that says it all… “Don’t Should All Over Yourself“.  Yes, the title of the blog is the “Art of Manliness”, but don’t let that put you off (if the play on words hasn’t already).  This message is for everyone.

How it came about is this: I came to work on the opening shift (6:45 a.m.) running on a touch more than four hours of sleep and two cups of French Roast.  Almost as soon as the doors were swung wide open, in walks one of our “Patience Angels” (so named because it’s a more useful framing of behavior-challenged kids: “God heard you were a patient teacher, so he sent you this patience angel to find out!”).

Almost immediately, he begins touching everything he’s not supposed to, irritating and criticizing the four or other so kids who have also arrived early, finding everything under the (7:00 a.m.) sun that there is about which to tattle, rolling over the back of the couch, sitting on furniture… well… you get the idea.

And I forgot.  I forgot to be present.  I forgot my taoist training to “observe and feel without judgement”.  I forgot to look inward and find something I could give up- nothing new can be created without giving something up.

It was 4:00 p.m. before I realized that what I forgot to give up was the “shoulds”.  How this child “should” behave.  How smooth a day “should” begin.  Only by giving up those “shoulds” can I be present, look deeper, and understand the all-too-human, all-too-insecure boy before me that is seeking attention, approval, and an outlet for his naturally intense behaviors.

And by giving up these “shoulds” (even 9 hours later!), I can finally see the angel that was sent to me.

It’s the Hair that is the root of learning

January 20th, 2010 by

"Tater Tot"'s hair is obviously too long for his own good.

It seems that Taylor “Tater Tot” Pugh has been suspended from his pre-kindergarten class in Mesquite, Texas.  What heinous infraction did he commit?  Stealing? Physical violence? Sexual inappropriateness?

Ah, no.  It seems that Taylor simply refused to cut his hair.

According to the online news source “The Sphere“, Taylor prefers his hair a bit longer and decided to let it grow past the legal limit for the Mesquite public school system.

Of course, as any educator knows, four-year-olds can not properly learn if their hair is too long (or is in any way disheveled or unkempt).  Just look at Einstein.  He was kicked out of school, too.  And would anyone like to be Jesus’ teacher?  He was a Nazarene, committed to never shaving or cutting hair.  Good thing he didn’t come to Dallas looking for an education.

The school will not budge.  They claim righteous truth on their side as they point to the holy scripture of their education code:

“students who dress and groom themselves neatly, and in an acceptable and appropriate manner, are more likely to become constructive members of the society in which we live.”

Ah…. thank goodness the Mesquite School District has spoken… finally, we can understand that all our social ills can be solved if and only if we can jam each kid into the “acceptable and appropriate” mold.

Disturbing Directions

July 15th, 2009 by

The California School-Age Consortium (CalSAC) is the largest professional non-profit serving out-of-school time providers in California and is also the state affiliate for the National Afterschool Association (NAA), the nation’s leading advocate for out-of-school providers.  Since its inception 26 years ago, CalSAC has provided California’s  out-of-school-time professionals with a pseudo-professional organization, giving them training, advocacy opportunities, and profession-related services.

Over the past couple of years, however, CalSAC’s general mission has been misguided.  CalSAC has recently shifted is focus away from professionalization and education of the field to other agendas.  Most recently, undue, almost catholic emphasis has been placed on equity, diversity, and anti-bias (or, in the words of some of the most aggressive employees and associates, “anti-oppression”).  While multicultural and social diversity is highly important in the training of out-of-school-time workers, it is not (and should not be) the “main course” of the diet of the professional.

What disturbs me most about the recent trends in CalSAC’s philosophy concerns the professionalization of the out-of-school-time field.  For decades, we watched the struggle of early childhood educators as they reached, struggled, and, to a degree, finally received professional status amongst educators.  This was brought on by powerful non-profit organizations (such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children – NAEYC) and tireless advocates who, for years,  spoke to anyone who would listen about the importance of preschool education and care.  The fruits of those labors have paid off.  Preschool educators are now respected, professional pay is rising, and governments have invested many dollars in the field.  Not surprisingly, NAEYC’s California affiliate, CAEYC, was one of the key players in bringing about this change.

All this happened while the out-of-school field was in its own “childhood” and looking on with hope and expectation that it was next to ride on the professional train.  For a few years in the 80′s and 90′s, it looked like that train might leave the station.

What happened in the in-between time could be the fodder for many more posts, so I will leave that topic unexplored for now.  What lit my fire to blog this post was what I read on CalSAC’s website today.  I will quote pieces, but it is too long to print in its entirety.  You can find the full text of  “The Challenge of After School Staffing” here.

The piece begins by asking the hypothetical question, “What if an industry the [sic] larger than the size of the 120,000-person telecommunications industry one day announced it would lose up to 40% of its workforce this year – and every year after?”  Good question.  The parallel waiting to be drawn here is with out-of-school care/enrichment programs.  The problem with the question is that the telecommunications industry (or any other large professional industry) would never have that kind of turnover.  It would find a way to save its jobs, come hell or high water.  Instead, we’re left to imagine that out-of-school-time is just a lost cause, not really a profession , so let’s look at how to live with 40% turnover.  That’s stinkin’ thinkin’ – especially so, because it is, however subliminal, the main premise of the article.

The article then goes on to describe CalSAC’s initiative which aims to bring in new workers to the field, not as professionals, but as entry-level grunts who are being primed to use out-of-school-time jobs as stepping stones to other related fields (by inference, one concludes that the best way to staff out-of-school-time programs is to bring in these “long-term temps” and just suck it up and accept that out-of-school time will never be a profession in and of itself).  To quote the conclusion of the article:

These workers, in turn, receive excellent entry-level job opportunities that mesh well with post-secondary education schedules and provide an ideal pathway into a job in education, social service, health, business, and a number of other sectors that require the human relations and job performance skills utilized in the afterschool field.

So this great initiative that CalSAC has put forward does nothing to stem the overwhelming turnover that plagues the out-of-school profession.  Instead, it perpetuates out-of-school time as a second-class field: a stepping stone for “real” lines of work such as social service, health care, and business.  All of which keeps the status quo firmly in place and ends up hurting children, youth, and families.

Lessons From the Super Bowl

February 16th, 2009 by

Aaron Francisco probably isn’t a name you’re familiar with unless you are a devoted fan of the Arizona Cardinals, Brigham Young Cougars, or you grew up in his hometown of Lale, Hawaii.  He is a backup safety for the Arizona Cardinals and played admirable defense against a smashmouth Pittsburgh Steelers team.

On the final drive of the game, Aaron Francisco demonstrated two lessons for all of us who work with youth each day.  The scene was this: Pittsburgh had a 2nd down with 6 to go, and a little less than a minute remaining before time ran out on their Super Bowl dream.  Pittsburgh’s quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass under a heavy rush and flung a quick, desperation ball to the right to soon-to-be-MVP wide receiver Santonio Holmes.  Covering Holmes was none other than our man, #47, Aaron Francisco.  It was the culmination of everything either team had worked on all year… everyone had practiced their part and this was the big show.  Francisco had the pass covered!  And, then, something momentous happened.  As the ball was on it’s way to Holmes, Francsico tripped and fell to the turf.  Holmes gathered the pass in and romped 40 yards to the doorstep of the endzone.  All because Aaron Francisco lost his footing.

Here is our first lesson from Super Bowl XLIII.  No matter how hard we practice, try, or are at the top of our game, sometimes we trip and fall down.  Sometimes we falter at a critical moment when everything is on the line.  It can happen to you, it can happen to those you work with, it can happen to your supervisor.  How we react to falling down determines 0ur true character.  How we react to someone else’s falling down is the most honest gauge of our character.  Next time you really mess up, or, better yet, next time someone you work with really screws up, remember Aaron Francisco.

Back to the Super Bowl…  Two plays later, with just over 30 seconds remaining in the game, Ben Roethlisberger took a short drop and lofted the ball, again to the right, in the corner of the end zone for Santonio Holmes.  Holmes extended his arms, miraculously kept his toes planted in the corner of the field of play and pulled Roethlisberger’s pass down into his waiting arms for the winning touchdown.  Again, guarding Holmes was none other than Aaron Francisco.  However, this time Aaron Francisco hadn’t fallen down.  In fact, he played the tightest, most perfect coverage that was possible- all to no avail.  Holmes brought the ball down and Lombardi Trophy to the Steelers.Holmes beats Aaron Francisco... again.

Here is our second Super Bowl lesson.  Sometimes, no matter how perfect we are, how on top of our game we are… well, to use the polite version of the phrase… stuff happens.  You may be the greatest teacher of all time- but, guess what?  Stuff happens.  Out-of-your-control stuff.  Unavoidable stuff.  And, again, all we are left with is how we react to what happens.  What do your reactions say about how you deal with your stuff?

When things go wrong, and they will, remember Aaron Francisco.