Let me begin by saying I love our home. I mean, I absolutely adore our home. Particularly when I am away from home for a week or so, I seem to appreciate it that much more. With all the floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the house, we have views of the mountains behind our home and of the amazing Arizona sunsets. Also, out the back, we can see the dogs playing in the yard (and by that, I mean our pup, Kirby is either standing on the firepit watching the neighbors walk by or he is trying to dig a hole to China). The views are great. The only thing I ever wanted to change was the front entryway. As lovely as the wooden doors are, they prevented any semblance of light from shining through. So, even on the sunniest of sunny southern Arizona days, our foyer would be considered a bit dark and oppressive. This fall, Dave and I decided to bite the bullet and get new doors. While Dave asked about craftsmanship, warranty, and price, my focus fell to only one thing---what design would provide the most light to stream in our entryway?
Today is the day---the doors are being installed as we speak. The irony is not lost on me that it is New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow, we will step into a new year, one in which we hope to prosper start anew. I am grateful to be given the opportunity to see with better clarity with a renewed light. What does that mean, literally speaking? For me, it means two things:
Just for today, perhaps we can believe in the hope that the light provides. What does that look like in your life? I don’t know but I do know this: we have a new year ahead of us to make a change…if we just decide to put in new doors!
Being a consultant and getting to work with teachers and school leaders all over the world has been the best job ever! Before this, I was a principal at the best elementary school in the world, Edge Elementary School. Being a principal was the best job ever! Before I was a principal, I was a guidance counselor. Being a guidance counselor was the best job ever. Wait…what? Well, trust me. All those statements are true. I have adored these roles, as I so enjoyed being a teacher for so many years. When I was a school counselor, I wrote a poem about self-responsibility. It went like this:
I always have a choice,
No matter what I do.
I make the choice
And I can’t blame you.
I would have the students from Pre-Kindergarten to 5th grade say the poem outloud in an effort to get them to realize that they shouldn’t ever allow someone else or something else to “make” them feel a certain way. We would say it in a loud voice, in a soft voice, as a cheer or chant. We’d say it in a British accent. We’d say it in a Texas accent. We’d say it like a big, fat whale in the ocean (after all, I speak Whale). We’d say it like a tiny little mouse (complete with squeaks). While attending a conference one year, I got a chance to meet Dr. Philip Fitch Vincent, my favorite “guru” in the field of Character Education. He shared a quote with us that has stuck with me and will, likely, stick with me forever. Helen Keller said:
“So much has been given to me, I have not time to ponder over that which has been denied.”
Wow, just wow, I thought. In which alternate universe could I have anything to gripe about while Helen Keller was looking at the positive side of things? Why should this particular verse come back to me this week? Perhaps it might have something to do with getting food poisoning while I was traveling to Bogota’, Colombia. Now, I am pretty certain it is fair to gripe just a little bit about not being able to hold down any food for three days (when Dunkin’ Donuts munchkins didn’t even sound good to me, I knew there must be a real crisis at hand). But, I am fairly sure that my memories of the trip to Colombia will not solely consist of food poisoning but instead will be primarily focused on the amazing learning opportunities I and the 50+ participants had for three days. I figure that decision to look at the positive side of life influenced my decision to write the silly little poem for those elementary school students. Or maybe I don’t like the idea of Helen Keller being able to trump me in optimism. Whatever the reason, I believe three things:
a. One person with whom you can trust (a mentor or spiritual advisor)
Just for today, perhaps we can learn a life lesson from Helen Keller. After all, if she could see the good in life, how can we not at least try?
Traveling for work can be quite daunting. After all, there is always the possibility of a missed flight or weather delays or ...well, you get the idea. You come to expect that things won't be perfect. But when someone goes out of their way to be kind, it can make travel a bit more enjoyable.
Case in point: I traveled yesterday from Tucson, Arizona to St. Croix. Not an easy trip, right? They say you can't get there from here; you can, it just takes an entire day. I flew from Tucson to Houston, Houston to San Juan, Puerto Rico, then San Juan to St. Croix. On the Houston to San Juan flight, one of the flight attendants went out of her way to make every single person sitting in her section feel respected and even loved. When she came by to ask me what I wanted for lunch, she called me by name. When she brought me my ginger ale, she said, "Here you go, Mrs. Arneson." She came by to ask several times if I wanted something else---"a blanket, perhaps?"---to which I replied, "Well, sure! Thanks for asking." As we exited the plane, she called every single one of us who had been sitting in First Class by name and thanked us for our business. Now, I know. I can almost hear some of you saying, "Oh sure, the 1st class people always get the good service." While there are some perks to having to fly for work, I can attest to the fact that not every gate agent or flight attendant is..well, attentive.
So, fast forward to last night's flight from San Juan to St. Croix in a little seaplane. And by little, I mean I was sitting in the row furthest back (two people to each row) and I could see every one of the controls on the pilot's dashboard (I feel certain that "dashboard" is not the right word, but I can't place the word right now). The pilot greeted each one of us before she told us to buckle up and turn off all our cell phones before we could get this seaplane going. As we were taxiing to the runway, she turned around (what??) to ask us all if we were hot. I am never hot, but someone must have said "yes" (it's hard to hear over those propellors), because the next thing I knew, she was opening the window that is as big as a door on her side of the aircraft. Did I mention she was taxiing to the runway when this is going on?? She couldn't have been more attentive or accommodating.
As we flew over the Caribbean to get to St. Croix at sunset (yes, it was amazingly beautiful), I was thinking about what it takes to be attentive and accommodating and is the pain worth the gain. After all, it takes time and effort to learn people's names, especially if you are only going to hang out with them on the plane for the next three hours. But what's the payoff? Happy customers? People who feel cared for? That, to me, is worth a bunch! And what about the pilot who opened her door/window to let in fresh air (albeit while we were actively taxiing, but nevermind that little tidbit)? Hot customers don't make for happy customers, right?
What implications does this have for education? Please respond to me and tell me your thoughts. I get lonely here on one end of the blog sometimes. One implication I see is that if we care enough to know all the names of our students, we make them feel like we are all a community of learners. I worked alongside a teacher, once, who, even in January or February, was still pointing at students to tell them to answer a question. I never heard her call a student by name unless she was getting on to them for poor behavior. My goal (and I happen to have the inside scoop that many other teachers feel this same way) is to learn every student's name as quickly as I can. When I worked as a counselor at a middle school, I did it for survival's sake. After all, during a passing period, when a student tries to run, calling out "Hey you!! Hey you!! Walk! Walk! Walk!" doesn't have quite the same desired effect as "Jesse, come over here," I say as I put my arm around Jesse's shoulder, "What did we just talk about when discussing safety in school?" That relationship made all the difference in the world. While my adult participants today were completely shocked when I called on every single one of them by name throughout the day, they acknowledged how great it made them feel. And don't we learn better if we feel better?
What about going above and beyond for students (like the pilot did for the hot passengers)? While I am certainly not advocating the practice of opening the door/window of a plane while it is moving, how about that teacher who takes his lunchtime once a week to mentor a student who needs some encouragement? I watched that happen so many times in my previous school. I think many teachers see the value in doing such a kind service for students---a nurtured child will work harder in school than a student who feels like nobody cares for him/her.
Just for today, perhaps we can think about ways in which we can be more helpful, accommodating, and kind to our students (and why not to each other, as well?) It isn't any more work, really, but the payoffs are simply amazing. One other piece of advice: don't drive while you are turned around looking at the passengers in the backseat of the car. :)