A Sense of Wonder

I came across a passage that suggested that we should always “maintain a sense of wonder” in our lives.  I love the idea of seeking wonder, or magic, in the mundane.  

Life isn’t always about the things we have to do, and even when it is, that doesn’t preclude us from seeking the good and something special in every situation.  This is important to recognize and acknowledge because there can be good everywhere and at any time.  It’s simply about maintaining that sense of wonder.

 I think, often, that we rush through our lives.  We get so busy shuttling ourselves and our kids back and forth to so many activities and events that we often don’t stop to appreciate each of these experiences.  We get so caught up in rushing around that we really don’t even consider what it is that we are going to and from.  All we know is that we’re rushing and there is something more to do.

As I consider this, I’m not advocating doing less.  That’s not in my nature or character.  I can’t do less.  (In fact, I’m always trying to do more.)  But, I am suggesting that we add an element of attentiveness to the activities that we are participating in because when we do this, the activities become more meaningful. 

Maintaining a sense of wonder (or looking for good in the mundane) isn’t easy to do:

 – It isn’t easy to find the good as your kid is playing right field, and then striking out three times on a forty-two-degree day in early April. 

 – It isn’t easy to do when your child is struggling through word problems with a tutor. 

 – It isn’t easy to do when you are at one location and know you need to be somewhere else. 

 – And it isn’t easy to do when you have other obligations that are all screaming for your attention. 

But I am saying that we should try, because there is always another perspective:

 – That child playing right field is part of a team.  That’s something special.  She wears a uniform (or a t-shirt) that signifies that she’s on that team.  That’s also something special.  There is something good and valuable and wonderful about being on a team.  And, while it seems that teams and games will be part of your child’s life (and your lives) seemingly forever, it’s not.  It all ends, far too quickly. 

 – There’s also something special about struggling through any endeavor, even word problems.  In the example above, watching a child struggle can be frustrating for a parent.  But it is that very struggle that teaches the child such important life skills as perseverance and tenacity.  And, when the child finally succeeds; well there is magic in that.  That’s learning.  Throughout that child’s life there will always be struggles and things he has to work through in order to understand.  There is good there.  When we take the time to maintain a sense of wonder, we remember and recognize that.

 – As for the other obligations that are all screaming for our attention, the sad truth is, most often, they can wait.  The text, the phone call, the e-mail…most often, they can wait.  And there is a benefit to this because if we rid ourselves of unnecessary distractions, it allows us the space and time to maintain the sense of wonder in our lives and in our children’s lives.

 And, when it comes to our children especially, there is so much wonder there, that our focus should always be on capturing it, gathering it, and cherishing all of it in our hearts!

Always.

Where will you find the wonder today?

 

A Little Lesson in Latin

(This passage comes from my upcoming book of essays, “Impossible is an Illusion” which will be published by Ravenswood Publishers in May 2017.)

There is a Latin phrase that reads, “Crede quod habes, et habes.” 

This can be translated as, “Believe that you have it, and you have it.” 

As we look to find ways to (continually) improve student performance, the key might be in that little Latin phrase.

“Believe that you can do it.”

I have always found that by telling people they can do things, they have found that they can… do things.  It’s a pretty simple formula.  When you think you can, you can.  Confidence and belief are strong motivators.

I know when people have believed in me, I have often tried very hard to make their belief a reality.  Most often I have rewarded their belief by achieving what they thought was possible, which was not necessarily what I thought was possible.

As I think of many of my life’s “accomplishments,” each time there was a person, or people, that said, “Paul, you can do it.”  These encouragers made me believe in myself. 

Today, when I have self doubt about being able to accomplish a task, I think about the faith others have in me.  This often leads me to say to myself, “You can do it.”  And I usually do!

Next fall, I’ll be struggling on the streets of New York City as I run the New York City Marathon.  There is something glorious, magical, wonderful (and horrible, painful, upsetting, and ugly) about struggling through the New York City Marathon.  I will be ready for the race, but throughout the long training process I often have to tell myself, “You can do it.”  Along with this, I have family members and friends who encourage me in times of doubt.  And don’t be fooled, no matter how good my training, no matter how prepared I might be, there are always periods of doubt.

I have participated in many races and have been a spectator at many others.  You might be surprised but an encouraging word, even from a stranger, such as,  “YOU CAN DO IT!” or “YOU LOOK GREAT” or “I BELIEVE IN YOU” can have an amazing impact on a runner’s state of mind – even when he is in the depth of misery.  Words like that have helped me find something deep inside and push through the disbelief in myself.

BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE IT, AND YOU HAVE IT.

Could it be possible that these nine English words (or six Latin words) hold the ultimate key to success?

If strangers can impact on a runner’s performance (and I know that this helps many, not just me), imagine the impact of a child’s teacher?  We have said, often, that the teacher is one of the biggest influencers in a child’s life.  Our words are powerful.  Our actions speak volumes.

Imagine then, the power of these words spoken to individuals and groups:

BELIEVE YOU CAN DO IT, AND YOU CAN DO IT.

In 1973, the New York Mets had a remarkable pennant run that was inspired, in part, from the words of pitcher Tug McGraw.  He said simply, “Ya Gotta Believe.”

The Mets did believe – and they took that belief all the way to the World Series against the longest of odds. 

As we create ignition for children, as we inspire them to learn, as we motivate them, we must remember to continually tell them:

“YOU CAN DO IT!”

Then, take it even one step further.  Tell them not just that they can do it, but, tell them

“I BELIEVE YOU CAN DO IT,” and “I BELIEVE IN YOU.”

Those just might be the most powerful words any person can tell another person. 

“I believe in you.”

When we tell our students that we believe in them, they will believe us and believe in themselves.  They will give that extra effort.  They will rise above their own fears or skepticism. 

The results will be spectacular!

Birthdays

January 21 will be here soon.  It’s a big day for some people.  Many famous people were born on January 21. 

These include:

Charles V, King of France, born on January 21, in 1338

Ethan Allen, a famous American general, in 1738

John C. Fremont, “The Pathfinder,” in 1813

Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, the Confederate General, in 1824

Christian Dior, fashion designer, in 1905 Continue reading “Birthdays”

Life is Simple…

I’m not a philosopher.  (It would be tough to call anyone who often quotes Rocky Balboa as someone who philosophizes…). Still, I do try to share some ­­deep thoughts on these pages.  As I have aged, and collected a lifetime’s worth of knowledge, I have been drawn to some great thinkers.  For example, I have grown very fond of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I recently purchased a text (“Self-Reliance and Other Essays”) penned by Emerson that I greatly look forward to reading.

Confucius is one of the great minds of history.  His philosophies, written 2600 years ago still resonate today.  I figured that I’d take some time to examine just a few of the many statements left to us from Confucius to see how they relate to our lives as educators and teachers of children.  We’ll begin each section with a quote from Confucius and follow that up with my own thoughts and reflections.

“Life is really simple but we insist on making it complicated.”

Continue reading “Life is Simple…”

A Bolt…

I will begin this post by stating an obvious point:

             Usain Bolt is an amazing sprinter.

As a runner who (more and more) plods through training runs and marathons, I am in awe of Usain Bolt’s speed, grace, and magnificence.

Continue reading “A Bolt…”

A Special Teacher! – Conclusion

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I shared direct feedback, in the actual words of students, regarding the characteristics that compelled them to nominate individual teachers for a Teacher of the Week program that I experimented with about ten years ago.

It is my contention that we can learn the most about what matters in the classroom by taking the time to listen to students – and by valuing their feedback.  Students live in the world of today.  Their time is now.  What takes place in the classroom on a daily basis impacts them directly.  Students know what good teachers look like.  We just have to take the time to listen.

Continue reading “A Special Teacher! – Conclusion”

A Special Teacher? – Part 2

This post is the second in a three part series that shares comments that came directly from middle school students in regard to the teachers they nominated for a “Teacher of the Week” program many years ago. 

In the first installment, I shared comments, drawn randomly, about a plethora of teachers.  I only printed one comment for each teacher, and, for the sake of length, stopped at twenty. 

Following that exercise, I decided to categorize all of the comments from the students into categories.  People tend to not be all that creative when completing forms, and the kids in the school were no exception.  Many of the comment cards echoes similar sentiments.  “Mr. Jones is helpful;” “Mrs. Mattingly is kind; “Miss Wyckoff is helpful.” 

Yet, on occasion, some of the students provided some deep thought and in-depth comments on the cards.  While these were categorized in my overall study of all the comments, the comments below also stood out as somewhat different from the rest. 

For this installment, I will list, in the students’ own words, the most memorable comments that were left for their teachers.  These speak to the ways teachers touch children’s lives in unique and special ways.  On rare occasions, for clarity, I added clarifying details to the child’s comments.  Finally, careful readers might note that certain teachers received numerous nominations below.  This speaks to the varied ways that these teachers made special connections with their students.  While the names have been changed, I was diligent in keeping the modified names consistent.  Mrs. Violet, for example, was a beloved teacher. This characteristic shows when one searches through all of this data.  I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that students writing about Mrs. Violet (and others) took extra time to write more clearly and share their most personal thoughts. Individuals go out of their way and give extra effort for the people they care most about.

Upcoming, next week, will be the third installment where I summarize all of the comments left from all of the students.  I will close this three part series by drawing conclusions based upon the totality of this original and unedited data. 

For now, though, once more, let’s hear from the kids:

I am nominating Ms. Brown because she asks me what is wrong when I am sad.”

I am nominating Mr. Tytell for always giving us study guides for our test and helping review.”

I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she’s the best.  She strives to make me safe.  She succeds (sic).  I love her.  She makes me feel very, very special.”

I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she is always in a good mood and is very nice.”

I am nominating Mrs. Violet because when we have a project she breaks it down so its easier instead of just saying, “Ok you have a project and its due 3-30-06.”

I am nominating Mr. Apple because he is always funny but still keeps the class smart.”

I am nominating Mr. Alda because he really helped me with my dance steps and made me feel very secure with my dance.  He’s a great teacher and everyone really likes him.”

 “I am nominating Mr. Brook because he helped stop bullying with his outstanding performance.  (Note – This teacher developed and presented an anti-bullying assembly for the students that was better received by the students and staff than one from a national speaker.)

I am nominating Miss Woodside because she not only is a fantastic teacher, but helps us with GEPA (state tests) and has much insight on our recent assemblies.  She is very easy to talk to and assists with my problems.  I love you Miss Woodside.”

I am nominating Miss Woodside because she makes sure I understand everything.  If I need help I go to her.  When we have assemblies I can talk to her about it.  She is very helpful with my problems.”

I am nominating Mr. Konijn because he’s always so enthusiastic about his students learning.  He’ll never give up on me or anyone else.”

I am nominating Mr. Stokes because he always sits with us during lunch.  He’s the perfect man for (his subject).  He’s funny and awesome.”

I am nominating Mr. Caldwell because he gives us more freedom than other teachers.”

I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she helps me when I need help and compliments me when my work is good.”

I am nominating Mrs. Williams because she gives you tips to do better.”

I am nominating Mrs. Harrington because we bonded (on a class trip) and she’s now one of my alltime favorite teachers.  No matter how hard something is to understand she’ll never give up on you.”

I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she is respectful, and full of happiness (sic.).”

I am nominating Mr. Konijn because his class is something I look forward to every day.”

I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she helped me with my problems.  She makes me feel very safe.”

I am nominating Mrs. Holtz because she makes me smile all day long.”

I am nominating Mr. Stokes because he knows how to keep everyone on their toes.”

I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she has made me feel good and appreciated by calling home to recognize my great work.”

I am nominating Ms. Brown because she actually treats us like we’re responsible enough to handle stuff like adults.  Plus she respects the fact that there’s more to life then school and doesn’t deluge us with homework.  I love Ms. Brown.”

I am nominating Mrs. Audi because she helped me with all of my problems.  She ‘s like my best friend!

I am nominating Miss Woodside because she treats me like a person, not just a student.”

I am nominating Mrs. Williams because she helped me improve my listening, comprehension, and speaking skills.  She is a fantastic teacher.  She makes sure you are happy and smart when you leave her room.”

And, finally, for this post at least,

I am nominating Mrs. George because she was a great teacher by explaining something when I didn’t understand and is always offering to come for extra help and I just wanted to thank her some how.”

In conclusion, I believe that these passages, which were somewhat unique and different from the plethora of nomination forms I received at the time, speak a great deal about what matters to children in a school. 

As we shall examine in the next (and final) installment, there are some powerful conclusions we can draw from all of this this feedback and these honest words from the students.