Categories » ‘Life Lessons’

What It’s All About

July 4th, 2013 by

thoughtfullbb

Reposted from my other blog at CreateMotivate.com

 

Sometimes we lose sight of the big picture. Sometimes we need a slap in the head from the Universe to remind us – not of what we’re doing – but why we’re doing what we do. Our “busy-ness” comes from the what. Our fire comes from the “why”.

 

Nice Day for a Ball Game

It was a gorgeous Saturday morning in our fair city. And the championship game was on. Some of you know that, in addition to working in the education field, I have also moonlighted as a Little League baseball coach for the past four years. Four years ago, I didn’t even like baseball… but that’s another story altogether.

I coach the little guys… six and seven year-olds, fresh out of T-Ball. Our division is known as “Single A”… or, basically, the “little guys”. I’m happy with that division because, at that level, it’s not so much about winning as it is about learning basic skills and having fun. Once you get into the upper divisions,

it, sadly, becomes all about winning.

On this particular Saturday, I was watching the championship game of the AAA division (10 – 12 year-olds). It wasn’t just the league championship. It was the city championship. It was the first place team of our league (the American League) versus the first place team of our cross-town rival (the National League). One of the kids on the American League team was older brother to one of the little guys on our Single-A team, and he had helped us throughout the season with basic baseball skills, so I wanted to get out and support him in the city championship.

By the time I arrived, the game was already underway.

 

What Did You Just Call Me?

“Hey Coach!” said the man a couple of people down from me in the crowd (even after four years, I still find it a bit unnerving that grown men will call you ‘coach’ when they see you).

“Hey there…” I recognized the man’s face, but I couldn’t place it. I knew that I had met him somewhere in baseball, but couldn’t place him. I hate it when that happens.

I continued to watch the game. One of our batters came up – I recognized him. Miles. I had known him as a member of one of the opposing Single-A teams two or three years back. And, last year, I had a chance to coach him when I took on the managing duties for the league’s 9-year-old “runner up” All-Star Team (a team made up of the twelve second-best 9 year-old players). The “runner-up” (or B-Team as they were called) All Star-Team was a job that no one really wanted to take on, but I agreed to after a conversation with the league president saying that they wouldn’t get to play in any tournaments if no one agreed to coach them… and, like Obi-Wan in the original Star Wars, I was the last best hope for them to continue into the post-season.

Then it hit me… the man who had spoken to me earlier was Miles’ father. It figured that I didn’t remember him that well… the “B Team” had only spent about 3 weeks together – enough to practice and play in 2 or 3 postseason tournaments.

Between innings, Miles’ father came up to me again and provided one of those “smacks to the head” of which I spoke before.

 

A Friendly Smack In The Head From the Universe

“You know,” he started. “Miles wouldn’t be playing today if it wasn’t for you.”

“Unhh….” With conversation starters like these, I’m never sure exactly what to say.

“After last season, he was ready to quit baseball,” Miles’ dad said. “But because of your positive coaching of the All-Star Team – well, he’s back this year.”

And playing in the city championship, I thought.

At that point, it’s hard to describe what I felt. Pride. Humility. Affirmation. Significance.

And then it hit me, this is why I do what I do.

The whole point is making a difference in the lives of the children and youth that I touch.

And, honestly, I believe that making a difference is the ultimate payoff for 90% of the teachers, coaches, rec specialists… all those who work with children and youth.

But it’s so easy to forget.

Miles may not grow up to play in the major leagues (but then, again, after seeing the way he deftly handled a line drive coming at 50 mph toward his head in the bottom of the sixth, maybe he will). But that’s not the important part. Sure, no matter if his baseball career ends tomorrow or at a retirement of his jersey from the San Francisco Giants in the year2045, I’ll be proud of the small part I played in his development. The real brass tacks of the matter is that I made a difference in this kid’s life.

 

And Here’s the Real Secret of Your Universe

pushups

The killer bottom line here is that, if you work with kids, children, youth… anyone in a mentor-like capacity, you’re making that same difference with them every day you show up.

And my guess is that you don’t remember that you make that difference… at least you don’t remember more than you do.

One of the earliest thought-leaders I can remember learning from in the educational field is Betsey Haas. Her tag line is “I make the difference.”

Go write that down on an index card and put it in your pocket. Or, better yet, in your shoe. Anywhere you’ll notice it. And remember that whether you know it or not, whether you get feedback on it or not, you make the difference.

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

The Oliver Project

January 21st, 2013 by

Back in October of 2012, our family dog, Oliver, was diagnosed with lymphoma.  The vet gave him one month to live.  Of course, we were hit hard- we had gotten Oliver through NorCal Golden Retriever Rescue… his previous owner had been a victim of foreclosure, and, for reasons I don’t understand, had left town… and left Oliver chained up in the yard.

OllieWhen he came into our lives, Oliver was about 8 or 9 years old (nobody is really sure- it was an estimate from the vet), and he stole our hearts straightaway.  Good-natured and loyal, he loved the attention lavished upon him, and with stoic grace, he bore the slings and arrows of a newborn, and then a toddler, running amok in the house as well.

So… back to the lymphoma.  At 14 or 15 (whichever estimate is correct), Oliver had had a long and happy life.  As the one month stretched into two… then three, and four, we felt blessed to have him around for whatever time we got.  The steroid medication seemed to be keeping the cancer at bay, and then, two weeks ago, the unthinkable happened.  He got out of the front door which was carelessly left open (we live on a busy street), and wandered between two parked cars and was hit by a pickup that didn’t have time to react after he darted in front if it.

A trip to the emergency pet hospital proved futile… somehow Oliver had escaped all injury (“He’ll be a little sore, sure, but no broken bones or internal bleeding” the kind vet added).  The next day, at our regular vet, she commented, “Oh I heard he decided to commit suicide” (dark humor- not what you usually expect from your kindly country veterinarian).

Up through Saturday, Oliver was play fighting with our cat (Chairman Meow), and chasing squirrels in the backyard.

Then on Sunday, suddenly, his demeanor had changed.  He wouldn’t eat.  Didn’t want to move much.  It was an effort to get him to swallow his pain pills (from the accident).   His legs grew wobbly, and he started drooling.

At about 9:30 p.m., as we were watching highlights from the day’s football games on the couch (just me and Oliver), he began to breathe harder.  And, then, just as suddenly, his body tensed… and then he slumped over.  Oliver was gone.

Now, I’ve never been with anyone, or any living thing (save a bug or two or one hundred when I was younger), who has died in my presence – until Oliver.

And here is the upshot of this post… until you have had this experience, it probably never hits you – how precious life is.  Or, as the musician Sting puts it… how fragile we are.

And, as cliche as it may seem, you realize that we are all in this tenuous game called life- and it could all end at any moment, without any warning.

So, like my mentor Dale Calvert often said, the question is- will you die with your music still inside you?

Each day is a gift – that is why we call it the present (thank you, Mary Kay Ash).  Like I always tell my kids each morning… this is the first day of the rest of your life… make it count.

I’m starting my own “Oliver Project”.  I’m consciously living each day from here forward as an expression of the joy and gifts I have to give.

Big Kid, Little Kid

October 17th, 2012 by

Here is a recent article I wrote for our after-school center’s newsletter about mixed-age groups:

One of the questions I am asked most frequently about the philosophy at our after-school program is centered around the fact that we allow age groups to mix freely during the day.  Kindergarteners can freely mingle with the 4th and 5th graders, and it’s not uncommon to see a 3rd grader playing with someone either 2 years his/her junior or senior.

Of course, there is a valid concern that younger children are at risk of being bullied by older children in a relationship where there is a “power imbalance”.  This is, of course, a possibility (as it is in any relationship – even into adulthood)… but it is a possibility of which our qualified and caring staff members are aware, and proactively seek to prohibit.  The emotional and social safety of all the children are major pillars of the work we do in our after-school program.

With that in mind, it’s important to look at the major benefits reaped through mixed-age play.  One of the major precepts of our center’s philosophy is that School-Age sites are, in the end, miniature societies, complete with their own unique patterns of relationships, values, and ethics.  Through our emphasis of the Character Counts! pillars of character (Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship), we are creating the kind of social “fabric” in our group that helps pave the way for positive, beneficial relationships between all ages.

According to a study by South Dakota State researcher Marilyn F. Rasmussen, children who are routinely a part of mixed age groups after school consistently experience “positive social interactions…such as cooperation, nurturing, inclusion, and sharing.”   Rasmussen continues to expand on the learning of cooperation:

 

            In a mixed-age group, mutually reinforcing perceptions
come together to produce cooperation. Young children
look to older children to provide leadership, helpfulness
and empathy. Older children perceive younger children as
in need of guidance and help. A collaborative spirit
replaces the competitive tendency frequently found among
same-age mates. Cooperative actions and reactions bring
out a sense of caring in older children, and they typically
accept the responsibility of being a role model.

 

In my 20+ years of working with mixed-age afterschool groups, I have found that older children identify with roles that encourage the growth of responsible behavior; that older kids receive “hands on” experience in being the nurturer, caregiver, resident expert, and “big brother/sister”.  The younger kids benefit by having accessible role models, and learn that older friends can become allies; I’ve also seen that children who develop relationships with older kids are more confident and less susceptible to bullying as they grow.

In the end, a mixed age group more closely represents what children will find outside the gates of the school – in “real life”, if you will – and having experience and comfort in negotiating such situations can build confidence, empathy, and living skills for all involved.

The Primal Question

September 28th, 2012 by

Before we can even begin to discuss what needs to change in our system of education, we need to take a long, hard look at our raison d’etre for education in the first place.  Our cultural subconscious has been branded, as it were, since the 1950′s with the idea of what success looks like: more money, more power, more prestige.  And that is the ethic that we mindlessly hand down to our children: stay in school, even if it sucks, stick it out, get good grades, go get a “good” job, work your butt off for someone else’s profit for 50 years, retire, and hope you’ve socked enough money away that you don’t starve in your old age.

But what we are finding through the generations since the end of WWII is that having this “more” mentality has had some adverse effects.

People doing unrewarding, personally meaningless work because it pays well or because someone along the line told them they “should” pursue a certain career.  Important, necessary work falling to the wayside or relegated to the underclasses (or socially masochistic) because it has not been glamorized by our culture.  A subculture of people who will disregard ethics, principles, and even the rule of law if a certain activity will fill the “more” mold set forth by society.

As Brendon Burchard has written in his latest book, The Charge, Maslow’s hierarchy is now turned on its head.  In today’s uber-connected, sped-up, and super-informationalized society, our base needs have pretty much become a given.  Today, the poor of our country aren’t those who can’t afford food- they’re the ones who can’t afford cable TV and cell phones.  And behind this fast, profound change that we find our society amidst, is our human search for meaning… our drive to be fulfilled and live lives of purpose.

So… what does this have to do with education?

Today’s education model is still trying to turn out, assembly-line style, “workers” for the old economy.  People who will go accept any job to grab hold of a rung to try and climb to “the top”, wherever that is.  Children are told to sit down, shut up, and listen; the single most valued character trait in today’s schools is compliance.

Rarely are our children given any tools to understand, much less seek, fulfillment.  Rarely do our schools speak to children about meaning and purpose.  Yet new psychological studies are showing that children who do understand and have intrinsic representations for purpose and meaning are more apt to learn and contribute (See William Damon’s book “The Path to Purpose”).

So the question that must be asked is this: at the end of our kids’ compulsory education, do we want factory-ready worker drones, or do we want thinking adults with an intrinsic link to the meaning of being human?

I realize that it is not as simply dichotomous as presented above… but I do know that if we are to evolve as quickly as our technology is moving, we need to start questioning the foundation – the reasons – for our educational systems.

Finding Purpose and Meaning
It’s time for schools to foster the incubation of little humans’ search for meaning and purpose

The Impact of Teachers

January 19th, 2012 by

One of my favorite “quirky” features of National Public Radio over the past couple of years has been a periodic short program (<5 minutes per airing) of the STORY CORPS PROJECT.

In a nutshell, StoryCorps has undertaken interviewing and recording the stories of everyday Americans to place into an archive… for the benefit and edification of the public… and future generations.

This school year, they’ve undertaken interviewing teachers and those who have a “teacher story” to tell.  This is a wonderful testament to the power of teaching and the subtle, yet profound impact that teachers have on the very fabric of American society.

If your life has been touched or your life-trajectory has been altered for the better by a teacher, I have a challenge for you- one that I have already done on my personal Facebook page:  publicly thank that teacher that has influenced your life (on FB, LinkedIn, or whatever social media outlet you prefer).  Then encourage others to do the same.

Then check out the moving interviews that have been recorded so far by StoryCorps’ National Teachers’ Initiative.

StoryCorps’ Nat’l Teachers’ Initiative  StoryCorps Teachers

Watch Your Mouth

August 25th, 2011 by

This week, my youngest son started kindergarten.  Of course, being the baby of the family, it was quite a milestone, and the whole family was very excited.

I was also excited to have him attending the school where I run the on-site afterschool program!  Close proximity, the fact that I know the teachers… all great positives!

Somewhere along the way of dropoff time for kindergarten, his teacher somehow missed the connection that I am his father.  I regularly drop off kids at kindergarten classes (as well as pick them up), so the teacher knows me as the guy from the afterschool program.  Maybe she doesn’t know my last name (same as my son’s); maybe she missed that I was taking pictures of him as he approached the door on his first day of school; maybe she missed the goodbye hug when it was time for us to leave our kids for their first day of academic prosperity.  She missed something.

When I returned after school to pick up my son (and the four other kids from her class that attend our afterschool program), I casually asked, “So how did this little guy do?”, my arm around my son.

“Oh,” she replied, “okay… he’s got some issues.”

I’m not sure why, even though her sentence bothered me, I didn’t get mad.  Maybe the anesthetic euphoria of it being the first day of kindergarten hadn’t worn off yet.

Turns out the “issues” she was talking about centered mostly around my young son’s inability to have, as of yet, mastered the fine motor benchmark of proper pencil control and letter-forming skills.  Yes, I admit, he hasn’t gotten there yet on some of these fine motor skills.  But I’m not worried, as it is balanced out by his 7-year-old grasp of mathematics (I’m not kidding here… at least the 7-year-old level!).  I’m mostly pleased he’s in school now, where he’ll have the opportunity to develop these skills.

But the part that got me to thinking was the casual “you-know-what-I-mean”, educator-to-educator, almost snarky way she said “… he’s got some issues.”

And what it got me to thinking about is how I am sometimes guilty of the exact same thing.  When talking to colleagues, teachers, or peers, I say things sometimes that would be upsetting for parents to hear.  Not mean things, but things that tip slightly on the deprecating side.

I’m not a big bible-thumper, but I do believe there is much wisdom in the good book to know and digest.  And one quote from St. Paul’s letter to the early church at Ephesus:

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up…”

Very wise man, that St. Paul.

Or you could go back to “Bambi” and just roll with “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Now, I think I will take this advice and look closely at what talk comes out of my mouth.

 

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.

Men In Black: Violence is Just Alright With Me!

July 17th, 2011 by

The Supreme Court has recently ruled that a California law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors is  unconstitutional (Story and commentary here).

I have to admit that the libertarian in me agrees with this decision.  Which makes the internal struggle all the more poignant.

Mainly because the libertarian in me is a purely logical, black-and-white, take-no-prisoners idealogue.

The other part of me- the parent, the educator, the one who works with kids forty hours per week- is horrified.  I would rather have my kid be able to walk into a store and buy a Playboy rather than a game that included the above scene of gristle (of course, logically, a false dichotomy, but emotionally powerful enough to make the point).

I posted my thoughts on this on my facebook page and got replies from all my smug libertarian friends about how it is the parents’ right and responsibility to choose, so, the Supreme Court, was, of course, correct in their decision.

The problem is, in twenty years of working with kids and families, I know that there is a percentage of parents who abdicate that right and responsibility.   Over the past year, I have overheard conversations of 2nd and 3rd graders talking about the carnage they create playing such games as “Call of Duty”, “Assassin’s Creed”, “Halo”, and other such games.  And while the studies around violent TV and video games’ effect on the psyches of impressionable youth come down solidly on the side of “not a good idea to let them play these”… like global warming, there’s just enough wiggle room for the other side to cry that their rights are being infringed.

While the solid empirical evidence is unclear, I suppose that what it comes down to for me is – do we want a world where kids are given scenes like the above as a “plaything”?  Are we ready to deal with the potential consequences ten years down the road?

Yes, I do understand that this is not Armageddon.

It is not the end of humanity as we know it.

But it is one small, tiny, almost subconscious step away from a world of peaceability, community, and non-violence.  We have enough violence and carnage and insensitivity in the world already.  My question is, are we ready to tolerate more for the sake of entertainment?

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.