Summer

    Whoo-hoo!  It’s summer break!  Yes… teachers look forward it just as much as students do!  I’m not saying I actually take more than a week off during that break, but it’s a “reset”… a chance to go at it from a different angle – maybe perfecting techniques, but sometimes scrapping the old and trying something new.  I love that! 

     The last two weeks of school are done at break-neck speed.  I spent at least two nights till 1:30 a.m. at the school, trying desperately to stay ahead of the next day’s events.  This was my husband’s first year of teaching, and I was trying to ease the stress of the last days by letting him know about the abrupt end ahead. But I don’t think anything could prepare him for the rush, rush, rush, rush, and then OVER.  There was a little shellshock, but it’s three days after the last day, and now he’s busily making repairs around the school that there just wasn’t time to do during the school year. 

    I know there are those who find a two- or three-month vacation a misrepresentation of real life.  After all, what job in “real life” lets you have the whole summer off?  (Besides teaching, of course!)  I know that its reason is no longer a real reason. You know, to allow children to come home and help with the harvest.  But I have to tell you that I am in total support of at least two months off.  Not only does it give teachers and administration a chance to repair the grounds and rework ideas and such, but it halts contagious illnesses and makes the jump in maturity noteworthy to teachers and peers.

    You got yours when you were a kid.  Let them have theirs.  If your jealous, become a teacher.  There’s a serious shortage of us out here.  If you can stomach pay cut, there’s a summer vacation waiting for you!  Happy Summer!

-          Michelle

Some of my best memories are from the summertime. Growing up, I remember long summer days in Texas and Oklahoma, walking barefoot in the backyard and all over the neighborhood. There were no deadlines or assignments, just a curfew and an expectation to go to church on Sundays and Wednesdays. Those days have left more on me than just the freckles on my skin. They left a desire to be in the sun and to be careless and free again.

As I grew, summer began to fill up and become more structured. I would go to summer camps or work a summer job. Obligations began to overtake the time that used to mean relaxation. My freshman year of college was the last time I had a summer that was free of responsibilities. The next year saw summer classes and work. Now I am coming up on my first summer as a full-time employee. Being an events coordinator means that my summer is going to be the exact opposite of what I have described at the beginning of this post. I will spend every day, including many weekends, at work putting on events. I will work harder than I ever have putting on multiple events every weekday. I will finally be done with classes, but I will fill the time with work.

This is the hard part of growing up. Breaks aren’t as obvious or as relaxing as they once were. I’m realizing that if I want to take a vacation, I am going to have to schedule it months in advance. This is what you don’t realize as a child or as a young person. The concept of summer will drastically change during the different phases of your life. Unfortunately for most, the afore-mentioned careless summers will never exist for them again until they retire and their whole life becomes summer.


So what I am saying to the students out there is, enjoy your summers while they last. Make memories, make friendships, make mistakes. Live while you are young - as cliché as that might sound, it’s so important to remember. As an adult, you will never have so much time dedicated to relaxing and enjoying life. You will have to create your own “mini-summers” on the weekends and over the holidays. Use the time while you have it to discover what makes you happy, and pursue it. Give yourself something to look back on fondly while you sit at your desk in the middle of June on a gorgeous day. These memories will help get you through the periods of “winter” in your life.

                                                           - Bria

 

Speaking of summer vacations, Kay is on one for the next two weeks!  She'll write when she gets back. 

Promotion

Promotion…is certainly an appropriate topic at this time of the year.  My mind jumps quickly from one application of the word to another.  I am trying to get all the necessary forms and awards ready for our school promotions of students from one grade to the next.  I also am trying to sort through all the “promotions” being sent to me daily (along with phone calls) to join fundraisers to help our school.  I dismiss them as I always do with the answer, “We don’t do fundraisers…allowing our parents relief from the steady barrage of such activities at their door, at the local stores where they shop, and alongside the road as they travel through town.”  When the promoter tries to press me more, I ask what is the “profit” they take in compared to the organization they are “helping.”  This usually merits their response of “Well, thank you anyway.”

            I also entertain the thought that only in America do we pay pretty significant money to watch entertainment which is filled with close to 30% promotion of various products and services to purchase. My students are shocked at the thought that their internet is filled with promotions designed to “sell to them.”  Most of these elementary students argue that they don’t pay attention to the ad promotions.  However, when they bring a new product to school and are asked where they found it, their first answer is “On the internet.”

            Tomorrow will be a very telling day at school.  I just read an article about the new “fidget gadgets” that consist of three spinning wheels in a hand-held plastic contraption.  In the past three days, I have witnessed students buying these by the handfuls at the local one-stop shops.  The article I read quoted many medical experts that found no evidence that these relieved stress or served medically significant purposes for Autistic and ADHD students.  However, the article already pointed out the distractions caused in classrooms from these toys.  This promotion has gone viral thanks to the internet! Does anyone besides me remember the “pet rocks?”  That spread also, but at Model T-speed compared to the internet promotion of today.  What does the future hold for all of us?

            Finally, as I think of another “year’s end” of school approaching us this week, I am reminded that “the only constant in the universe is change itself,” so   I need to recommit myself to “promoting” the desirable things this world needs: love, goodwill, citizenship, and peace.  As the old poem goes, “I shall never pass this way again…”  Am I making a difference for the better in the things I promote? 

                                                                                                Kay

As a young professional and a person who has a degree in advertising, I have a lot of thoughts about promotion. In terms of my education, I have a lot of knowledge about promoting a certain product or person or event. This is a skill that has proved useful for my new position as an event coordinator. It is interesting to think of promotion through the lens of a young professional. The idea of promoting yourself or making yourself valuable enough and impressive enough that you are promoted in terms of position or title change is incredibly important.

 

Another way to think about promotion is in terms of moving up in the educational sphere- a graduation or promotion to the next grade. All of these ways of thinking about promotion have one thing in common and that is that it is incredibly important and vital to the subject being promoted (whether that be a product, event, concept or person).

So now that we know that promotions are important, how do we achieve them? This is the harder part. Going throughout school, promotions are a necessary part of continuing education. They signify a passage of time as well as a gaining of knowledge. As you grow up, promotions are increasingly harder to obtain. Elementary school promotions are more about teaching the child the concept of promotions and advancement more than anything. By the time you get to high school promotion, the stakes are higher and less people make it that far. This allows those of us who succeed in receiving the promotion to feel an attainable measure of success that, in turn, makes us continuously promotable to the next level in our education or career.

This practice establishes a pattern for success that is ingrained in us at an early age. We leave high school knowing the certain steps that we have to take to achieve success in our adult lives. The problem is, this concept is outdated. Things don’t necessarily work like that anymore. Yes, there are some jobs that still work on the traditional ladder of success with several promotions along the way. Other jobs will not include this traditional pattern to which we have become accustomed. Times are changing. Millennials are constantly challenging the traditional ways of doing anything, especially work. It is important to remember as you enter the workforce that things might not be how they are “supposed” to be. Jobs, titles, and needs are constantly evolving and that is causing a great push back to the way that things have always been. We have seen this start to trickle down into our educational system as well with the rise of open- concept schooling. Many schools have also started to adapt, rejecting a traditional model of education. My point here is that our society teaches us to strive for promotion, but the future is in adaptation. Being flexible, innovative and adaptive is much more important than moving up a ladder of success. If you can learn this before you begin working, you will be far better off and you will save yourself a lot of hardship.

-          Bria

Every year about this time, some school somewhere in America has a serious discussion about whether to have “graduations” or “promotions” in the grades prior to high school. It seems like either would work, but there always seems to be one who feels very strongly that the two terms are not interchangeable. Both are noteworthy occasions, but I will address only promotions on this blog.

      During school, it seems one is always in the business of promoting himself.  Students show us how quickly they can attain knowledge and how well they can retain and apply that knowledge.  They sing and act and play sports… all to gain notoriety, and, hopefully, scholarships to greater institutions at which to promote themselves so that they can, in turn, gain a job, in which they can once again promote themselves so as to gain better paying positions.

     Wow.  I teach a book in my AP English Language and Composition class called Everything’s an Argument.”  I thought that boiled everything down to a single action.  I guess I’ve pretty much done the same thing!

      Sounds kind of vain on our part, doesn’t it?  It’s not really, though.  The problem with waiting for everyone to notice what you’re doing is that every one else is waiting for you to notice what they are doing.  You know how you’ll wear something special or have a really great hair day, and no one even notices?  That’s because they have worn something special or had a great hair day themselves, and they are waiting for you to notice!

      So how do we teach our kids to promote themselves without turning them into egotistical windbags?  I’d say honesty is the best policy here.  We have to cultivate a relationship in which we can not only praise, but constructively criticize as well.  Some parents of our PreK students tell us of daycares where no criticizing or saying, “I don’t like that behavior” is allowed.  Instead, their misbehaving child has his attention refocused so that he forgets that thing about which he is having a fit.  Good grief!  Have children become that fragile?!

     It’s necessary that your child not be right or win every time.  He must experience loss while you’re there to respond to his reaction.  Gifted kids will accept the idea that you win because you are older and more experienced, especially if you praise their improvements from the last time this was addressed.  Protecting your kids from failure is an epic failure.  Teach them to recognize when they’ve done poorly and when they’ve done well.  Then teach them not to brag about accomplishments, but instead bring them to someone’s attention when those accomplishments warrant a promotion.  For example, a doubly-promoted student letting her peers know that she’s the smartest in the class will only cause them to laugh at her for something else – her physical prowess or her looks, for instance.  But offering to help with peer tutoring will cause the teacher to promote her mental abilities to the whole class. 

     As a teacher and principal, I will tell you what I look for when I seek to “promote” someone to a particular position or club (like student council or honor society). I look for the servant heart.  True leaders understand that great leaders lead from the front.  The kid who thinks beyond herself to the needs of others is potentially a great leader, and that’s a promotion worth pursuing!

-          Michelle

Conformity/Compromise

Compromising… settling differences by mutual concessions…seems to be the order of the day.  I have had several scenarios of this type occur just as I was composing this week’s blog.  The first example of compromise occurred to me as my husband, son-in-law, and I went to eat lunch at Chick-fil-A.  As we watched the longest drive-through lines in Lawton, it was noted how quickly everything moved along.  The lines inside the establishment were moving as efficiently and quickly as they were outside.

            This corporation refused to compromise its standards, beliefs, and Sunday closures to the popular trends in fast food establishments across the country today.  Yet, it didn’t lose business; in fact, I think the patronage has grown immensely.  The workers are always pleasant and mannerly, and the food always tastes good.  The company took a stand and remains one of the most popular eating places in our area.  They did not follow greed by expanding their physical plant; instead choosing to double the drive through lane to two deep, and sending waiters out to take orders down the line.  Even an outdoor cashier helps keep things moving.  This is the only place my husband will agree to wait in line…all because they did not compromise their standards, and the line moves quickly!

            The second scenario involved my receiving a phone call from someone in our city government who wanted our students to take part in a poster contest that they sponsor annually.  I explained that our students have always taken part, until last year.  At that time, the contest was changed to a coloring sheet being done by everyone and the winner drawn from a hopper.  My students decided they didn’t like that “lucky drawing” as the reward for spending time and effort making their best poster creations.

            At that moment in our conversation, the young man said it would be different this year since the students would be given a blank sheet rather than a coloring picture.  I then explained that it didn’t change the situation at all.  A person who spent five minutes on a poster could win by the draw.  The caller then explained that “for legal reasons” they couldn’t have judging anymore.  I asked if that was so they could be “politically correct.”  He answered hesitatingly.  I said, “This is exactly why our school exists.  We do not have to be politically correct…but could judge a piece of work on merit rather than making sure all entries are kept equal with the ‘chance of a lucky draw.’”  I do not take a cent of government funds or tax exemptions so I can remain free of the necessary “Compromising” that goes with such perks.

            There are times when compromise is necessary.  We have many such times in a school for gifted students.  Teamwork often requires compromise since all the students have high standards of achievement, and usually will fight tooth and toenail to see their efforts be the “one chosen.”  But even in our compromising, we weigh the merits of each case.  Then, we teach students to learn from their failures, and to turn them into future successes.

            And even though I am called “technologically illiterate” by some because I won’t adopt the latest gizmos and gadgets, I am not bothered.  You see, I have not “compromised” my personal life and information on the “world-wide-web” so it would be free to hackers everywhere!  Oops!  I have compromised to the extent that I have shared my innermost feelings in these weekly blogs.  Oh well, you win some and you lose some!   

-          Kay

     I’ve been pondering all weekend on this subject.  I have never been much for conforming.  I had no desire to be a part of a sorority, I never joined the labor unions when my job offered one, I’m not an active member of any society (I only join when membership is required for my kids to be able to compete), and, while respectful, I was not the cookie-cutter officer’s wife during my husband’s military career.  Yet, if you get nitpicky, one could argue that practicing good hygiene, eating meals at certain hours, and sleeping at least eight hours a night are all aspects of conforming. I was told recently that it’s not good for me to wash my hair more often than once a week.  I just cannot wrap my head around that one because I remember the Agree shampoo ad where the pretty girl gets caught shopping with greasy hair.  I was mortified; that was never going to happen to me!

    Over the years at Lawton Academy, I have had many students who tried their hardest to be anarchists.  None truly ever got there.  For all our “trying to be unique,” we gifted are generally rule-followers.  We have a need to know the “rules,” and we often tell others when they aren’t playing by them. After all, how can you push against the limits if you don’t have any limits?  Isn’t the very definition of anarchy absolute freedom of the individual?  We gifted like to know the boundaries; we like to know what everyone else is doing.  Then our goal becomes to stand out from the crowd.  We like the “box.”  We find comfort in the rules being established. We just would rather be on top of the box than sitting inside with everyone else!

    I think people find comfort in conforming.  This idea can’t be too off target because there are others who feel the same as I do.  Groups are inherently a validation that our choice was wise and acceptable.  As parents and teachers of gifted kids, it’s important that you recognize that your validation is not required.  The gifted kid says, “Tell me your rules.  I will follow them, but expect something a little different… or more… or unusual in my interpretation of your rules.”

    I see this when my kids participate in art competitions.  We teach our kids the basics in art in elementary and early middle school.  Then we let them go off-grid to create new art.  There’s one competition in which my kids feel particularly “unlike” anyone there.  It’s an art competition in which all are required to do the same still life (from their own unique angle) in charcoal.  My kids’ drawings stick out like a sore thumb.  Fifteen drawings will be placed up for all to see, and I can pick my student’s out every time.  His or hers is the one in that Sesame Street song “One of these things is not like the others.”  My kids come away crushed every time, yet every year someone new wants to give it a try.

   Does my school owe it to these kids to train them to do charcoal drawings exactly like everyone else?  Should my singers only sing classical music? Some would say yes.  I’m not so convinced.  I do think training in classical music and learning how to properly do a charcoal drawing are important… as important as learning how to write a five-paragraph essay.  However, I don’t believe kids should stop there.  I drill my English students on the five-paragraph essay their 8th and 9th grade years so that they will understand that this “skeleton” must be found within the body of their writing.  They cannot simply start on a topic and then blog, chasing rabbit after rabbit.  In 10th grade, though, I tell them to move beyond the five-paragraph essay (except, of course, for their college entrance exam, where the essay is not necessarily read as much as it is checked for the “skeleton”).  They still shouldn’t ramble, but they can get so much more creative with their writing.  The only job I know of that still uses the five-paragraph essay is that of a preacher.  He tells a little antidote at the beginning and lays his thesis statement on us.  Then he gives us three points, and when he says, “In conclusion,” we all start packing up our Bibles. 

   Is not the same true in art and music?  How many channels on satellite radio are devoted to classical music?  How does that compare to all the other styles we are not taught at school?  In art museums, is it not the unconventional art that catches our attention the most?

    I guess it all boils down to this for me:  when we are conforming, we are not thinking.  Our nation’s initiative to make sure all students learn the same set of facts (Common Core), and the subsequent altering of all entrance exams to reflect that kids know this set of facts, is a microcosm of the inherent problems with conformity.  During a time when automation is replacing entry-level jobs in restaurants and grocery and department stores, we are not training our work force to think… just to spout a set of facts.  Who’s going to repair and program all of this automation?  Well, my students will - because we are teaching them to think… and yes, it’s outside of the box!

-          Michelle

Being a child of the late 90’s/early 2000’s, I am well familiar with the idea of conformity versus nonconformity. It was in our music- our angsty pop punk that allowed us to feel rebellious in between school and youth group at church. It was in our clothing - Hot Topic was our favorite store, buying band shirt after band shirt with names written in gothic fonts over a scene of a weeping willow crying actual bloody tears. It was in our media - every boy wanted to be Green Day and every girl wanted to be Avril Lavigne. This gave us a way to rebel safely and made us feel like we weren’t conforming with what the “man” says and how society tells us to act. This was all in retaliation to the ridiculous early 2000’s pop and R&B that had so taken over our society. We traded in our wide flare jeans, crop tops and hoop earrings for pants with chains, angsty t-shirts with movie villains and lip rings.

 

This decade was confusing as a whole because everyone was trying to figure out what it meant to be in a new millennia. At the same time, people my age were growing up and trying to discover themselves. We all felt the significant desire to oppose the norms while all shopping at the same stores, listening to the same music and taking in the same news and media. During the height of this craze, Hot Topic was pulling in $20 Million per year while promoting a culture of “counter culture” music and fashion. This store literally made millions of dollars by convincing people that shopping there made them an individual.

 

My point from this long rant is that even when we try to be an individual, we still end up conforming. Ten years ago, it was the goth/emo scene. Now it’s hipsters. I live in a city full of hipsters who think they are so alternative and authentic; however, there are entire neighborhoods dedicated to this type of person. The hipster lifestyle is trendy online, and in metropolitan areas, we see shops and restaurants targeted at this demographic popping up all over the place. My point here is that those who are trying the hardest to be alternative and non-conforming are slowly becoming the most mainstream group.


At the end of the day, we all conform to a certain level. We choose to do things like go to school and pay taxes and abide by rules because we want to live a good life and stay in good standing with the law. There is an idea that conforming is bad, but to be honest, conforming (to a certain extent) is necessary. Be an individual, conform when necessary, but above all else be true to yourself. Growing up, it is hard to determine your identity. What I want to tell you is that it is okay to try on a few different personalities and identities until you figure out what you like. This is the time of your life where you can discover yourself in a safe place. Don’t worry about conforming or not conforming; worry about staying true to yourself and doing what’s right. This will be much more rewarding.

-          Bria

It's Wild!

It’s wild!  That pretty well sums up these past five weeks of spring around Lawton Academy.   I am enjoying teaching my science classes about the wonders of spring which are so obvious on and around our campus.  The Mulberry trees have produced an enormous amount of berries which students carefully observe each morning and munch on each recess!    

            We’ve been able to visit at least four bird nests complete with occupants: a dove who is still sitting on her eggs in our Live Oak tree; a robin’s nest in a Mulberry tree on the North side of our elementary building; a sparrow’s nest in the front of our secondary building; and best of all, a robin’s nest carefully built in the tree next to our covered sand area in such a position that the building’s overhang protects it from rain, wind and excessive sun.  I’ve listened to that robin chirp and greet me every morning as I arrive at school…but I had no idea he was just bragging about how “gifted” he was to have chosen such a wonderful location for his nest!

            The crowning achievement for us, however, is the birth of five new Killdeer babies which we can observe running along our driveway to the school.  We have been fortunate to have these birds return year after year to give birth to their new families on our property.  The students have marveled at the theatrics of the father bird in particular as he feigns a broken wing to lead onlookers away from his mate and her brood.  After observing this display this week, one of my students remarked, “That really is awesome to see that parent willing to sacrifice his own life to save his children from potential harm!” 

            As if the bird life isn’t enough “wildness” (I didn’t even mention that we’ve had over fifty doves hatch on our property), we’ve had a plentiful supply of rabbits who do multiplication very well!  At the moment, we have about four to six new babies which run around outside the fenced area all day long.  Two of these new young ones come over near the children during recess and just “hang out” to the delight of the students.  One of my first graders announced in a very knowing manner on Thursday, “I am sure it’s Floppsy and Peter Rabbit!”

            I won’t go into detail, but we’ve also had a yearly production and visit of garter snakes.  Once in a while, we get a glimpse of a coyote leaving our soccer field after a night of chasing rabbits.  Last year we had the unpleasant task of having to catch eight baby skunks who, along with their mother, took up residence under our trailer workshop.  We learned that molasses-coated bread is a sure way to catch them!

            And a final observation of the wildness all around me…girls with red, pink, green, blue, and even rainbow-colored hair!  Even the clerk at my morning stop for a diet coke was brandishing bright green hair that would make any Irishman proud on St. Patrick’s Day!

            Let me close with this website.  Please visit it for a few moments of wonder at this wonderful world in which we live…and the gift of such a wonderful, loving God.   

   www.andiesisle.com/magnificent.html                                                        Kay

      The first set of definitions that come up when I Google the word “wild” include this one:  uncontrolled or unrestrained, especially in pursuit of pleasure.  This time of year, the phrase “My students are wild!” is uttered repeatedly by teachers passing in the hall.  We are three weeks away from the end of school, it is spring, and the students are fully into end-of-the-year activities.    They’re happy and excited and… yes, wild. 

      Nowadays it is very hard to know how much “wild” is acceptable.  I’ve taught in elementary schools – heck, I’ve gone to elementary schools – in which “silence is golden.”  Every child walks the halls with a “bubble” in his mouth… a clever ploy to keep little kids’ mouths tightly closed (“Don’t let the bubble escape and don’t break it!”).  I once taught in a school with 700 primary elementary students.  I was their smiley music teacher.  When they saw me in the hall, though, they were only allowed to wave “hi” with one finger, all the while holding their bubbles.  Who declared teachers the Quiet Police?  Reminds me of many of the dystopias I teach in my literature classes.

    Don’t get me wrong; I am all for silence when instruction is being given or when going past a working class.  I’m especially for audience silence, whether it be in a live performance or at a movie theater.  Audience, we didn’t come to listen to you!

       I digress.  My favorite part of the tours of our school I give this time of year is when the elementary is not silent.  I like when the kids come down the hall chatting and give me a hug and then introduce themselves to those touring.  Even our first graders will stop and welcome them.  I love that!  In classes elementary through high school, those touring see kids engaged in class discussions and activities.  They sit at tables to promote collaboration.  Oh sure, we have some lecture classes, and it’s silent when they test or are doing individual work.  But, with three recesses in the school day, one can tell we value time for kids to be kids.

      The key to it all is breaking the will but not the spirit. When one “breaks” a horse, he is really just training the horse to allow him to ride along.  The spirit of the horse is still alive and well, and when not under the bit, the horse can run and choose his course (at least to the fence line!).  Constant silence and uniforms and rows of individual desks are all about control. A relationship is required between the “breaker” and the horse.  Those who try to control the horse without building the relationship just get bucked. 

      I believe the kids in a school will work with the teachers and administration if relationships are cultivated and kids understand the goals.  To do this, teachers and administrators have to invest a lot of time outside of the classroom.  My parents, my husband, and I all coach/sponsor activities outside of the school day.  We know every child and every parent in our school.  That’s not possible if the school has 2,000 students, but we’ll leave the need for smaller schools to another discussion…  

     The goal cannot be conformity. We want our kids to express themselves, be it through their clothes, their creations in the fine arts and engineering, or their interactions with others.  We welcome a little wild because it’s a sign of intelligence.  The intelligent have always pushed against the standards.  The trick is to teach the kids how to push the limits without breaking the walls.

     Do we ever utter the phrase “The kids are wild today” at our school?  You bet!  There are days that the kids just want to be done.  Storms can cause wild behavior, as can excitement for an impending performance or event.  Shouldn’t we, as teachers, expect a little wild during those times?  I think the key to helping kids control their wild sides is to clearly set expectations.  Gifted kids especially can work with the teacher when the teacher explains when wild is not allowed.  It’s also helpful if he/she does allow some wild during the day.  We have so many years to be adults.  We can help kids become marketable for colleges and later employment without killing the pure joy of just being a kid. 

-          Michelle

When I heard that this week’s topic would be “it’s wild,” I immediately thought of the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Wild documents Strayed’s journey walking the entirety of the Pacific Crest Trail by herself. It highlights the hardships as well as the breakthroughs, and it paints a clear portrait of a broken woman on her journey to recovery through the process of hard work and achievement.

I read this book earlier this year, after I saw the movie version featuring Reese Witherspoon. While I liked the movie, I felt like Witherspoon’s soft features and sweet spirit were not tough enough when compared to Strayed’s personality. The movie focused heavily on the struggle and the harassment Strayed experienced throughout her journey, but the book looked at the empowerment of the situation.

To be honest, many of the instances described in the book and movie are brutal. The things that she experienced were truly awful, and there were several instances when she thought seriously about quitting. In the end, Strayed persevered and she completed the journey in spite of all the hardships she encountered.

Although Strayed’s early life was rough and several mistakes were made, there are a lot of valuable lessons that we can learn from this story. One of the biggest things I took away from this story was empowerment. This is the first important lesson from this book: self-empowerment. What Strayed did was challenging, but also groundbreaking. Women did not walk this trail alone, especially not the entire 2,000+ miles of the trail. Everyone told her that she couldn’t do it. Along the way, other hikers questioned her capabilities and tried to talk her out of completing the journey alone. Although she thought about it several times, Strayed never quit. This is the second important lesson from this book: persevere.

Wherever you are in your life, I think you can learn a lot from Cheryl Strayed. Whether your “pacific crest trail” is getting through school, or if it is seeing through an important goal for yourself, perseverance and self-empowerment are valuable lessons to apply to your situation. Along the journey, you will find that you have grown and changed as a person, and you will look back fondly on the experience as well as the achievement.

-          Bria

Excuses

“At the end of the day, let there be no explanations, no excuses, no regrets.”

-Steve Maraboli

 

It's ironic that today's topic is excuses because I believe all three of us have good excuses as to why we wouldn't have time to write this today. I am currently packing to move next week, and I had to pause to write this piece. I’m sitting here with my apartment in a complete state of disarray, choosing to be okay with it because I this is something I have made a commitment to do every week.

 

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that we are so busy that we don’t have the capacity to take on more projects, or social outings, or fill in the blank. At the end of the day, the reality is that most of us are really busy. There will always be something to be done or something that will keep you busy. As we enter more demanding times of our life, it is easier to make excuses as to why we cannot do certain things.

 

Whether it be social, work-related, or otherwise, it is incredibly easy for me to think of reasons why I cannot do something. For me, this typically falls in the category of social outings and friendships. I have a good number of friends, but when I have to pick between work/school and my social life, the latter is always disregarded. This makes it easier for me to excuse myself from social situations when I just don’t feel like going out or leaving my house as well. After a while, people start to expect this from you and stop inviting you to things.

 

The same thing can be said for excusing yourself from work/school work. If you are the first one to excuse yourself any time your boss asks someone to stay late and work on a project, you might be overlooked when it comes time for a promotion. Similarly, if you disregard chances to get ahead in school by doing extra credit assignments or being involved in extracurriculars because of excuses, you might miss out on opportunities that your peers receive.

 

There are also times when we excuse ourselves on more serious terms, like when we miss a deadline or forget to complete a task. People are generally forgiving when this happens occasionally because they understand that things happen. When this is a regular occurrence, the consequences and the stakes are higher. Failure to complete tasks or assignments on a regular basis might result in a job loss or a failed class. At that point, no excuse will be able to undo the damage done.


Excuses are a slippery slope. Using them occasionally to allow yourself a break from an obligation is okay, but it can be dangerous to use them regularly. People who habitually make excuses develop a reputation for themselves professionally and personally. Looking at the situation as a whole, it is okay to make excuses occasionally when you really won’t benefit from what you are trying to get out of, but overall establishing a pattern of excuse-making is going to negatively affect the relationships in all areas of your life.

-          Bria

Excuse… the act of being pardoned or released from an obligation.  This is an act that is all too common in school life.  The change I have perceived over the years is the increased amount of parent willingness to accept full responsibility for a child’s failures in expected behaviors and/or tasks.

            I actually had one first grade student give his excuse for failing to return something to school with this quip, “My mom made me!”   I delved further by saying, “You are telling me she actually kept the required paper from you and wouldn’t let you return it?”  His answer: “No, I mean she ‘made’ me…I was born!”  So, from his perspective, everything was his mother’s fault!

            Teaching students to have responsibility is a very difficult task.  Parents want their children to be good citizens, but they often prevent that outcome by offering excuses for the child’s lack of ownership of the problem at hand.  In fact, such constantly excused children soon become master manipulators in the same way Eddie Haskell was on the old “Leave It to Beaver” TV series.

            I find, however, that I am more perturbed with schools making excuses for not meeting the needs of students…especially the gifted and talented students.  Many times I have been visiting schools on business when the topic of my helping get the gifted law passed in Oklahoma by working with then Representative Penny Williams and Senator Bernice Shedrick comes to the forefront.  Immediately, I am told all kinds of excuses about why their particular school can’t spend money to help gifted education. I listen patiently (I asked for no such information), even though I am very aware of the Shiny Greyhound- type touring bus(es) provided for the sports teams.  Why make excuses?  Almost everyone knows that Oklahoma sports are the number one priority and other programs must yield to them. Don’t get me wrong, I love to watch sports and I know valuable team skills are developed through them.

            We are suffering a budget shortfall in our state.  Educators are screaming about how they must cut budgets to survive.  They usually include fine arts in that threat.  No one talks of cutting sports expenditures.  So, when it comes to a vote of the people for bond money, often the public is told, “We may lose our sports program if this fails.”  That is when the people speak, and sports win again!

            Lest I cause a great outpouring of negative rebuttals from sports fans, I also take issue with the excuses given by the education establishments for riding a dead horse into the ground.  We have known for at least two decades now that human learning requires more than rote memorization of facts.  We have learned about circadian rhythms and learning styles as well as the processing done by the brain.  Yet, we still find classrooms where every child is on the same page at the same time working at the same pace as everyone else.

            In this age of the “J Curve” (I am amazed so few people are aware of even this development), it is becoming increasingly important for excuse-making to stop.  Learners must be able to think and process at an alarming rate brought about by the speed of technological breakthroughs.  I may be 73 years old, but I am doing my part to help our students accept responsibility for learning and for producing some positive accomplishment in this world of ours!    

                                                                                                     - Kay

Ask any kid who’s been in my middle or high school classes in the last ten years, and he will tell you one of my favorite quotes is Excuses only satisfy the person who makes them.  There’s a fine line between an excuse and a reason.  For example, I cannot give blood because I have had thrombocytopenia during my pregnancies, and there’s too much risk it might come back and I’d bleed out during the donation.  That is the reason I cannot give.  I have no excuse, though, for not participating in this life-saving activity.  For that reason, my secondary students and I host a blood drive every year.  This is my way of contributing.

            There are many reasons kids are the way they are.  When those reasons become excuses, however, the child’s performance is less than adequate.  Unfortunately for many kids, the excuses come via a parent.  I can work with kids with challenging issues… until Mom convinces them that they “can’t” do something because of that challenging condition.  I am all for identifying limitations, but come on, Mom, let your child at least attempt to overcome. 

            Can you imagine where we would be if Frederick Douglas hadn’t learned to read, escaped slavery, and written about it, risking his own life to expose this atrocity in the process?  Or what if after the first fire Thomas Edison set in his father’s barn, or the second fire he set in a railroad car, he had decided to quit experimenting ever again because of his proclivity to fire?  History is full of stories of individuals overcoming challenges to create and conquer and liberate and prosper.  Some tell me that the problem with today’s youth is that they are required to do nothing hard.  One part of me says, “That’s what every generation says about the generation following theirs.”  Another side of me agrees, though.  Everything from shoes with Velcro straps to the high frequency of students telling me they’re allergic to mosquito bites because they get a raised, itchy spot when bitten supports this theory.  (Sorry to break it to you, kid, but we all get that reaction.)

            I encourage you strongly, Mom and Dad, don’t let any reason become an excuse.  You are not protecting your child when you excuse poor performance; you are weakening your child. 

            Every Sunday morning at 6:00 a.m., I watch On the Money, a news show about emerging business trends.  The host was interviewing Andy Puzder about the growing trend of automated restaurants and grocery stores where you just scan the food you want as you go with your phone, and the store charges your credit card.  He was not concerned about the automation, in fact declaring it inevitable due to the way society purchases items nowadays and the increasing labor costs.  Instead, he was advocating not rushing the automation so that we have time to train our labor force to change with the times. 

            I always joke with students when they let their grades dip, “You better start practicing the phrase, ‘Would you like fries with that?’”  If those jobs are gone, what exactly will we be training our labor force to do?  Well, if everything is going automated, I guess the entry-level job may become mechanic.  It takes a lot more brains to rebuild a motor or reprogram a computer than it does to take a dinner order, though. 

            We live in a time in which it has become very hard to distinguish oneself from others.  College entrance exams have aligned with a set of facts so more people will score well, and college is no longer limited to the best and the brightest.  What does a young adult have to do to stand out from the rest?   I propose that he or she must stand out all along the way

            The difference between my good students and my great students has never been the intelligence with which they were born.  It has always been how the parents have chosen to guide.  Pushing too hard makes resentful kids who get really good at hiding bad behavior.  Doing everything for and making excuses for makes entitled kids who fail to launch.  The best parents are the ones who inspire their children to try new things, who encourage them to set goals and then give them the tools to reach those goals, who never let them cower behind an excuse but instead teach them to reach within the depths of their souls and find the strength to overcome.   

            One last thought, and I’ll get off my soapbox:  I had a teacher once who told kids, “Don’t come to me with your problem; instead, come tell me your intended solution to your problem.”  Genius!

-          Michelle

How Much is Too Much?

It depends.  Who’s asking?  Ironically, both of my kids started new jobs this week.  As my daughter moves from interning to a career, naturally questions about her hours are of big concern.  As I listened to her reason her way through what would be acceptable in terms of overtime, I was forced to examine my own feelings on the amount of time I’m willing to give my career.  My husband and I both get up early and get to work well before time for school to start.  We both stay at the school till almost 6:00, and then after dinner, sit down to grade and plan classes until we drag ourselves to bed.  We work on Saturdays and Sundays, and we do big work projects at least a portion of our vacation days.  Were we always like this, or is this just because we no longer have kids at home?

   I remember working on weekends early in my career, and I know I stayed up grading quite a lot.  But, I think I did a whole lot less than I do now.  I had kids; they had lives.  I didn’t put their lives on hold for my job.  Truth be told, I had a whole lot less to do back then.  I only taught then.  I was not a part owner and a principal as well as a full-time teacher back then. 

   That made the stakes different.  I put my time into that which I was building.  When my children were home, I was helping them build a successful future.  Therefore, much of my time went into that, including my first years at Lawton Academy.  There was no intent for a high school at LAAS when we came.  It was because my son and one other faculty member’s son wanted to continue into high school that we ever began offering high school.  I suppose that’s about when I started really putting in long hours at Lawton Academy.  My children were as well, though.  We were building a program together, so I guess I was combining the two.

    Now that my kids are adults, I have many hours that were previously spoken for open for development.  I have chosen to put them into building this school into a highly efficient model of what gifted education should look like.  Why?  Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe it’s partly because I hated school.  I vowed to change it.  Learning is fun; why then is school so boring?  I never felt it had to be, and I think we are proving that daily.  Maybe it’s because I see this school as a ministry.  We ask God to bring the ones we can help and take the ones who don’t need us.   Because I feel God does this, it’s very intriguing to me to watch how God uses us in a life, and I love what I learn in the process.  Maybe it’s because watching these kids create and connect and succeed is so highly rewarding that I just have to have more! All I know is that, until there are grandkids to tempt me to be away more often, I do not see my hours lessening, and I am okay with that.

-          Michelle

How much is too much?  I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve asked or been asked for the answer to that question during my lifetime.  It simply is not an easy question…no matter what subject may be the pressing matter at hand.

            I’ve already addressed this question concerning homework for students.  But the first thought that comes to my mind is the information load being thrust upon all of us today.  “TMI” has become the byword for much of TV with its plethora of advertising.  Bodily functions of every sort have become the subject matter of commercials all day long.  My students are much more aware of constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (thanks to the animations and silly characters portraying body parts), and the use of sleep aides.

            I run into trouble with the “too much information” situation when part of my first grade class talk freely about Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.  For every child who still looks forward to meeting these characters, I have a handful who are called by a “noble” cause to set the record straight for these poor misguided individuals.  “Silly…there’s no such thing!  It’s just your parents!”  Then I spend uncomfortable moments trying to soothe over the situation without “giving out too much information” myself. 

            I know other areas of concern include how much we give of ourselves on the job, in our family responsibilities, our church and social lives.  If you’re a workaholic like me, it becomes a juggling act of mammoth proportions.  As a young administrator, I chose to teach a full day of classes and completed my administrative responsibilities before I awakened the family for the day’s beginning.  I finished them up in the night hours after I put them all to bed.  I survived upon four to five hours of sleep a night.  It worked for me…but I don’t recommend it to anyone.

            Now that I am one of the owners of our school corporation, I still put in the hours and teach a full load.  I can’t make do on less than six hours of sleep anymore, but I do a lot of extra work all weekends.  It’s the same story for my family members who work in this business.  However, each of us has to judge for ourselves what we are willing to give in order to make this school successful.

            The lessons I’ve learned over 50 years are these: nothing is more important than your family relationships, so keep them a top priority; learn to put some things aside undone – they won’t be well-done anyway if you aren’t in the best of moods or attention spans; learn to say “no” when you know in your heart that you are covered up in work; and set aside time now and then to get away from work, home, etc. and refresh yourself. 

            I once asked my computer tech if I should have students turn computers off each day, or if I should leave them on always.  She said, “Like motors, they need rest now and then.  Eventually, the toll on the parts will cause sudden death.  Nothing lasts forever.  Besides, just because no one is working on that computer at the moment, it doesn’t mean the internal parts aren’t working and heating up.”  The same is true of the brain and involuntary muscles of our bodies.  Give them a rest!       

-          Kay

Does anyone else feel like they are racing towards a finish line? Right now, I have a demanding full time job (plus evenings when there is an event), full time night school, an energetic puppy and I'm moving in the next two weeks. Life if throwing a lot at me right now and I'm trying to find a balance.

I know I'm not the only one who is busy right now. I have friends in similar situations that also have children to take care of. Everyone has something going on to keep them busy; it's all about managing your priorities and setting boundaries.

For me, my problem is that I am a ‘“yes man.” Basically, this means that if you ask me to do something, I'm probably going to do it even if I don't have time. I'm having to learn how to set better boundaries because my job is all-consuming and the company will take as much as you are willing to give.

This is a problem that students often find themselves in as well. Being in school alone is already time consuming, but on top of that, many students take on extracurricular activities, lessons and youth groups. Even for a young person, this can be incredibly overwhelming. When I was in school, I wanted to be a part of everything and it was a lot to handle. Luckily, I was able to start learning my limits at a young age.

Now, I am able to step back and look at my priorities in life and divide my time according to what matters most to me. Right now, I don't have children or a family, and I am able to give more attention to my career. If someone needs to stay late to close down, I am often willing and able to do so. I will not want to do this for very long, but right now I have the capacity to do this and I'm not taking that time away from a family. Because I am establishing that now, I will think twice before I agree to a lot of extra work once I no longer have the time.


The earlier you can learn your limits and the capacity of work that you are able to take on, the earlier you can make priorities and divide your time and attention accordingly. Everyone is busy; some things are worth your time, but ultimately it is up to you to decide how much is too much. Work hard, but don't say “yes” to everyone because you think you can. It is important to remember to take care of yourself and leave some time for rest and relaxation.

                                                                                                Bria

Spring "Cleaning"

Spring cleaning…brings assorted thought “sweeping” through my mind!  First of all, my daughter and I have two different viewpoints on the subject.  As a former military wife, change and cleaning for a new duty assignment are as natural as daylight and dark for her.  In fact, I often got worried when she would announce, I’m getting the feeling that it’s time to move on to a new place.  I was afraid she would never be able to settle in once and for all.  However, she’s done pretty well at being content.

            I, on the other hand, consider the subject of spring cleaning as drudgery and hard work.  That may be a result of my mother’s spring cleaning rituals which included her and me sitting on the windowsills of our second floor flat and washing the windows on the outside.  She also managed to throw in stripping wallpaper off the walls to repaper or to paint and texture the walls of her rental flat.  These are not things teenagers look forward to with great anticipation!

            My reasoning power tells me that it is difficult to know when it is the right time to take on this monumental task.  I teach my students to consider March 21 as the typical first day of spring since the spring equinox occurs on or about that date each year.  However, if you live in Oklahoma, spring may not show up until much later…or better yet, it may have sprung up with warm sunshine, buds, and stormy weather in February.  I have seen snow in April also.  This is why I laugh at folks who say, “Don’t wear white until Easter, and put the white away after Labor Day.  How silly we can be!  I’ve enjoyed seventy and eighty degree weather in Oklahoma during the middle of winter.  In fact, I’m sure the composer of the song, “Oh Susanna!” lived in Oklahoma when he wrote “the sun’s so hot I froze to death, Susanna don’t you cry!”

            On the positive side, I love to be outdoors after a spring rain.  The air feels clean and crisp.  All around me I see a “clean” landscape while smelling the pungent smells of pine trees, sweet aroma of newly-budding flowers, and the fertile “earth” smell of wet ground.  It makes me happy that I am alive to enjoy it.  My thoughts usually immediately think of the blind and deaf people who are missing this most wonderful blessing.  And, I say, “Thank you, God, for giving me these wonderful senses to take in all this beauty.

            I am sitting in my classroom right now, looking around and seeing all the “spring cleaning” I need to be doing.  Books need rearranging, old papers need tossing, and carpets are about ready for a new bath!  However, I also see the stack of papers needing grading before tomorrow’s school day begins.  So, no matter how nice it is outside, no matter what date the calendar shows, my spring cleaning will take place in the coming month in bits and pieces as I find an hour here and there that can be devoted to each task.  I WILL get it done…if I don’t, my daughter will come in behind me while I take a break and do it for me!  If I want to keep some of my treasures…I best get to them quickly!  Seriously, she does have a gift of organization…and it usually turns out to be quite helpful.    

                                                                                         - Kay

It's official: spring has sprung. The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming and it's time to clean out that box of junk in the back of your closet. Regardless of whether or not you ascribe to the notion of spring cleaning, spring is in a way a fresh start. We once again have survived winter and now we can move happily towards the summer time and all that encompasses.

 

As we begin to think about spring cleaning, I encourage you to broaden your definition of spring cleaning. Not only should we be organizing our house, we should also be organizing our thoughts, goals and desires. Take this time to clean your house, but recognize it as a fresh start in many aspects of your life.

 

For many of us, we are finishing up a school year. Deadlines and expectations can weigh you down in ways that you don't expect. As part of your spring cleaning, do a self-check. How are you feeling mentally, physically, emotionally? This is a time to start over and seek happiness.

 

One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to understand the importance of self-care. Work, school and other obligations are important, but remember to take care of yourself as well.

 

Fans of the show Parks and Rec will be familiar with the phrase “Treat Yo Self.” Two of the show’s main characters have a day each year in which they treat themselves to things that make them happy. For these characters, that is shopping. While you don't have to set aside a personal holiday, it is important to occasionally do something just because it makes you happy. Maybe after a hard week at school or work, you can take yourself out to a nice dinner or buy yourself that new video game you have been wanting. This practice can and will improve your mental wellbeing.

 

I encourage you to reflect on other ways you can have a fresh start this spring. Maybe adding exercise to your weekly routine could improve your mood and self-esteem. Or maybe you could join a book club if reading more would make you happier. Think of ways to take care of yourself as you move into a busy time of your life. Small changes and practices can make a huge difference in your daily attitude.


Spring cleaning is important for your house and your belongings. I would argue that it is even more important for your wellbeing. It's time to clear out the crud - whether that be the trash under your couch or the stress caused by neglecting to take breaks. Winter is over, spring is here, and with it comes opportunity.

-          Bria

I always enjoy the spring because it’s when I start looking at the changes I plan for next year.  The year is about to end, and several of the changes we made last year are working well.  But there is always room for improvement.  By this time of year, I can usually even give a couple of the ideas a “trial run,” so to say. 

Sure, there are downsides to spring at school, not the least of which (for the kids) is still being in school!  The elementary kids are dying to play outside, and the secondary are beginning the conversion to their summer nocturnal selves – a real problem when they still must get up and come to school after those precious two hours of sleep! But some of the greatest catharses come in the spring of the school year. 

Regional and state competitions all occur in spring.  Champions meet to compete against other champions, and wins and losses are totaled. Still, everyone’s happy just to have made it to the championship, and all have strategies for making it further next year.  The malaise often attributed to seasonal depression is lifting, and teens usually cloaked in all black don shorts and sun dresses.  And grade schoolers try incredibly hard to focus on the event that keeps interrupting their recesses!

I think whoever decided that resolutions should come on New Year’s Day really didn’t understand the human psyche.  In the middle of winter, we’re not ready to change anything.  We’re hunkered down in our softest jammies, waiting out the bitter cold.  My greatest resolutions – and they are the greatest because I actually keep them – come the first days of spring.  That’s when I feel like creating something new.  Happy Spring everybody!

-          Michelle