Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Beautiful Thought For Today

Found this on a print today in Galena, Ill. Things have been sort of crazy lately and my wife and I needed to get away.... The time away was was this print.

"people ask, "why do you work so hard for your students?" there are so many things i could say but the answer must be - because of one child. i swim through seas of papers with colored pens as paddles - seeking to improve without dispiriting, to point a better way without losing their enthusiasm. because of one child i seek my own reserves and provide opportunities which would otherwise be lost. because of one child i will spend my time generously - as if i had a lifetime of such days. i will see the whole of the world from a small hill and will believe against convention in "impossible" results. at the end of the teaching day i leave the classroom but i am still and shall ever be, a teacher. time ago i was that child for whom such commitment made a difference. i will dedicate my days confident my efforts matter... because of one child."
Mary Anne Radmacher

Check out more here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Little Notes with Big Meaning

Do you have an idea how much little notes might mean to someone??

My wife and I frequently leave little notes for each other. When we were first married, I would put notes in her lunch every day (she no longer has time for lunch). It was fun. She would put notes in my school bag (which, because of the messiness of the bag, I might not find for a while).

I have grown very attached to getting and sending little notes to people who are important to me. A little thought and a few words can lead to a BIG feeling!

From one former student, I received a text message this week that said, "Just talking about you to one of my friends and made me think of you. I miss you." Wow...Two years into college and thinking about and taking the time to share a note with a former teacher.  Made me get misty. Last week was one of the roughest ones in a long time. This single note helped me to stay on track. 

Sometimes I get a few words from pal, Peter H. Reynolds... A little message pops up like, "you rock."  I can't tell you how much they lift my day!  One of the busiest people I know takes time to send a message. . . Total day improvement!  

One former student texts 'life updates' like, "We are adopting a dog." Nice that in those joyous moments, I came to mind for a few seconds. I also get to share in that happiness...even from a distance.

I am a very lucky man! I have a lot of very special cheerleaders for my journey! I have been fortunate to have built some relationships in my school with amazing students that last after graduation. I have had the privilege of making friends all over the world and knowing truly decent and warm people. 

I also like to send or text silly and/or loving notes. I try to return the favor and send my love out. Who doesn't like to know that someone is thinking of them? At first, I will admit, it felt a little odd to send "I miss you" notes. . . But not for long. The benefits far outweigh the moments of feeling odd.

I have said it many times, but I resisted Facebook at first. Now, the 'little notes' appear more often and I love the feeling of being connected!

So, as you can see, a little note which can take seconds to write can brighten the day and strengthen the spirit. Let's face it...sometimes the journey is rough.... Sometimes, it's really rough.  So, let's all support each other....if you have time to send a great big email to a friend, let them fly.  If you have time for a little three word note...go for it! The thought of you taking the time and sending the love will transcend the space. The length of the note doesn't matter....the amount of love in it is what counts.

Addendum: I might add that another little note this week was a comment to my blog....which was very touching.... (thanks, Paul).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Life Lessons For This Week!

Recent events have given me a lot of opportunity to reflect. Here are my insights:

Hope is our greatest natural resource. 

Life is precious. Hold on tight to the people you love. 

You bring light and love, hope and care to people, if you choose to. So choose words and actions carefully.

Think about what kind of person you want to be and ACT like that person...I didn't do a great job of that this week.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How to be a Writer -- My Facebook Commercial

If you are a reader, you will know I was reluctant to get a Facebook account. I can tell you that as of today, I am sold.

I read that the author, Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Burned) had created an update that said, "interested by the turn my book just took. I love surprises." I made the comment, "So, I assume from your comment that you don't have a plan before you start? Or is it that you let the plan change as you go?"

You see, I am fascinated by skills that I don't have. I struggle to write, which might seem funny since this blog now has 124 posts. I have a basic idea what I want to say, but I have trouble keeping the train on the tracks, so to speak. I start with a great motivation and then stumble to trying to get the words 'just right.'

The most amazing thing happened after I responded on Facebook, she responded. She wrote, "My MO is fairly inefficient, but it works for me, and for some other authors I've talked to. I build characters first. Know the theme and about where I want the book to end. Then I let my characters talk to me. I do know what I need to accomplish in sections of the book, but how I get there is often a mystery to me. Other authors need to plot and outline ahead. But if I try to force characters into a plot line I conceive up front, I always get into trouble because they tell me "I wouldn't do THAT!""

I sat and stared at the screen and was amazed at how this creative process unfolds. Since my wife is an English teacher, I immediately forwarded this message for her to share with her high school students. Then, it hit me that I have made some really great connections through Facebook. I am currently 'friends' with Susan Patron (who wrote one of my favorite YA books, The Higher Power of Lucky) and have actually received email from Deborah Wiles (author of another favorite book, Aurora County All-Stars). What a great venue for communication.

I think everyone in the world knows that I admire Peter H. Reynolds (The Dot, Ish, and the illustrator of the Judy Moody books). I have sat and watched him create artwork and marveled at his skill at crafting a story. I have also learned a lot about story writing from him. The day I met Peter which was at the Iowa Technology and Education Connection Conference, I was sitting in a restaurant and heard this great piece of advice... Give your characters a great name, it helps to develop their character. Now, I work part-time for FableVision Education and I feel SO lucky to be a part of such a motivating and creative company.

Ultimately, if I can't be a great writer--I can study great writers and become a little better.

So, I rarely give advice to people over 18, but if you are on Facebook, find people that interest you. Ask questions. Learn from everyone you can. Then, let me know how it goes.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sometimes You Have to Look from a Different Vantage Point

Remember the moment in the movie "Dead Poet's Society" when Robin Williams makes the kids stand on the desk? Robin Williams' character said (paraphrased) sometimes you have to look from a different vantage point.  My story for today is the moment in my teaching career when I completely understood what he was saying.

About fourteen or so years ago, I was on a honor choir trip with five students. Four of the students were the cool, popular kids and the other one, whom I will call Mike, was the 'ask-too-many-questions and try-to-hard' kid. Nothing really wrong with him, but he sort of wore on everyone's nerves. 

As misfortune would have it, I always take the students to this beautiful area near Decorah, Iowa which has a natural spring coming out of a big bluff.  It is picturesque at any time of year. The year of this story was no different. But what was different was that the area was covered in ice. I carefully walked up the side of the spring and the kids did their usual exploring.  But, just as we were heading back to the van, I slipped on the ice and fell. In the process, I actually hit so hard that I smashed and broke my glasses and severely bruised my leg.....and learned a big lesson.

I was afraid to move for a few seconds. I was positive I had broken something. When I finally got my wits around me, Mike, the social misfit, was barreling toward me to help. The 'cool' kids continued on toward the van. I was still on the ground when Mike reached me and as I looked up at him, my perspective had completely changed.  Social misfit? Perhaps... Caring wonderful kid? Not one doubt. Not that the other kids were heartless, but they had their own agenda. 

I had always been kind to Mike. Maybe more than other teachers. But, I never saw THAT side of him. Wow, what a great lesson.  So, all these years later, how does this lesson connect to my current life.  I try very hard to never look at what everyone else sees wrong with a kid. I always try to listen to different opinions and try to care about them all....even the ones that are hard to like.  I can promise you that I have found many more diamonds in the rough in my years in the classroom.  Every kid deserves someone who is on their side and who 'gets' them.

I can safely say I have navigated my way away from the 'teachers work room' for at least ten years. Everyone needs to vent when kids are annoying or naughty. However, it was the constant barrage of 'educators' who could never look for a different side that ultimately wore me out. Vent? Sure, I do that a lot. But, I also try to find the good side....and I can tell you some of them are very well hidden!  Truth be told, I always forgive a kid because they are kid....they aren't done yet. Adults? Yeah, I have trouble there.

So, if you think you have seen all sides of a kid......look at them from a different angle.

By the way, the area of the great epiphany is in the picture above, just below the log on the right side of the photo.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Digital Photography: Thoughts of a Six Year Old

How do you select the digital pictures you choose to print?  Well, today I had the great joy of looking through 130 pictures taken by my great-nephew.  We gave him a "Kid Tough" Digital Camera from Fischer-Price.  I learned a new and different way to look at the world....

After he and I had gone through the pictures, I thought about his method of selection. The selection process was SO different from the one I use.  I always think: Is it focused clearly? Is it framed well?  Well, the little guy had different thoughts... For example, this one made the cut because it was a nice shade of blue...

Listening to my little friend, I thought of things I have heard from my adult friend, Peter H. Reynolds. Everyone is an artist. When do we lose that?  When did we start acting so conventional.  For example, what's not to love about a picture of a hand?
Pictures out the window of a moving car are pretty cool! Framing??? Where does it state in the rules of life that a frame in a picture has to be square?  Look at the clouds!  Beautiful!

And my personal favorite..... Little shoes (and the mess they made of that car seat)...

I hope that little dear boy never loses his unique and creative approach to what is good. Imagine how many beautiful things in life we miss because we stick by the rules someone has taught us. So, the next time you look at your pictures, try to think of them as "spooky," "blue," or just look for the fun in them..... We are ALL artists.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Seven Things You Probably Don't Need to Know About Me

I was tagged by Paul Bogush for the "Seven Things You Don't Know ABout Me" Meme...

7. A few people know this, but I make glass beads. A few years ago, I was on my 7000th shopping trip with my wife for beads and decided to learn to make them for her. You heat glass to over 1000 degrees and then you can shape it and blend different colors. I am a terrible salesperson, so my attempt at sales failed. So now I make them for dear friends.

6. A few years ago, my wife and I were score keepers for the National AAU Junior Olympics in the Gymnastics. We got to travel to Knoxville, Detroit, and New Orleans. I learned a lot about gymnastics...and a lot of unbecoming things about the AAU (don't get me started).  
5.  Which leads me to.....we were in New Orleans exactly three weeks before Hurricane Katrina. I was completely mesmerized by New Orleans and so terribly saddened by the events. I met so many wonderful people while I was there. I had to remove CNN and other news channels from our TV for a few weeks because my wife cried about the devastation.

4.    I love to create top ten lists  ..... which is why this list is numbered backwards. My friends at school and I handle stressful colleagues by lampooning them with a Top Ten list.

3-  A semi-secret dream is that I would like to create a book of my photography.  I love catching a something beautiful with my camera. I almost always have a camera in my book bag.

2- I enjoy reading Young Adult books way more than adult books.  Not the angst-ridden ones, but books with a good story. "Looking for Alaska," "Higher Power of Lucky,"and  "Aurora County All-Stars" are some of my favorites.

1-   I didn't get married until I was 32 because I waited to find the woman of my dreams...and I did....and they lived happily ever after.

I tag:  Stacy Kasse
Annette Holder