Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Anchors

Here we are standing astraddle of two years again.  Being on that threshold always prompts both 
reflection 
and 
projection.  

With that dichotomy in mind, reflection on some of the timeless things I value is in order as we close the door on 2013:
  • The deep sleep I experience while holding a napping grandchild to my chest
  • The swell of pride in seeing students/colleagues experience success
  • The feel of the sun on my shoulders (maybe not so much in August)
  • Hand tools that simply won’t wear out
  • The warmth of my family's love
  • The Comanche moon
  • Faith in a Creator who cares
  • The touch of Moe's hand in mine
  • Animals and ground I “own” providing the food we need
  • Work skills learned as a youngster, that serve me well still
  • Ghosts of mentors past who make their “presence” felt from time to time

It is the steadfastness and dependability of these foundational things that anchor me.

They also make the projection part worthwhile.

Happy New Year!


Monday, December 30, 2013

Iterations

I recently served as a judge at an elementary academic meet in a town I’ve never lived in.  When ushered to the room of the contest I began to settle in and prepare for the first contestant.

Upon examining the environment I became aware of a rocking chair that the teacher had placed in the room.  It appeared to be a centerpiece of her teaching craft, evidently used both as a collective gathering place for learning as well as an individual “reward” for students who had performed/behaved well.  As you can see by looking closely, the chair has the definite markings of extensive usage.



As I looked at the chair, I became aware that it was one of my own making, some 20 years earlier. I had built that chair as template for one of my classes, back when I was pretending to be a shop teacher.  Upon further inspection of the environment, I realized that the classroom was that of a (young) lady whom I had taught two decades ago.

It was not lost on me that both the craft of my hands and the craft of my teaching might be having impact on the learning of students whom I would never meet, in places I had never worked, decades after the initial application of my work.

That thought is both awesome and frightening to me.  A powerful reinforcement that our work (as educators, as parents, as mentors) DOES impact the future, for good or bad. 


I am reminded also that we get to choose the kind of impact our work makes.  That choosing is best done through mindfulness and reflection.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Makers

One of the cool things I get to do as a small-school superintendent is occasional duty as the bus driver for field trips.  (Yep, it’s good duty.)

I recently drove the bus for our technology teacher, Darren Wilson, and his 20 students on a field trip to the Maker Lab of Abilene Christian University (ACU).  Though a small university, ACU has made quite a splash nationally in recent years, having been one of the first to give each incoming student a mobile device.  The university has continued to push the envelope with regard to leveraging the digital age to both attract the digital “natives” and to prepare them well for their service and occupational roles in the 21st century.


One dimension of that progressive thinking has been ACU’s construction of a Maker Lab.  Their lab was placed, interestingly, on the bottom floor of their campus library.  The lab is a compilation of tools and spaces designated for design work, of all kinds.  Tools included in the lab include: video equipment, sound/audio stage with green screens, collaboration rooms with multi-screen projection capabilities, laser cutters, 3-D printers, textile fabrication machines, computers for 3-D imaging work, saws, fastening devices, etc., etc.  If it is a device or tool that one can use to build “stuff,” they have it available in the lab.


One of the coolest things about ACU’s conception of the Maker Lab is that it is one of unlimited access.  Any student or professor on the ACU campus is free to use the Maker Lab. The professors and staff of the Maker Lab view themselves as servants and facilitators for any student/professor that comes into the lab with an idea they want to pursue.  If one can dream it up, the Maker Lab team is there to guide you toward the “construction” of that dream.  They are, however, quick to point out that guiding is all they do.  They show lab clients how to use the tools and provide just-in-time direction so that lab users can pursue their unique design interests (whether it be in fabric, film, sound, wood, paper, plastics, metals, or some combination of those media).

The ACU Maker Lab is a marvelous example of learning workspaces created to foster and facilitate high levels of student engagement.  What student wouldn’t love to learn in that kind of environment?


Thanks, Mr. Wilson, for asking this old learner to drive the bus.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Give

Moe (my lovely bride of 36 years) and I feel extremely blessed.  In fact, I simply don’t know a man more blessed than myself.

That said, we feel a powerful obligation to give in return, to try to share blessings with others, somehow, in ways that carry meaning.

Here are three ways of giving that seem important to us:
  • The gift of time.  NOTHING is more important than the precious time we have on this planet.  Gifting it to someone or some worthy organization is most rewarding.
  • The gift of attention.  Few things are as meaningful to others as when we are fully present in our interactions with them.
  • The gift of charity.  Giving from our abundance (whatever that means) centers one in a powerful way.  Our favorite charities are St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (http://www.youtube.com/user/MyStJude) and the West Texas Rehabilitation Center (http://www.westtexasrehab.org/).  Both do remarkable work in meeting the needs of those who have been stricken by debilitating and/or life threatening illness or disability.  Neither charge for their services. 

Give! 
Give often.
Give much.
Give meaningfully.
Give without expected reciprocation.
Give thoughtfully.
Give thanks.
Give freely.

Give!

Teacher'sOath

One of my favorite writers about and modelers of the craft of teaching for the last 20 years has been Dr. Louis Schmier, professor at Valdosta State University.  A couple of years ago he created the "Teacher's Oath," which captures saliently so much of how I feel about teaching and what I aspire to be, as a teacher.  Enjoy.
Teacher's Oath by Louis Schmier
I swear by Athena, Goddess of Learning, M├ętis, Goddess of Wisdom and Thought, St. Gregory the Great, Patron Saint of Teachers, and St. Thomas Aquinas, Patron Saint of Students, and all the wise rabbis of the Talmud I will fulfill this oath and covenant:  
I will give a damn about each person in the class!  I will care! I will support! I will encourage! I won’t just mouth it, I will live it!  Each day, unconditionally!                       
I will teach to nurture, not to weed out.  I will greet and embrace and accept each student.  I will not greet anyone with the expectation that he or she will fail.  I will not treat anyone as dumb and unwanted.  I will treat everyone as capable and belonging here.  I will greet each person knowing she or he has a unique potential to be cultivated.  I will greet each person knowing that she or he can learn, achieve, and succeed.  I will have faith in, belief in, hope for, and love of each person.   Each day, unconditionally!                        
I will treat each class as a “gathering of sacred ones,” of diverse, individual, noble, and very special human beings.  I will treat each person with equal dignity and unqualified respect. I will not let anyone go unnoticed; I will not allow anyone’s face to get erased; 
I will not let anyone go nameless; I will not place anyone in the background; I will not place anyone in the shadows of the corners;  I will not shun; I will not ignore; I will not belittle; I will not demean.  Everyone will start with a clean slate; I will not judge anyone by the ring in her belly button or the tattoo on his arm or the clothes she wears or the whispers of other people or a GPA or the accent of their speech or the color of their his or her ethnicity or his religion or her gender or his sexual preference or whatever else;                       
I will never be negative.  I will be upbeat, offering nothing less than praise and/or positive, constructive critique. I will focus on each student and her or his learning, and worry about my teaching later. 
I will be there to help each student help herself or himself  become the person she or he is capable of becoming.
 And, nothing will mean a thing if I don’t help each student help herself or himself become a better person and live the good life.                       
I make these promises solemnly, freely, and upon my honor.  And if I keep this oath faithfully each day, may I enjoy a life   overflowing with fulfillment, meaning, purpose, accomplishment, and satisfaction, respected by all in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

GiftsRemembered

On this Christmas I am mindful of many of the special gifts I have received over the years.  They have come in two varieties: tangible and intangible.  Here are some of the most memorable…

Tangible
-First bike
-Pong
-First shotgun
-Electric racecar set
-Bible
-First pocketknife

Intangible
-Support
-Encouragement
-Guidance
-Attention
-Discipline (as needed)
-Appreciation for work
-Respectfulness
-Life
-Love (undying, unconditional, unwavering)

“And the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13)

The benefactors were many and varied.  Notables are my parents (Grady and Dian), both sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers (and their families), Moe (my lovely bride and her family), Summer and McKenzie (our daughters and their families and their families), trusted friends innumerable (and being added daily).  I consider each of these an agent of my Creator (whether they knew it or not).

The intangibles were wrapped not in paper and ribbon, but with care and persistence and unwavering consistency.  They were not delivered on one special day, but on every day, in many ways, interwoven, overlapped, embedded, and irrevocably.

Both kinds of gifts, the tangible and the intangible, rest heavily in my memory this Christmas, the season we most associate with giving.

As I reflect on both versions of gifts mentioned above, it’s the intangible ones that shaped and sustained me…
and do still. 


Merry Christmas!