Thursday, March 15, 2018

An Argument

I stepped back and looked at my thinking spread across the whiteboard, and panicked. "Where do I begin?"

A local community college recently approached the organization I work for with a request to develop and facilitate a collaboration with local high schools around writing.  Writing?  Sure!  I live for working with writers.

So, I started thinking and brainstorming.  And thinking.  And brainstorming.  And, very quickly realizing the depth of this work.  Not only would the participants -- ranging from 11th and 12th grade high school English teachers, to district administrators, to college writing instructors -- need to have a common language around writing, but they would need to not blame each other for any gaps they think are in their students' skills as writers.  They would all need open minds, ears, and hearts.  

As this realization hit me, I immediately recognized the theme that has been threading itself through my posts on Slice of Life, the recent headlines, my own life,  my kids' lives, and now my professional life.  It's the ability to argue.   Argue to be listened to, and argue to hear.  Argue with open-minded inquiry, considering that one's mind can be changed.  Argue to get to the core of an issue, to find the question both sides are really trying to answer.  Argue to solve meaningful issues, not to be right.  

I've got some planning to do. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Mirror Mirror

Talk as much as I can about my singing lessons?  For one minute?  Easy!  My part in the group activity for the Cognitive Coaching seminar I was attending seemed pretty simple.  In fact, the others in my group seemed to have the tougher jobs:  one member sat across from me and had to practice mirroring my body language as I spoke, and the other one stood next to us to observe and report out on how well the mirroring was done.  Around the room sat groups of 3, set up in similar triangles, ready to practice developing rapport through mirroring body language.

The facilitator was clear about my job: choose a topic I can talk for at least a minute about.  When he said "Go," I start talking.  I would get a 30 second warning to manage my talking time.  All I had to do was talk.  He'd even given us time in the hallway outside the classroom to chat with others and rehearse our one minute speech.  I sat with my partners completely confident and clear in my role.

"Go," the facilitator announced.   So I talked.  My colleague sitting across from me listened, her hands folded gently in her lap in a similar pose I held.  Her eyes met mine as I spoke.  She nodded and smiled at all the right places in my rambling.  She's very good at this, I thought.  And really, it worked.  I felt listened to.  I felt valued.

"Thirty seconds to go!" the facilitator shared.

Suddenly, I started fumbling. My thoughts became scattered, and my chest tightened.  My confidence waned.  What was happening? Was she even listening to me anymore?  I started to panic.

Unbeknownst to me when I stepped into the hallway (how did I not see it coming!?!?), all the "listeners" were instructed to break rapport at the 30 second mark by disengaging their body mirroring.  My colleague had unfolded her hands and turned slightly away from me.  Wow.  The results were instant.

It is absolutely unbelievable what someone disengaging their attention from you as you talk can do to your conversation and your confidence. I immediately thought of conversations I have where I am distracted or even disinterested.  My kids, my friends, my boyfriend.  A cashier in the grocery line.  Students with whom I am conferring and turn to tell another student to get back to work.  I thought of all the conversations I could improve, simply by facing the other person and slightly mirroring their body language.  I could make someone feel valued and listened to with such a simple movement.

Image result for body mirroring
Image result for body mirroring
Image result for body mirroring

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

All the world's an argument! Or, is it?

Sunday morning, still in pajamas, my boyfriend and I sat in our rocking chairs in front of our wood stove.  There was a soft glow from the flames of the crackling wood, the room cozy and warm while snowflakes gently fell outside in the early light of day.  The dog was cuddled in her bed, softly snoring, her nose poking out from under her blanket.  Someone coming to our door would look in on a picturesque, Rockwell-ish weekend morning.  And then the visitor might open the door, and find the opposite to be true.  Rather, heated debate between my boyfriend and I was in progress.

"Everything's an argument!" I proclaimed, my voice reaching a higher pitch than normal.
"How can you say that?" he answered.  "So, if there's a tree in the road and I say 'there's a tree in the road,' that's an argument?!"

The visitor walking in would probably slowly back out of the door, closing it gently to avoid the discussion, but in fact the debate has always been a favorite of ours:  is there such a thing as un-biased writing?  I say no, Mike says yes.

Really, I believe we are both right.  As an educator, I find it my responsibility to guide students in seeing the world with a critical and inquiring eye, but also know the purpose of the inquiry is to be as non-judgmental as possible.  In other words, assume that everything is an argument, but only to try to see as many sides as possible and to understand rather than judge.  To become un-biased.

Teaching "argument" has become an integral part of our consumer-producer society.  More than ever our students, as citizens, must learn to withhold judgment, even as information comes to them in droves, at lightning speed.  Even, and especially because, they can judge and spread their judgments just as quickly.

As our discussions over argument continue, I do try to practice what I preach.  I try to listen to Mike.  I practice considering his perspective before simply blurting my own opinions.  I practice keeping my mind open to the possibility that I'm not right, or at least that there are nuances to consider.   It's tougher than one would think, especially when emotions get involved.  Yet, I urge you to try it!  Intentionally practice the art of listening, of paraphrasing, of pausing, of withholding.  Consider what it might do in our classrooms and our world.   

Monday, March 12, 2018

Who is This Kid?

"C'mon, we can cut through the library," Tonya said as we followed her 11th graders to the computer lab.  As a Literacy Coach, I was visiting her classroom for a coaching session.  I also happen to be a former colleague of Tonya, and was visiting the district in which I not only taught middle school for 15 years, but graduated from.  I knew the path she was cutting -- it was through a faculty room and into the library, and would head off her class before they beat us to the lab.

We headed across the dark room to the opposite door into the library, and were met by a group of students gathered at the couches and chairs meant for readers and discussions.  I scanned the faces of my former students, and stopped at one.  It was my son.

"Hey!" I said over-enthusiastically.  "I think I know you from somewhere?"  John sat with his friends and I certainly didn't want to embarrass him, but most of the students knew me as John's mom and their middle school teacher.  John was not phased.

"Hey, Mom," he replied.  I ruffled his hair as I passed, starting up the stairs to the lab.  I kept one eye on John as I walked up the open staircase to where he sat on the couch below.  He'd forgotten me already, back to his discussion with his friends.  I couldn't remember a time when I had the opportunity to watch him from this angle; this setting.  Not as my son, but an eleventh grader sitting with his friends.  A student.  A young man who is smart and driven but also can be snarky and judgmental.  A young man I think the world of despite any so-called faults he might have. 

I felt so proud of him in that moment, and realized how lucky I am to see my child from this perspective.  How many parents get to watch their children in the place they spend more waking hours than they do their own home?  I was reminded then and there of my responsibility as an educator -- to treat each and every student as the lovable individuals they are.  Every one of my students is somebody's child.  Every one of my students deserves love despite any so-called faults.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Kissing the Broken Life

Sue Monk Kidd, in When the Heart Waits, quotes Arthur Miller's After the Fall as she speaks of embracing the good and bad of one's life:
          I had the same dream each night -- that I had a child, and even in the dream I saw
          that the child was my life; and it was an idiot, and I ran away.  Until I thought, if I
          could kiss it. . . perhaps I could rest.  And I bent to its broken face, and it was
          horrible . . . but I kissed it.  I think one must finally take one's life in one's arms.

Going through any life experience, happy or sad, unforgettable or traumatic, joyous or devastating, is a chance to move closer to your Self.  Whether or not you take that chance is your own free will, but once you've noticed, named, and begin to recognize these opportunities they will sprout around you like wildflowers.  You'll discover yourself in a field of growth in which you can move in any direction, or choose to stand still. Some people choose to see weeds all around them, and that field of life is ugly and miserable to stand in.  But those who see the flowers sprouting, blossoming, will see the endless potential for growth in life.  The chance to grow not only forward, but inward.

It is futile to try and hide or not feel what one is feeling.  We are taught well to not let these feelings show, and it is finally rutted in our conscience enough to do it automatically.  When something bad happens, or we feel bad about someone or something -- that it's best to put a smile on and plow through it.  When I recently was betrayed by someone close to me, my heart burst but I quickly set it aside.  The person asked for forgiveness, I granted it, we didn't talk about it again. I didn't let myself feel it anymore.  But those feelings boiled inside me no matter how I tried to cover them, push them away, explain them or come to terms with them in peace and love and forgiveness, and now they are spilling over.  Four years later, these feelings of betrayal are finally pouring out of me.  POURING.  It's as if the betrayal happened yesterday.

The difference today is that I'm letting them pour.  I have a daily gusher of tears until the well runs dry and fills up again for tomorrow.  I let myself feel it.  I call my friends who will let me cry and I cry.  At some point, I figure, the pitcher will finally be empty.  Until then, I bend to my broken heart and my broken life and I kiss it.  I take it in my arms and let the tears flow.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

I’m Too Old For This Green Eyed Monster

Mike came home from his fitness class last night revived from a great workout.  “How’d it go?” I asked.  He hadn’t been to the class for quite a while, and I was glad that he was feeling energized by it.
“It was good,” he replied.  “But there weren’t many people there like I thought there would be.”
“Oh?” I asked, “so who was there?”
“Just me, the instructor, and one other woman.”
“Just you and a woman?”


As I write this I do consider myself to be too old for that fruitless competitiveness that women love to drudge up between themselves:  who’s skinnier, who’s got better skin, who’s got the better job, who has the best hair, who attracts more men — the items to add are endless.  But when my boyfriend comes home and says there was only one other person and it was a woman, that green-eyed monster does peek it’s head over the horizon of my brain, looking for a good place to jump into my thought-stream.

My younger self would’ve cried and carried on.  Would’ve demanded details and conditions and attention.  But over the years one learns that those behaviors aren’t really about the other person.  They’re about yourself.

So, even though I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I required from Mike some extra reassurance that I am still the most beautiful, talented, in-shape, wrinkle-free woman on the planet, I also remember that years have taught me well.  The only person we are ever really in competition with is ourselves.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Generations of Rice Pudding

“Mom, I want to make this. Can you help me?”  I squinted at the picture on my son’s phone. It was an image of an index card sent to him from my aunt, and on the index card was a hand written recipe for my great-grandmother’s rice pudding.

“I think so,” I replied, hesitant. What was he up to? Rarely does he want anything to do with the kitchen.  “I was just thinking about how we had it at Christmas last year” was his reasoning.  Fair enough.  I agreed, and together we added the supplies to the list for the weekly grocery trip.

That evening, he held true to his word. He’d researched how to make his own double-boiler, he measured and tested temperatures, and whisked away for an hour. My only job became to offer encouragement and conversation, our house filling with sweet smells and laughter. For this moment at least, I was a spectator in the kitchen, and I allowed my self to revel in it.

As I watched him at the stove, I imagined my great-grandmother in her own kitchen. Her life wasn’t an easy one: my own grandmother, now 90, still reminds us that she was raised with no electricity or indoor plumbing. That her mother earned money as a midwife in their local rural community and her father drove a horse and wagon to deliver eggs and milk to the closest town.  That he hung himself when my grandmother was 13, leaving her mother to raise the children and run the farm and earn money, alone. Watching this rice pudding take shape makes this woman who died when I was a baby come to life right in my kitchen.  Did she cook the pudding with the same light heart as my son? Was it just another labor in her life of constant toil? Did she cook it for her children, to comfort them, as her own heart broke with grief and despair?  Did she ever taste it herself, enjoying the sweetness of the cream, the texture of the rice and raisins, her eyes closed as she held it in her mouth, and let herself smile?  Of all my speculation, I like to think the latter.  That the love and hope mixed into this recipe passed to my grandmother, her daughters, their children, and now my son, here in front of me, whisking the rice pudding.