The Story of My Dad

My dad.20130821-215039.jpg

All my life I have looked for connections to him. I barely lived with him two years of my life, so we never knew each other in the everyday. We had an every other weekend kind of relationship. I knew I had inherited his blue eyes and dark hair, along with his love of learning and reading. The things I knew of him were mostly from observation. He thoroughly enjoyed a crossword puzzle. He valued his brothers and sisters, and especially his mom. He liked to tell stories about growing up and share the history of the small town, and its people, where he spent his life. He was gentle, easy-going, and flirtatious; teasing us and making us laugh. He was a non-confrontational man. I learned this when he told me no, and then gave in as I proceeded to throw a fit. He would sing songs while my sister and I sat with him in the front seat of his car. I can still hear, “It’s a Fine Time to Leave Me Lucille (Loose Wheel)” and “You Are My Sunshine.” I knew he loved me. I came to understand that neither of us would have chosen this path, but it was ours and we belonged to each other.

He went in for a simple test. Things happened, some say mistakes. Whatever it was, why-ever it happened I count it as a blessing. I spent hours upon hours just being with him. He still teased and made us laugh. He would break out in song unexpectedly, this time without the radio. During this time I also got to know him as a stubborn, occasionally grumpy man. Someone who had a hard time being still and was always ready to go somewhere. I learned he was a faithful friend who had many lifetime friends. I found out he studied how things were built when he went into a place, and that he took notice of interesting architecture. I asked him about his father who had passed before I was born. He told me his dad was the smartest man he had ever known even though he had a limited education. I learned my dad had lived with much guilt. He regretted not being there for me, giving me advice, and sharing his life’s wisdom.

In his last days I found connections. The more time I spent with my dad, the more I saw myself in him. One night when he was especially restless and couldn’t sleep, I did the only thing I knew to do, the same thing I had done with my kids from the time they were small, something I had learned from him. I begin to sing to him. This time it was Amazing Grace. He settled down and began to sing with me, “How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I am found…” Later as we were talking, I brought up a topic that has always been difficult to talk to him about. I told him what God has shown me about His forgiveness, and how Jesus loves us and forgives even when we can’t forgive ourselves. He told me how my grandma, his mom, had believed in Jesus with a vengeance (his words). I asked, “What about you? Do you believe?” He nodded as tears filled his eyes and I hugged him and cried. It was weeks later that he would pass and I would question what that conversation meant, if my dad truly knew that he could have a relationship with this God who is unseen to the naked eye. The other day I was talking to a friend about all this when she asked, “What do you know about God’s character?” Tears flooded my eyes and I knew. The Truth that had pierced my heart so many years ago, had pierced it again. We love because He first loved us. (1John 4:19) It is not about us and what we can do, it is about Him and what He has already done.

Three months after my dad simply went in for a test, he took his last breath. It was the shortest and longest three months of my life. My heart is broken. I miss those carefree weekends as a child. I miss those sweet hours in the hospital just being together. This wasn’t the path either of us would have chosen, but it was the path that brought us together.

 

Continuing the Conversation

Anyone who has ever tried to introduce new ideas in an established institution knows that it is hard. Last year, as I began a new position that would hopefully begin to promote a change in how teachers and students thought about and used technology in education, I was realistic about the time, energy and difficulty of the job. However, the difficulties varied in ways that I could not have imagined and continued even in the successes. One of those ways was the frustrating reality that I was a “prophet in my own land.”

After attending ISTE last year in San Diego by myself, I was excited to be able to bring along four colleagues this year. Two of them were first grade teachers whom I had worked closely with as we began implementing iPads into the classroom. They left the conference ready to go back and share their shift in thinking. They got it! And I learned the hard cold lesson that no matter how many times and different ways you try to share a message, sometimes people need to hear a different voice.

As usual, while I mulled all of this over in my head the topic was already being addressed by other bloggers. The great thing about blogging and social media is that we can continue conversations and draw on each others’ perspectives to continue our own learning.

When I read the quote below, I knew exactly what Rafranz Davis was saying in her post 20 Tips To Being a Prophet In Your Own Land 

“…it seemed as if the training stayed behind in the training room. It was disheartening to experience. The thing is, that many of us experience this same reality.”

In The Prophets In Your Land, George Couros addresses the culture shift that needs to happen in our schools toward sharing with and learning from each other.

“Think about it … there are tons of teachers out there sharing awesome things on their blogs, great ideas to improve teaching, learning, and leading, yet how often does their OWN staff use their work as a basis for anything?”

One thing I try to teach my students is that they can not always control situations around them or what other people say or do, but the one thing they can control and be responsible for is the way they react. In that vein, here is some advice to myself, and anyone else who might need it.

Don’t take it personal. When you are passionate about something that is not accepted, it is hard not to take it personal. Acknowledge that disappointment and move on, because… It is not about you. Think of it as developing ego resiliency and focus on what is important. It is about student learning.

Celebrate successes, no matter where they come from. Support the paradigm shift. We may not get to flip the switch to turn the lightbulb on, but we can keep supplying it the energy it needs.

You may not see immediate results of your efforts. Keep sharing innovative ideas and sometimes, Show instead of tell. Actions always speak louder than words. Remember, You are not alone. Every teacher, principal, coach, etc. who is practicing and sharing innovative teaching and learning practices has the same struggles. Dig dip into the well that is your PLN, we need each other.

Time In the White Space

Have you ever had ideas, words, or analogies that stick with you for days, weeks, even years?

“In the white space” was one of those for me. When I was a college student trying to navigate the choices of life, I took a mass media class. It was a fascinating class for many reasons, but one of the things that stuck with me was the importance of white space.

White space in journalism is that space where there is nothing. White space has no text or photograph and yet it gives meaning to the entire publication. It is what draws your eyes and mind to the message and is the very thing that can make or break effective communication. White space provides balance to the composition.

Somewhere on the timeline from that college course until now, I began thinking of white space in terms of life. The white space of life is the time and space where there is nothing else… no doing, just being.  It is the time we need to take to reflect on lessons we learn in the busy-ness of life.  This time of reflection can make or break effective transmission of information and experience in our lives. If we do not take the time or space to reflect and respond to what we learn, it tends to get mixed up, cluttered and lost amidst all the other details of life.

This blog is the place for my white space moments. It is my attempt at creating that elusive balance needed for my life’s composition. It is a random reflection of eclectic thoughts written and shared for clarity.

Be Different

My Daddy's Girl

My Daddy’s Girl

Daddy
How does he feel? That closed mouthed man.
I wouldn’t dare ask; For what I might not hear.
Has he missed the lost years? Or is he relieved?
He had none of the problems. Frustrations. Or fears.
Does he regret his decisions? Does he realize?
I always wanted to be “daddy’s girl”, but I didn’t know how?
~ my 20-year-old self, March 1992

I wrote this poem in college. It was a rhythm assignment for a writing class. It expresses my feelings about the primitive relationship I had with my father. My parents divorced when I was three years old and it is simply hard to build a relationship with someone you talk to every other weekend. I have always used writing to express myself. For me, words seem to flow much easier through my hands than out of my mouth. That is also why I find it so hard to publicly share. – Something I am trying to make an effort to change this summer, so that I am not such a hypocrite when I tell teachers and students how purposeful it is to blog. – My writing is so often personal and even when it is not, it is still part of me… who I am… laid out for all to see. To be criticized. (because I don’t always use complete sentences) What I have learned over the past two years about blogging is that it is the humanity of the blog posts I read that connects me to that person. It is through the imperfections that I am able to learn most. Sounds like teaching.

So, why am I sharing this now? Our school year ended a month ago, but for me it was cut short by almost two weeks when my dad went in for a fairly routine test and has yet to go home. What I have learned about my dad over the years, and confirmed in the many hours I have spent with him over the past 6 weeks, is that he didn’t know how to have that relationship either. It has never been about him not wanting it. We are alike in many ways – deep feelers and thinkers, but also self-preservationists. I have spent more time with my dad over these last few weeks than I may have spent in my entire life because he has been so sick I wasn’t sure if I would ever get another chance. He is slowly getting better and the doctors think they can do some things to give him even more time. He and I have been given a chance to do things different.

In many ways, this has given me a better understanding of where some of the teachers I work with are coming from. It is easy to always do what you have always done. It is easy to continue in the known than to step into the unknown by taking a chance and doing something different. It’s easy, until it’s not. For creatures who are meant to grow and change, we sure do an excellent job of continuing to do the same thing over and over even when it is not the best thing. What do you need to do different? What changes for the better do you need to make? I can think of a few… and it is going to be hard, but undoubtedly worth it.

Don’t Go Changing To Try and Please Me

It’s one of those things you think you’ll grow out of. But you don’t. Trying to please others.

Most of my disappointing relationships, poor choices and even bad teaching experiences have been borne out of my trying to meet the expectations of others. It is one of those things that you don’t even realize you are doing until its done. You say something you really don’t mean because it fits into the conversation, or you want so bad for a relationship to work that you try to be everything you think the other person could ever want or need. Or you try to conduct your class the way you anticipate that your administrator wants, even when it feels wrong down to your bones. Pleasing others. Do our efforts ever accomplish their desired outcome? In my experiences, it has just made me miserable and caused me to fall flat on my face.

I have been thinking a lot about how this relates to the classroom. We fear trying something new because we know the other grade level teachers won’t be on board. We make decisions about how to conduct our classrooms based on what the next grade level will expect. We ask students to do things, sometimes beyond their developmental ability, because we look at expectations of middle school, high school or colleges to guide us. And what is the outcome? There will always be those students who do well at school, because they fit the mold. I wonder how many of them become teachers because school is what they are good at and expect the same from their students? However, I believe most students become disillusioned with the institution of learning and define themselves by their failure to meet our expectations, which are not really our expectations to begin with.  Are we making decisions based on what is best for the students or what is best for the teachers above us?

I almost always have more questions than answers, but here are a few things that I think would help.

  • Build confidence in teachers that they are the professionals in their classroom.
  • Develop a culture of appreciation for every level of education at your school.
  • Align standards, but encourage teachers to be creative in their instruction.
  • We focus a lot on telling students that being different is okay, but show them by giving them choices in learning and assessment.
  • Make time to allow for students and teachers to reflect. In my opinion, the process of reflecting and having conversations about our reflections will help all of us learn exponentially more about teaching, learning, and ourselves.

We talk a lot about change, but real change never comes until we individually take the journey ourselves to know who we are, be who we are, and understand where we want to go.

What do you think?

On Blogging and Putting Myself Out There

“There are many things in life that will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart...pursue those.”~Michael Nolan

“There are many things in life that will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart…pursue those.”~Michael Nolan

Blogging should be the perfect platform for me.  Since childhood, I have always liked to write.  Not necessarily because I am crazy good at it, but because it is often the only way I can process my thoughts.  In my introverted nature, writing has at times been a way for me to communicate… to share my voice when I felt like I had no other way.  Maybe I should say, I have always needed to write.  With every ounce of my fiber, I believe all people would do better to spend time reflecting on what they are learning.  This is precisely the purpose and meaning behind “In the White Space.”

So, why are there 123 notes in my Evernote notebook called “Thoughts to Blog” and only five on my actual blog space?

This isn’t the first time I have written about the difficulty of blogging.  My first post was about taking baby steps toward the blogging life.  At first, my biggest barrier was myself, and the fear of putting myself out there.  I was dealing with those and then was faced with something new.  Without going into details, I experienced an attitude about blogs that I wasn’t prepared for.  One that asserted blogging was inconsequential because it wasn’t professionally edited or backed by research.  Hmm. This first made me mad because it demeaned, without knowing it, the incredible professional growth I have experienced over the last few years as I have learned from countless education bloggers.  Then it made me think.  What if putting myself out there caused others to see me in a light that was less than professional?

From the time I can remember, my mom has used the phrase, “You wear your heart on your sleeve” to describe me.  Most of the time, I am okay with that and see it as a mark of being a passionate person.  However, when negative opinions about things that have changed who I am as a teacher and even as a person, cause me to pull back – I really dislike that heart wearing sleeve girl.

In the end, I am okay with putting myself out there and even making mistakes.  I have a voice, no matter how small (did you just hear Dr. Seuss?) that might help another small voice somewhere.  At the very least, I will have learned more by reflecting and writing about my experiences and readings – books, journal articles, and yes… even blogs.

So, whomever may be reading this, it is what it is.  A place…

To reflect, process and share my journey.

Where I might make grammatical mistakes or click publish before my writing has been proofread three times.

To share what I have learned in the classroom with real students.

That welcomes responses and refinement on ideas or practices.

Where I can grow.

To make you think or even blog.

Failure Is Optional

Our elementary staff meets weekly on Monday afternoons.  The time is set aside to discuss upcoming events, new initiatives or professional development.  Two weeks ago, my principal and I tag-teamed to share the overview and expectations of technology integration this year.  In my eagerness to share the overflow of all that I have learned in the past two years, I talked a little too long and shared a little too much.

While my passion for learning and using technology was received well enough, in my mind I knew,

I had blown it.

My goal this year is simple.  Begin building the culture needed to experiment, explore, and equip teachers in selecting and using technology purposefully in the classroom.  Knowing culture is borne from relationships and environment my intention has been to listen to teachers, to build trust, and to meet them where they are in their learning.  Talking at people and overwhelming people does nothing to build relationships.  I was upset with myself because I had been so intentional until this point.

So, what now?

I knew I had messed up.  The perfectionist in me beat myself up and moped about it for a couple of days, and then the learner took over. I could learn from this and make it right.  Failure is temporary and is based on perception.  Failure is optional.  I hadn’t failed.

With this realization, I began planning for the next week.  Many things came up during the week that threatened to deter my “do-over.”  I chose multiple times to not go with what would be easiest or most comfortable, but pushed for what I knew would be most helpful.  The plan was for staff to learn new ways to use the technology we already have.  The directive was simple, “Share what you know.”  Our preK – 5 teachers were divided into groups and assigned a facilitator.  These are the comments I received the following day.

“Yesterday afternoon was great. We need to do this on a regular basis.”

“It helped me realize how much I really know and can share.”

“That was very helpful for me.”

“I learned things I could come back the next day and put into practice.”

As teachers, we need to acknowledge that the very thing we find a waste of our time is what we so often do or go back to doing in our classroom.  Our classrooms should be guided conversations with all members encouraged to participate.  Students should have time to practice, make mistakes, and be allowed to make it right or “do over.”

I can already hear pushback in my own head. Having taught middle school students and raising two of my own, I know failure can be a real thing.  We can not make choices for others no matter how much we want to, and we can not make anyone want to do something.  So yes failure can be real, but it is optional.

What do you think? Agree, disagree? Leave a comment.