Thursday, November 29, 2012

Confiscated Notebook

I have three large files of notes written by middle schoolers that I've either confiscated or found.  Some hilarious and entertaining, a few informative, a dozen or so insightful, and several just outright mean. I saved them all, even the stupid ones. Lets face it, it's the most awkward time of a young person's life and writing notes serves a purposeful outlet.

There's something timeless about writing notes on loose-leaf paper and thoughtlessly or slyly passing it during instruction, hoping it makes it into the right hands.  Bored or distracted - it doesn't really matter, the fact is, adolescents record every detail going on in their brain. That much hasn't changed.

I grew up in the 70's when a foldable (that fancy way of folding notebook paper with a pull-tab) was almost as important as the content itself. I wrote about my parents, songs, teachers, cute boys, and what was happening after school or on the weekend.  I'd be embarrassed and amused if someone were to scrounge up an old note written by me.  I mean seriously, that's what middle schoolers do - they dump their every last thought onto a piece of paper for someone else to read.

Nowadays, notes still have some timeless qualities: written on crumpled up looseleaf paper with intimate details passed during the most inappropriate times.  As some things stay the same, there have been noticeable changes too.  I'm now collecting whole notebooks,  and instead of writing out of boredom, student notes are dotted with angst and cynicism.  There's a lot more graphic thoughts about sex and love, too.  And recently, I collected a "That Moment . . . " notebook, which is what I want to share here - a snapshot of one 12-year-old's mind fresh off her desk during academic instruction.

See for yourself how times have changed.

 photo 3-2 photo 4-1 photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Indoors and Out

I could get used to two long weekends in a row. After spending most of our time indoors, we were happy to be outside in the Arboretum - our city gem of woods, prairie and wetlands, gardens and almost always wild turkeys and sometimes a hawk.  I love this place so much.

It's easy to get the kids outside, something I've always wanted them to value as much as me and Brad do.  So when being indoors playing games, watching TV, reading or making art gets way too comfortable, all I have to say is three words and they are quick to move - Nature Deficit Disorder - something I exposed them to long ago even when I knew they didn't understand even each word in isolation and a term I know explains only part of the problem.  These days though, we talk and read about things that contribute to healthy lives, and emphasize the significance of being part of the natural world.  That seems to go a long way for now.

Here's a little clip I made after discovering the Vimeo app on my phone. The kids and I put this together pretty quickly!

Thanksgiving Weekend - a good way to end a restful and wonderful weekend with family and friends.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

An Honest Thanksgiving

Misa . . . Misa . . . Misa.

I value direct and intentional thoughts.  Can't seem to get away from them in fact.  Yesterday morning for example, Misa asked, "Are you gonna color your hair again?  Someday?"  A slight hint of hopefulness in her voice, but mostly pretty unemotional.  Last night it was "Um. Mama?  If the word nincompoop means stupid, is it still okay to use it?   Cause I really like that word."  And this afternoon while at the Asian market it was, "No offense to you Mama, but this area of the store smells like Barty."  (Barty is my dad's dog.)

This morning though, this morning's first thought by Misa represented more than just a kid being direct and intentional.   Rolling over after ending up in my sleeping area, Misa stretched her arms slow and wide as she cuddled nudging her head under my neck, and said,

"Happy Thanksgiving Mama.  I'm thankful for your and Daddy's relationship."

At the end of this day, I'm thankful that I have a daughter who is direct, intentional and honest, because that expression of thanks is one I will hold close to my heart, mind, and soul forever.  I am so thankful for a full life of family and friends, for blessings, for my job, and for Brad - The Love of My Life.

(And for the record, I've been letting my hair grow out and get back to its natural color - grays and all, because before December 31st, I'm cutting it off and donating this mane.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Future Elections

Misa's question in the middle of the night (as John-Pio experienced a bout of the stomach flu, poor boy) was whether Barack Obama won. That was the last thing on her mind before drifting off and the first when awake.

President Obama is our president for four more years!

During breakfast this morning we calculated the number of years it'll be before they can fully participate in the presidential election process and vote.  This is what we wrote down:

Emma - 2016, 21 years old

Misa - 2024, 21 years old

John-Pio - 2024, 19 years old

By the time all three kids combined are of voting age, twelve years will have passed and I will be 60. Time will fly, that much I know for sure. In the meantime, I stand optimistic that President Obama can help restore a sense of civility to the public order and that my kids will continue to grow in their enthusiasm as they await their turn to vote for a president.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Thoughts on Leaders

There is no doubt that the presidential election is on everyone's mind - in fact, my household, my kids schools, and my own school will all be participating in the election process over the next few days.  As the Leadership and Identity unit nears an end in my classroom, I'm hopeful that my students increased awareness about leadership qualities and actions lives on in their own lives.  If there's one thing I've learned from this teaching experience, it's that my students appear eager to lead.  And not only lead, but serve, too.  A person who marks this territory - leadership and service - with intelligence and humility, is one of my closest friends, Suzi Lee.  Here she shares her thoughts on leaders, and poses a question in the end.

One of the things I love about the English language is its subtlety. Words are similar and different by shades. One example is the word leader.

A leader can be minimally defined as someone who guides or conducts. But how do leaders differ from teachers, mentors, or role models?

To me, all are intertwined. A true leader teaches and inspires, encourages and challenges, and sets a high standard for others.

I have found that independent of title or role, great leaders share two common traits 1) self-awareness of their strengths and 2) ability to bring out the strengths in those they guide. Acknowledging your own strengths is something that too few people, especially women are encouraged to do. It’s not boastful or false to know what you are good at and to pursue it with passion.

Thus, people can be natural born leaders or develop their leadership skills over time. Their strengths can be intellectual, physical, emotional or a combination. The way the leader uses these strengths is how they are unique. A common example of this is how a teacher, whose main strength is often assumed to be intellectual, is instead remembered for their emotional connection with students.

Another important point is that since a great leader uses their strengths, leaders do not have to lead in all aspects of their lives. The president of a company may excel at managing large teams but be unable to teach on a one-to-one basis.

What are your strengths?  How could you use them to make a difference?

Suzi loves spending her time with family, friends and working as a cancer researcher. She is especially excited when family and friends join her climbing, biking, or just come over for dinner.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Growing into a Leader

Thankfully, leaders and future leaders today live right in my classroom at Sherman Middle School.  For this semester, my teaching partners and I wrote curriculum to coincide with the presidential election, focusing intently on leadership qualities and actions.  Students have been analyzing political, historical and pop culture figures to help them explore and answer essential questions related to leadership.   When I started thinking about people I wanted to talk to about leadership, a few came to mind right away.  One of them was Kelsey Livingston - someone I’ve known for a very long time and someone I observed make a mark on the world in more ways than one.  When I shared Kelsey’s piece with my class, they were engaged and curious about her work not only as a professional but as someone who exemplified particular leadership qualities and actions they have been studying.  Here, Kelsey taps into real-world applications to life and the world of work as she shares her ideas about leadership.  Enjoy!

When I was younger, I would have described a good leader as “in charge,” “having a plan,” “giving direction,” and “disciplined.”  I felt sure I was quite a good leader—as my family and friends will tell you, I am quite good at having a plan and giving other people things to do!

It turns out, though, that as I’ve aged my definition changed substantially. Here are some leadership characteristics that I have grown to value:

·      A leader takes initiative and recruits others. Many people become leaders unintentionally by identifying a problem or project that no one else seems to be addressing.  When a leader sees this kind of void in leadership, she or he steps up to fill it and starts taking action, even if it’s hard or uncomfortable.  Often, this involves recruiting others to join in the cause.  Rarely does one person have all the skills and connections to finish a project or address a problem themselves—it usually requires a team to achieve a goal.  A talented leader can help gather that team and harness their work.

·      A leader provides a framework and goals. The best leaders provide a structure that values the skills and the time of their teammates. Good leaders communicate to set expectations, provide benchmarks, and help the group get to know each other. By setting measurable goals, the team has something to aim towards, and they feel their time and input is valued.  A leader does not always need to create the framework and goals unilaterally, but suggesting these structures where they are otherwise lacking is valuable.

·      A leader listens and facilitates.  By definition, a leader has a lot of power.  When you are seen as the leader of the group, it’s easy to use your power to emphasize your own ideas.  I find that the best leaders don’t start a conversation by sharing their solutions—they step back and let their teammates share. They help to facilitate the conversation by explaining the project, setting a goal, summarizing ideas, and trying to draw the team to consensus.  Sometimes, it helps to mentally keep track of who has spoken, to be sure that everyone is given the opportunity to share. Leaders certainly share their own ideas, but their goal should always to find the best outcome regardless of the source.

·      A leader recognizes teammates’ contributions.  To become a leader in your group, think about how you can enable others. Talk with other members of the group, and get a sense for their interests and personalities. What skills do they have?  How can they contribute to the goal?  Try to work together to find things they’re excited about taking on, rather than just assigning them tasks.  And celebrate successes!  For example, if you notice a teammate who doesn’t typically speak up offer a good suggestion, consider writing him a note afterwards, or just saying in the moment, “That was a great idea!”  Don’t be afraid to be silly or over the top in your recognition of individual or team achievements.

·      A leader takes feedback well.  I went to graduate school to study the creation of interactive games and experiences. One of the most important lessons from this experience was to take feedback well.  During the in-process reviews, the professors gave feedback in front of the whole class.  Frankly, the people who looked most small-minded and defensive were the people who argued with the feedback and tried to justify their approach.  The ones who looked the most graceful and confident were those who listened politely and who said, “We’ll think about that. Thanks for your idea.”  This is not to say that you always have to believe or do what people tell you, but that learning to listen attentively and thoughtfully to other people when they are suggesting improvements to your work is both hard and important.

·      A leader chips in. There’s a poem I like called To Be Of Use by Marge Piercy.  She says, “I want to be with people who submerge /in the task, who go into the fields to harvest /and work in a row and pass the bags along, / who are not parlor generals and field deserters / but move in a common rhythm / when the food must come in or the fire be put out.”  A leader is the first to volunteer and is not afraid of the jobs that no one else will do.

·      A leader is fun! and the important and related A leader is not afraid to look silly.   There’s an episode of This American Life where Ira Glass interviews Cole Lindbergh, a 20 year old leader of the games division of an amusement park.  Cole motivates hundreds of teenagers who work for him by creating competition brackets, writing motivational songs, and directing music videos with his employees.  Winning employees get to throw him in the lake!  Needless to say, they love him.   Check it out:

To be honest, I have probably grown to value these qualities most in a leader because many of them do not come naturally to me.  It’s important for leaders to know their own strengths and weaknesses, and to value diversity in approach from other leaders.  As a leader, don’t forget to ask yourself, “How can I improve?” and “How can we do this better?” The best leaders I know are constantly learning, growing, and changing the ways they lead.

Kelsey is an organizer of diverse people in creative endeavors. At work, she is an Interactive Project Manager with Cortina Productions, creating games and touch-screen experiences for museums that excite people about learning.  Elsewhere, she enjoys travel, coding, theater, and trying new foods. It should also be noted that she makes a mean chess pie.