I feel like, lately, my inspiration for my blog has come directly from church and from our priest, Reverend Debra at Church of the Apostles in Oro Valley, Arizona. Hmmmm....I guess that isn't such a bad thing, is it? Dave and I always talk about the sermon throughout the week, which proves that it has become a big piece of our lives. The Gospel reading today was Matthew 16:26, which says, “For what profits a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?”
What does that mean to you? For us, it means three pretty important things, not to mention how it reminded me of one of my favorite songs by TobyMac and Mandisa "Lose My Soul".
The best part to me, about that song (have you listened to it, yet? I don't want to give you any spoilers) is when Kirk Franklin sings "While we teach prosperity, the first thing to prosper should be inside of me". That really speaks to me, because I can get caught up so easily in the worldly things until I remember that those are fleeting. They aren't going to sustain me through eternity. So what am I doing about that? Honestly, sometimes, nothing....absolutely nothing. I let the world suck me in, and I listen to negative talk or think I want something I don't need. But what am I called to do? I think it's about these following three things, even though all three of them are hard:
1. I need to continue to talk to people, ask questions, listen (TRULY listen, not just hear the words), and sometimes agree to disagree. I hear people (including me, because I can be just as guilty of it) say they are going to listen, but they can't even wait until someone finishes saying their piece before they shake their head, saying, "No, no, no....that's not right. I just saw on the news.........". We can put our heads in the sand and not listen to anything or we can begin to have conversations with people to try to understand their points of view. If, at the end of the conversation, we are truly not changed, then we can always say to ourselves, "I will simply take what I like and leave the rest". I've had to do that many times. Or, as Dave and I try to practice with each other, when we disagree on politics or other contentious topics, we simply say, "You know, you might be right about that." Because, after all.....how do I really know that my views are the correct ones? Who made me omniscient? Nobody, I assure you. In my mind, there's only one guy that is omnipotent and omniscience and He was nailed to a cross. I make mistakes all the time. I was just talking with a group of educators the other day about how admitting vulnerability can be quite empowering, not to mention how it can build a great deal of trust in those with whom we work.
2. Sometimes, the hard way may just end of being the most rewarding: What does that mean for you? I don't know, but for me, it means that the thing I'm going through in the moment can end up teaching me so many great lessons, even if I don't feel it at the time. In other words, sometimes the toughest times can end up leaving some beautiful moments behind. I grieved so much when my mother died in July of 2005, but she left me so many beautiful gifts, not the least of which was being able to be right there as she passed away. All of our dear pups that have died (sometimes way too soon) have left us with lessons we needed to learn (as I talk specifically and sometimes comically in my book Letting Go of K.C. ).
Even being diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago and going through a double mastectomy, oophorectomy, and reconstruction, while quite painful for me (and Dave, as caretaker), taught us how much to enjoy what we have while we have it. Nobody has a "get out of death free" card, right? We went through that time with a lot of humor and a whole lot of prayer.
I was just talking to one of my graduate students in one of my Educational Leadership courses yesterday. She said she might want to get her doctorate after getting her master's degree. I told her that she should since she wants to continue to learn, but I cautioned that she should be prepared to work harder and have her life be more disturbed than ever before. I always say that getting a doctorate is a family affair. While I may have been the only one taking the courses and writing the dissertation, Dave and the dogs had to put up with me not being "present" for a number of months. But the rewards were so worth it in all those instances, yes, even death. I now have beautiful memories of my mother, our pups, how much I was cared for through my surgeries, and how much I learned through my doctoral program with a great bunch of people in our cohort (yes, I miss you all so very much). So, yes, sometimes the best things in life might be the hardest.
3. Possessions are only temporary As TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa sing about in the song above, what do I have if all I gather with me are worldly possessions? While buying a new outfit or going out to dinner at a great restaurant are fun at the time, I have found the most rewarding times are when I feel most spiritually connected to God and to other people who are seeking the same type of rewards---non-worldly ones. Connections with people (my best friends, for example) have been the cornerstone of my life in addition to the connection to Jesus Christ. I think, as educators, we are "called" not to stay in our own classrooms (or our own silos, as I often quip) but rather to share what we learn and feel about our own teaching. Good ideas shared are free, but they have such long-lasting effects.
Just for today, maybe take a listen to the song above and consider where you are putting your energy, time, and even money. Are you spending time arguing with negative Nellies? Are you spending time gathering all the worldly possessions you can? Or, are you, perhaps, making connections with people and a Higher Power that will last forever?
I have had some of my graduate students who, while they may say they loved the class and having me as a professor, say that I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to grammar and writing mechanics. In fact, I saw an "End of Course Survey" comment the other day that said, "Dr. Arneson is the most engaged professor I have ever had, but she acts like she is 'married' to the assignment rubrics." Wait what?? Guilty as charged! We, as educators, have rubric standards for a reason. They help our students see exactly what they can/need to do in order to get a high grade on an assignment. If I seem "married" to it, my response it, "On what else should I base your grade?" I can sleep well every night knowing that my integrity is intact for grading by giving very specific, very clear, and very prompt feedback to all my students. Is there a bit of perfectionism in there? Maybe. And do I have a bit of a bias towards students who hold themselves to these standards as well? Maybe. Sometimes, I see little mini-me students, and they make me smile.
But, I'm not a perfectionist about everything, for sure. Anyone who has ever visited the Arneson house (with the possible exception being literally minutes after our housekeeper has come) knows that our house is always filled with dog hair. If you sit on our couches with black pants, you will get up with a new style of pant-color. What special treat is that!! And please, for all things Holy, do not open drawers around the kitchen or bathroom as there may be things that pop out like something from a jack-in-the-box. Why? It's because the drawers are my "go-to" when I need to hide things off of the counters (when people come to visit, etc.). In other words (and I promise I am trying to work on this), things may look perfect on the outside but inside, I still want approval and perfectionism from myself. What is in your drawers (figuratively, not literally)? For me, it's my desire to be loved (or at least liked) and to be known for being passionate about what I do. I love my friends unconditionally and I have a bit of an expectation that they feel the same way. When it's a problem is when it hinders my ability to simply BE. I cannot be somebody or something that I am not, and I may not be everyone's cup of tea. But my spiritual advisor reminds me it's none of my business what other people think of me. I pray every single morning (kneel down on a kneeler beside the bed and hold hands/paws with L.C. and pray; yes, it is precious, and yes, I will get Dave to take a picture) for God to direct my thinking for that day (among other things, of course). Why do I need to do that? Left to my own devices, my thinking would get me into a heap of trouble. Even Jesus needed strength and prayed. Richard Rohr ("Yes, And...", 1997) said Jesus had to pray during his temptation in the desert, before he was able to choose his apostles, while he debated with his adversaries, in the garden of Gethsemane, and even on the cross. If Jesus, as a human being, needed prayer to help Him through these "crosses to bear", then my little grain-sized body must really need prayer, for sure.
We will never be perfect. Why? Our priest said, today, it's because "we are divinely human". What should we do, then? Remember that it is progress and willingness that should be our creed, not perfection. Why set myself up for failure? If I am expecting perfection, and I know I'm never going to achieve it, then what is the point? I pray every day because I have a calling to teach and to work with other educators and educational leaders. I am called to fulfill my calling, quite honestly.
Just for today, perhaps examine what your calling is, and then determine what you do to help achieve it, knowing that it might not ever be perfect but recognizing that it never has to be. It's the waking up and growing up that matters. Thanks, Reverend Debra, for pushing me to think every week during your sermons. I love the challenge, and I love you (unconditionally, by the way).
I would love to hear some comments from you all about your own journeys. Hearing others' stories helps us grow in our own journey, I think.
One of my dear graduate students who is getting her Master's degree in Educational Leadership wrote such a beautiful post, I told her I had to "steal" it. Well, technically, it's not stealing because she gave me her permission to use it. Thank you, Maria Tijerina, for your words and your passion and your permission.
When I started teaching I was often asked "Why are you a teacher"? Before I could answer they would say, "If you are in it for the money, you are in the wrong profession". I have always responded by saying, "I teach because I am passionate about the profession and know I am doing what I was meant to do." It makes me happy. In fact, everyone ought to be happy in their career, regardless of what it is. Don’t lose sight of why you are in the teaching profession, and it would help to reflect on your reasons every once in a while.
When you are enjoying the teaching profession, you will probably experience the following rewards:
3. I AM SURROUNDED WITH LOVE--As a teacher, it is so rewarding to go to work and be surrounded by love all around me! Sometimes, during a busy time or stressful day, a simple “I love you, Miss”, or a doodle from a student on their free time, can instantly put a smile on my face. It is such an honor to be able to teach students and love them while they are in my care.
4. I GET TO CELEBRATE MILESTONES--You get to celebrate big and small accomplishments throughout the day and school year with your students. You get to watch your students (current and previous) grow and be proud that you were part of the process to get them to where they are today.
5. I GET TO LAUGH ALL DAY LONG-- Most great teachers would probably agree that kids are hilarious without even trying to be! One at a time or all at once, your students probably make you laugh. I don’t know about you, but to me, laughter is the perfect cure for so many things in life. When you are a teacher, you need to have a sense of humor and joke around with your students.
6. I GET TO CREATE MY WORK ENVIRONMENT--In most professions, people don’t get to “create” their own environment. They go to work in the environment that has been created for them and maybe they are able to contribute to it somewhat. However, teachers get to create their own environment within limitations, of course. We can only hope that teachers create a positive environment that will enrich the learning that goes on in the classroom. Teachers have the freedom to make the best out of it! If you spend most of your weekdays in your classroom, why not make the environment as positive, comfortable, and happy as possible? Do it for yourself and the children who share the space with you.
7. I GET TO INSPIRE OTHERS--Whether you do it intentionally or not, you inspire others just for being you. You inspire kids to do their best when you do your best. You inspire your colleagues to work hard when you work hard. You inspire everybody around you to be happy, positive, creative, and energetic when you are. We really are models, aren't we?
8. I GET TO FEED MY INNER CREATIVITY--Since becoming a teacher, I have learned so much about my creative potential that I didn’t know existed. Now, it comes very naturally for me to set up my classroom, create bulletin displays, create engaging lessons and appealing resources, etc. Thanks to teaching, I have a new appreciation for art, as well. Now, I can confidently organize events, create resources to help make the learning environment more engaging. Use your teaching experiences to spark your inner creativity because it is there even if you haven’t discovered it yet.
9. I GET TO CREATE LASTING MEMORIES TO CHERISH FOREVER--Every year, I look forward to September because I get to meet my new students for the year. I get to learn personalities of 20+ students and how I can help them all reach their potential while the care of these students is in my hands. When the school year ends, I always get emotional because I know I will miss the kids as we all move on. No matter how many years I do this, it never gets old. The feeling of excitement when September approaches will always be there. And as much as it can get emotional at year-end, I am always grateful for the memories that we’ve given each other and what we’ve learned from one another. Some people ask me what my favorite grade or class is but the truth is, I simply cannot name one. As cliché as it sounds, they are all my favorites.
10. I GET TO TEACH--No matter what you do, don’t take it for granted. I know many teachers who struggle to land a full-time teaching position due to a surplus of teachers in certain locations around the world. If you are given the opportunity to teach, enjoy it, take advantage of that opportunity, and give it your all. When you are a teacher, you teach beyond the textbooks. You teach children how to deal with their emotions and how to problem solve. You teach children how to be independent and organized in life. You teach children what matters to them and what their interests are. You teach children how to have good manners and how to be responsible for their own actions. You teach children how to apologize to others and learn from their mistakes/actions. The greatest part is, you teach all of this and so much more without even realizing it. You teach all of this by simply being an amazing teacher who cares about what you do.
To all in this profession I say "Thank you for all you do to mold and change lives. God bless you all."
And God bless you, dear Maria, for saying what so many of us feel.
Teachers, please add your comments about your favorite part of teaching.
Happy Communicating to all,
When I was about nine years old, my parents got a divorce. My sister went to live with my dad, and I lived with my mom. My mom had basically been a "housewife" all her life until the divorce, when she was all of a sudden introduced (baptism by fire) to being a single-mother, fighting for child support and working as a ward clerk at a downtown San Antonio hospital. Oh, and did I mention she didn't learn how to drive until she was about 36 years old? Driving to and around downtown San Antonio was as terrifying for her as going to the dentist to have a root canal would be for me (okay, I'll be honest---I have to have nitrous just to get my teeth cleaned, as I have a bit of PTSD from biting down on a drill when I was young---so maybe that isn't a great analogy).
Suffice it to say, summers in our apartment complex(es) --- we lived in quite a few as we would have to move as soon as the rent would go up--- were pretty fun for me. I would spend most of my time out by the pool, getting brown and reading voraciously. But about an hour before I knew Mother would be coming home, I would go inside the apartment, clean it as best as an 11 year old could, and begin making dinner so Mother would not have to worry about it. I got good at cooking hamburger patties with mushroom gravy on them, a noodle dish, and a salad. That was my go-to, anyway. I'm certain I had more of a repertoire, but Dave doesn't believe I ever cooked, as I avoid it like the plague now, so I won't go on and on about my culinary skills as a pre-teen. Why did I do it? I absolutely adored the feeling I got when Mother would walk in the door, exhausted from a day on her feet at the hospital, and she would see the clean apartment, maybe a silly little poem I had written her to cheer her up, and then the look on her face when she saw that dinner was all ready. She lavished praise on my good works, and I ate it up. I can only believe that trying to make her happy had become one of my missions in life.
Fast forward to the work I do now: consulting, training, presenting, conducting keynotes, and coaching. When I work with groups in person, relationship-building is so much easier. I get to know their names, and they see how much I care about them. Doing all this work online has presented its challenges, but the toughest challenge I have faced is not always being able to see the looks on the faces of the people to whom I am presenting, especially in a keynote for 325 people. I always feel I could have done something differently that may have made the presentation or workshop even better, but, for the most part, I'm fairly confident in the skills I have learned over the years.
And then...the evaluations come in. Dave always jokes with me, saying, "You could have 100 people in your workshop; 95 could say it was the best they've ever attended; 4 could say something neutral, and one could say they didn't care for it. You would focus on the one." It is so true. I call it my 95 or 99% rule. I want to please every single person with whom I come in contact. After all, I was the court jester who made my mother laugh throughout my life with her. I'm supposed to be entertaining and useful. That's what my ego tells me. And yet, when someone says something like, "This was supposed to be a keynote, but it felt more like instruction, in which we were asked to do work", I get my feelings hurt. Instead, I should likely be saying to myself, "Of course you are going to be asked to do something. I teach educators! Why would you expect me not to model what good teaching is by realizing students of any age cannot be talked TO for longer than about 10 minutes with doing something---cognitive or writing or talking? I believe this is the premise on which TED talks were built---the notion that people can stay engaged for about 10 minutes of being talked TO, before they start to fidget. But then why can't I let that one evaluation go, despite my rationalizing why I teach the way I teach? Ten other people can say, "I love how you infuse humor into your teaching" or "I love how you practice what you preach", but I don't lose sleep about those. I lose sleep over the one...but I'm working on it.
What about you? What do you think of me? No, no, no...that's not my question. My question is "What about you? What is your kryptonite?" While mine is people-pleasing, what is yours? I stand by the belief that naming it and even saying it outloud to other people not only lessens its impact but it makes me realize how truly silly it is. Don't get me wrong---I want to produce high-quality instruction at all times. But if the bulk of the feedback is positive, why lose sleep over that which I cannot control? (I once got feedback saying, "My biggest complaint is the coffee---they should have served Starbucks." Seriously? That's all you have to give me? I'm not even in charge of the coffee! I'm in charge of the instruction!!).
Just for today, perhaps it would be wise for all of us to examine what makes up who we are, think about where it might stem from, and whether it is necessary now, despite serving us well in our past. I think I'll do just that...after I finish flogging myself for messing up the words to one of the verses of one of the songs I was leading for our virtual worship in church this morning.
As we muddle our way through this unique time in our lives, the notion of communication has come up so many times. Rest assured, this is not a post about politics, media, or anything (hopefully) controversial. On the contrary, I want to share that I truly believe in the power of effective communication, enough so that I wrote a book on it several years ago. I have learned a great deal since 2012, when that book was first published. Some tenets of the book are simply common sense, but then I ask myself, "Then why are we still struggling with them??" I think it is because we need reminders or we will slide back into our own bad habits. I'll highlight three of the points I feel are most important:
1. If it isn't helpful or kind or (I don't know if it is) true, I have no business sharing it:
I have learned this lesson the hard way. You know the scenario. Someone says something or I hear something on the news or I read something in a magazine, and I commit the critical error of repeating it to another person. What's the real problem? I might have heard something, but that doesn't mean it is true, and it certainly might not be kind or helpful. I work a pretty amazing spiritual program that encourages me to examine that principle to the fullest extent. I actually have a great spiritual advisor who reminds me that it is absolutely none of my business what other people think about me, as they are going to form their own opinions of me regardless. But I am pretty sure I can lean people to my dark side if I get caught up in any of the drama or spectacle my part could play in it. So, for the most part, I follow this "rule of thumb" pretty closely.
2. Listen to each other versus listening to get ready to respond:
I have fallen victim to this from both ends. Imagine you are out to dinner. Wow, maybe I should just leave that out there for a moment----imagine that you get to go out to dinner----some are still waiting months to do that. Just go down that road with me. Imagine you are out to dinner with a group of friends, masks or no masks, depending on the decade. You get into a conversation about politics (even though you had tried putting the kabash on all things political), and people begin talking over one another. It seems to me that, at this point, whether the topic is politics, religion, white privilege or how to potty train your child, people have begun talking to hopefully convince others that their own way is the highway. What I really think, internally, is that we do it to validate or internalize our own belief systems (like, I need to keep saying it out loud so I can continue to believe in this myth I've held true all my life, possibly). But what if....just what if...we listened to learn another person's truth and to welcome it? I am not saying I am any expert at this, by any means, but I will say I am trying to practice it. Why? Because what if...just what if...that myth I've been holding onto my entire life (or perhaps since I earned the right to vote) might need a tune-up or a fresh way of viewing things? Only through truly listening to another's truth would it be possible to accept or admit that I am changing my mind about my own myths. And change can lead to transformation, right? I always tell my adult participants with whom I'm blessed to work that "when I quit learning, I am going to quit teaching". And yet, every single time I teach, I learn something new----a new strategy, a new way of viewing something I have held true in my career, or even something new about myself. Therefore, as I grapple with all these new learnings, it is highly unlikely I will quit teaching for quite some time.
3. Relationships are seldom improved by emails and texts:
This is a truth I am still constantly learning. It is a lesson I can say "I've got this now", and then suddenly, I am sucked into the vortex of "Oh crum, I did it again!!" Imagine the scenario in which you want to share some information with someone or ask a question. You email the person, explaining your position, and then asking a question which seems innocuous to you. And yet...the person on the receiving end is not inside your head or your heart and they have other things going on with themselves. Perhaps they just had a trail of emails that made them defensive. Your email ends up being the straw that breaks that camel's back, bringing that proverbial came,l to its knees. The person fires back an email to you laced with sarcasm and/or passive aggressiveness. And so it continues. What lessons have I learned from scenarios like this?
a. Get off the dance floor. Do not feed the beast. If someone engages in an email war, it will not be won by anyone via email. Simply quit the dance and try a new way of communicating.
b. I seem to have a short memory, as I do this every so often despite knowing it might not turn out well
c. Picking up the phone is a great alternative, as we can then hear expressions in people's voices, subtle innuendos that put us at peace, whereas the written word carries too many connotations that can be misconstrued in a negative fashion.
d. Honesty is the best policy. If I make a mistake, I need to own up to it. For example, "I am so sorry I said 'XYZ'. It was not my intent for it to come off in any hurtful manner, but I can certainly see how it might have done the very thing I was trying to avoid." You notice the missing word? "BUT". The word "but" negates every single thing I said before. For instance, "I am so sorry I said 'XYZ', but you really shouldn't have fired back with the sarcasm either." What's the difference? Night and day, as far as I'm concerned.
Just for today, perhaps we might consider the way we say things and how we want our relationships with people to be nurtured. I can honestly say I love my friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances through work and play; I would never intentionally hurt anyone through my communication. But the fact remains that we likely need these reminders to be more effective in our communication. I know that, having written this blog, I will be more cognizant of my verbal and written words for a while, at least until that time in which the same issue crops up again, and I'll have to blog to atone for my sins again.
I think Stephen Covey knew exactly what he was talking about (as if he needs my endorsement, right?) when he came up with the 7 habits. One of Dave's and my favorite ones is "Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood" (Covey, 2004). I know you are sitting on the edge of your seat in anticipation of me telling you why. I believe that, with all that is going on in the world right now, it is a perfect time to drag this one out from the corners of our minds (dust-bunnies and all) and ponder on it. We are living in a world in which people are "unfriending" friends and family because someone said something with which we disagreed. And, boy, are there things on which we disagree. But Covey's "habit" tells us we should simply see (not believe, necessarily) another's point of view before having our say about the topic.
Once every two weeks at our Episcopal church in Tucson, we practice what we call "For God's Sake, Listen", which is simply a listening protocol designed to get those of us who are interested to think about what we think about a particular topic. Yes, you read that correctly. We are tasked to think about our own thinking on a subject such as coffee makers (yes, that was really one of first topics), write our thoughts, feelings, and wonderings about the topic, then listen while, one by one, each of us (in our groups of approximately 4 - 5 people) shares what we wrote. The kicker is: one person shares, then the next person shares without commenting on the 1st person's share, then the next person does the same, and so on, until everyone in the group has simply shared their initial thoughts. Then, and only then, do we open it up for discussion. But the point is: the first step was simply listening to all people in the group share their own truth. The next part is having a spokesperson from each group share highlights from the discussion with the whole group. Not every week is about coffee, of course. Today's topic was: white privilege. We conducted it over a Zoom meeting after our "substitute priest" for the day had preached on the topic of his own experience with white privilege. The experience for today's session of "For God's Sake, Listen" was interesting, as we broke into breakout rooms on Zoom, but the protocol remained the same, allowing people to first share their own truth then listening to others' perspectives. Some people are simply in the question-asking phase; others are in the "I've experienced discrimination in other ways" phase; others, still, are in the "I recognize this is a huge problem; I just don't know what I can do about it". I think this is a perfect example of seeking first to understand, then to be understood. What better time to listen to the experiences of our friends who are Black before we start telling how we feel. As for "Black Lives Matter", we've all heard the rebuttal of "All Lives Matter". A dear friend of mine (with whom I did a Habitat for Humanity build in Africa two years ago) had an answer that I just loved, mostly because it put it in an analogy I could "get". She said, "Of course all lives matter, but right now, the house of our Black friends is on fire, so we need to focus on that one right now." I suspect the house has been on fire for a couple of hundred years, but we are hopefully finally taking notice. Seeking first to understand, then to be understood helps me put this in perspective. I hope it does for you, as well. As an lifelong educator, I have a unique perspective that involves how this oh-so-important topic impacts our schools. There is no question, there is an issue of the "haves" and "have-nots" but there has also always been a question swirling around my mind about how we think we can make public schools that are struggling perform better if our "quick fix" seems to be to create charter schools which take students (and the money that goes along with those students) away from those schools. Shouldn't we, instead, focus on boosting those struggling schools? One of my dear doctoral students just virtually graduated yesterday, and as I saw Dr. Reggie Wicker's face light up the screen on the live Facebook graduation, I kept thinking about his own dissertation that examined how we can increase the Black male mentorship of Black boys in schools. Will his dissertation change the world? Maybe not. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it is going to make a difference in the schools in which he works. I am privileged to have worked with him, and I thank God for allowing him to give me some new insight and perspective on this topic.
Just for today, maybe we could consider what we believe about "white privilege" and how we have accepted any myths we have grown up believing. Perhaps might be the time to examine those myths and what we think, feel and wonder about those myths. And above all, "For God's Sake, Listen!"
Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People: Restoring The Character Ethic. New York : Free Press, 2004.
I taught Character Education lessons to students for about 16 years as a guidance counselor and principal in middle and elementary schools, and I can honestly say I never asked this question. We did talk about the courage certain characters in history and fiction possessed; we talked about ethical dilemmas and if there was ever a time when it was okay not to be honest; we discussed how standing up for the right thing may be hard to do but it's the right thing to do; we created skits about good character; we even adopted Stephen Covey's 7 habits of highly effective people as our school theme to encourage good character among students, staff and faculty, and parents. And yet, we neglected to talk about popcorn.
Today, our Episcopal Diocesan Bishop talked about popcorn, however, and it has really made me think. She said she was in a seminar a few years ago when the presenter mentioned that a popcorn kernel was the pinnacle of integrity. The Right Reverend Jennifer said she wrestled with it for a couple of days, but when the speaker brought it up again, she had to say something. Up went her hand, she was called on, and she said, "I just don't understand. Isn't the popcorn kernel's purpose in life to become popcorn?" She argued that when a kernel is fully formed or living with integrity (as it is doing its primary purpose), it is a piece of popcorn. The presenter had other ideas, though, and proceeded to argue his point. He said, "The popcorn kernel contains a droplet of water. When heated, the water transforms into steam, and it builds up pressure, which causes the kernel to pop." He went on to say that when a kernel remains a kernel, it is showing integrity by not succumbing to "pressure" to be something else. Too deep? I don't think so. I think it is actually a great topic to pose to students and adults alike.
At what stage is a kernel of popcorn demonstrating the most integrity?
I sure would be interested in hearing the thoughts of others, as it has stirred up some pretty great conversation at our house. Dave even brought in the notion of "old maids". You know, we've all had the experience of thinking we were putting what looked like a fully formed piece of popcorn in our mouth, only to bite down on a hard kernel. What a disappointment, especially if it results in a trip to the dentist! Does the partially popped kernel contain any amount of integrity? I would argue a vehement "No way, Jose!" as it is quite deceptive and cunning.
What's the point? I believe that our Bishop posed the question so that we do just that---think. I love thinking, and I love thinking about my own thinking---the true definition of metacognition, right? I think, just as with any ethical question I might have posed to my students when I was a counselor or principal, the point is not just to answer the question above. In fact, if we stop there, we've missed the point entirely. We need to follow up with:
For what reason do you believe what you believe about the kernel of popcorn?
Without the follow-up, the question might just be silly. But if I say I truly believe the kernel is at its fullest development, including spiritually, physically, cognitively, and mentally when it is "popcorn", I can begin talking about what it means to be at my fullest development in each of those areas. Thinking breeds thinking, in other words.
Some people might say, "We have too much to teach in school without adding something else to the curriculum". I firmly believe that character education isn't something else we teach, but rather it should be infused into every single thing we teach. When talking about the Civil War, doesn't the issue of family loyalty versus "what you believe" arise? When teaching about formulas in trigonometry, what would you do if you discovered a new formula---would you sell it to the highest bidder? When teaching about science, doesn't the evolution/creation topic almost always arise? The cool thing, to me, is that everyone can hold their own beliefs but be willing to listen to those of other people in class. I hold a firm belief that if we taught our students how to listen while suspending their own inner agendas, those same students would become adults who might be able to do the same thing.
And then...what a wonderful world it would be!
So, what do you think about the popcorn kernel??
When you were a little girl or little boy, what were your dreams for your future? Did you imagine you would be married with children? Did you want to become a marine biologist? Maybe you wanted to be the first Black president of the United States. As far as I can remember, I always wanted to be a teacher. I lined up my stuffed animals (they were obedient little pupils, but it was tough to do any heavy discussions with them), and I taught them multiplication tables and read to them. I suppose I had hopes and dreams to get married to a wonderful man, but no dream truly could have come close to the man I married. Dave not only is the rock when I have needed that support, but he has also encouraged me to continue to reach all my educational dreams. Learning has always been one of my favorite hobbies (next to reading for pleasure), and I couldn't believe it when I was accepted to Trinity University in San Antonio that blessedly came with a hefty scholarship in education. Were it not for that scholarship, there is no question that I would have gone to college elsewhere. That would have been sad, as my two best friends in the entire world (along with so many other lifelong friends) were "found" at Trinity. If you haven't ever been there, I must say it is likely one of the most beautiful campuses I've ever seen. From our dorm to the library, it was a good little walk, but that kept the "freshman 15" down to more like "freshman 10". I loved and adored everything about the school, including having the gift of working in the Education Department all four years of my time there. It was somewhere during maybe the 2nd or 3rd year of my experience at Trinity (which, by the way, led me to change my major from simply "Education" to Special Education and the myriad of amazing experiences that came along with that) that I said aloud, "I would love to work here someday." Now, that was a dream.
In the next 30 years, I've been blessed to teach students with severe emotional/behavior disabilities as well as students with developmental difficulties. I credit my education at Trinity for preparing me in so many ways for working with those students who touched my life forever. After teaching for several years, Dave and I moved to New Mexico where Dave's work afforded me the blessing and opportunity to earn my master's degree in Counseling and Educational Psychology. I knew that I would never get out of the education realm, but I figured that degree might help me understand the students with whom I worked on a deeper, perhaps more emotional, level. Dave always swears I wanted to get that counseling degree so that I could "psychoanalyze" him, but I promise that was not my primary motive. After getting a chance to be a school counselor for several years, I was once again "blessed" with the opportunity to apply for and get the job as principal at the best elementary school in the world (good thing it didn't make me biased, right?). I learned so very much from my work with teachers, staff, parents, and students who truly grew to be family to me. Along the way, I believe I may have mentioned to Dave that I would love to keep learning, so I went back to school again to get my doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. Since then, I have gotten the opportunity to become a professor at a couple of online universities and teach teachers and administrators about effective teaching around the world as a Danielson consultant.
As my dad still lives in San Antonio (not to mention my best friend from high school), I have traveled there so very many times over the years. Most trips back necessitated a trip to Trinity just to walk or drive through the campus. A girl could dream, and dream I did: of someday becoming a professor in the Education Department tucked among beautiful trees and architecture.
I do believe that dreams come true---marrying Dave is living proof of that. And now, my pinnacle professional dream has just come true, as I have just been hired to become a professor of Special Education at....wait for it...Trinity University!! To say I am "over the moon" excited about the opportunity would be the understatement of the century. Giving back to the university that began my post-high school education and is mired in so many beautiful memories is likely one of the best dreams come true! But here's the thing that Dave always tells me, and someday maybe I will believe it for myself: dreams don't just come true; we must keep those goals and dreams in front of us and consistently work towards them. After listening to Michelle Obama's "Becoming", digitally, while I run, I also loved watched her 90 minute video of her book tour. She has so many quotes about opportunities, lost opportunities, making your own way in the world, and believing that you can achieve your goals. I am living the dream, for sure, and I cannot express how much I look forward to working at a school that gave me a chance when monetary circumstances in our family would never have afforded me that opportunity.
Trinity...here I come!!
Happy Communicating, and may all your dreams come true!
Wow, there is so much to say, and yet I don't know that I know what to say. And, as Dave can tell you, I am typically not at a loss for words. In our Episcopal church, each week, we say a litany called "Words for the Wordless". One of the last lines says, "We believe questions are more valuable than answers". I was working with some administrators the other day on how they talk with their teachers after an observation. I was sharing with them that many teachers, when talked WITH about their observation versus being talked TO about their observations, say they have never before gotten so much chance to share their thoughts. These same teachers will say things like, "This conversation really made me think." Isn't that exactly what we want? So, I shared with the administrators what we say in church----certainly not to proselytize---but to say how valuable the questioning process can be.
After the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests, demonstrations, and widespread violence, I have had the opportunity to talk with some of my dear friends who happen to be black. Scratch that---I took the opportunity and made time to talk with some of my black friends. What's the difference? I've always had the opportunity to talk with my friends who have been margianilized because of their race, color or religion. But this time, I took advantage of asking some questions. I asked questions about whether they had felt overt or covert racism in their lives. I heard stories about feeling watched when they were the only black person in a room or class of white people. I heard a story from a black teacher named Gerry who was new to a school. On the "welcome back" day, the principal stood at the door as all the teachers entered and shook hands with every white teacher. When Gerry got to the principal, the principal held up his hand in an effort to "high-five" him. Gerry held out his hand to get a handshake, just as was done for every other teacher. Did the principal overtly or consciously mean to be racist? I would guess not. But Gerry remembers this experience from years and years ago. One of my friends told me that, although she grew up quite "privileged", she still experienced racism in various "shades"----people calling her the "n" word in school, etc. I was appalled, and yet I remember being a principal in a school that was mostly filled with white children and a handful of Hispanic and Black children. The first time I heard a student tell me they had been called the "n" word, I was livid. After all, we had (for years) worked on the character traits of respect, kindness, and courage. Why would any of the students in our school say that word in the first place, much less to call another one of our "family" that horrific name? When I asked the offender, he said, "I didn't think it was that big of a deal. My dad calls the people he works with n________s". It reminded me of that song from South Pacific, "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught", in which the lyrics say:
"You've got to be taught to hate and fear
You've got to be taught from year to year
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught
You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade
You've got to be carefully taught
You've got to be taught before it's too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You've got to be carefully taught"
I get chills every time I read those lyrics, as I totally believe this is true. How would little ones ever know to show hatred for anyone whose skin color is different if they hadn't been carefully taught? I was not taught that way, as growing up in San Antonio, the skin colors of all of us were so varied, who would have been the "target" audience? But I still have black friends that say, "You may feel different from all your Jewish friends because you are Episcopalian, but people do not pre-judge you when you walk in a room since you don't have 'Episcopalian' written across your forehead." I know that to be true, as well. When someone is black, their very skin color is announced the moment they walk in a room.
So, what am I called to do? I think the first thing I was called to do was exactly what I just talked about---asking questions of my friends who are black and truly listening to their experiences. I also think I am called to examine my own "white privilege" even though I have always shared that I grew up most of my life with a single mother who worked super long hours as a ward clerk at a hospital. I felt upset when she was too exhausted at night to come to most of my choir concerts or when she didn't have the extra $7 to allow me to go to an end-of-year field trip/party when I was in middle school. But really?? Is that the same as being judged from the second you walk into a store and being followed around by store employees simply because of your color? I think not.
I still have a long way to go to understand my own views on these issues, and I ask God each morning to direct my thinking. However, I know for certain that I will only grow if I am prepared to feel a bit of discomfort. And, most of all, I have to honestly believe that questions are more valuable than answers.
In one of the classes I'm teaching for Educational Leadership at Grand Canyon University, I posed a question about who the students would or could talk to if they found themselves in a position in which they didn't know what to do or how to handle a particular school situation. One of my students spoke of the "tribe" she uses to bounce ideas off of. Several of us have posted responses to her practice. I am so blessed to have several tribes with whom I use for different situations in life.
In presenting to teachers, school leaders, and university professionals all over the world, I have been so happy to find people with whom I can co-present, people who I go to for new ideas on presenting strategies, administrators who network with me and continue to become true friends and comrades in this education journey. I tell new teachers and administrators to "stick with the winners" and only go to those people for advice. Some people in education (any profession, also, of course) can get burnt out and share their burnt out feelings. Who needs that?
When faced with a situation in which I'm feeling resentful, discouraged, or troubled by worry, I have a tribe of spiritual advisors and fellow travelers who are still making their way through situations that used to baffle me. We can discuss our journeys, give each other advice and not be offended in the least if the person decides to go a different direction (after all, it is not my business to "grade" someone on the choices they make, only to be there to support).
Dave makes fun of me because I tell so many people "I love you". You know why I do that? Because I love so many people. I know better than to share every single secret in my life with every single person, but I still love and cherish the relationships I have with so many friends from so many different seasons of my life. Let me preface this by saying I went to 8 different schools in my 12 years of K-12 schooling. I still have managed to stay friends with Tricia, my bestie from 4th - 6th grade. I also am still EXTREMELY close to my rock and cornerstone best friend from high school, Denise. She and her family even vacation with Dave and me once every other year to Cabo San Lucas. Robin and Kelly were my best friends in college, we were in each others' weddings, and we now get together at least twice a year (husbands are allowed to come for the summer trip). We just finished with one of those "you can come, too, husbands, but beware----there will be loads of laughter that turns to crying between the three girls". The guys have simply resigned themselves to the notion that you can't contain this joy, so they no longer try. All of these friends are near and dear to me and are unique in each way we value our friendship.
What about you? Who is in your tribe? And for what reasons do they stay there?
Happy Communicating (in and out of your tribe),