Laying a Foundation

Laying a foundation is very important …not only in a building’s construction, but also in the preparation of a child for his/her formal schooling.  If there are empty spaces left in that foundation, that which is built may eventually collapse. 

            As I was eating lunch today with my husband, I observed a small baby about six months old sitting at the next booth with his parents.  I was amazed to see the baby keeping perfect rhythm with the music playing over the speakers.  I thought to myself, “Maybe children today will be better musicians since many of their parents are of a generation that hasmusic playing in the background most of the time.  In fact, many of the babies probably were exposed to music throughout their mother’s pregnancy.”  Of one thing I was sure: this baby was keeping perfect rhythm with the music’s beat!

            I do know my grandson has a natural talent for picking up any instrument and playing music easily with it.  His mother played the piano and sang almost every day of her pregnancy and listened to the radio almost continuously.  Is there a correlation?  Several studies have been done in this area which show babies can remember up to four months and react to melodies heard in the womb. 

            I think the key for successful learning in children is building a strong foundation with repeated time and activity devoted to the desired outcome.  For example, a child will be better prepared for the school experience if the parent will make efforts to leave the child with other caretakers on many different occasions in many different situations.  It is an exhausting experience for my preschool teachers to deal with a child who has never been away from his/her mother for any period of time…until that first day of school!  A child must be prepared for that time of separation. 

            Children must be exposed to playing with other children before they can make a smooth transition to being in a classroom.  Even periods of play at a playground in a park or a play area in a mall can help the child to recognize there are other beings in their world with needs and feelings similar to their own.  Of course, at first, play may be only alongside of others rather than “with” them, but it’s a very important first step!

            Parents need to allow their children to fall down, pick themselves up, and go on playing in spite of the small scrape that is bound to happen with children at play.  Unless the hurt is bleeding or serious, the child needs to become resilient by going on with life.  The scratch can be treated later at a more convenient time.  Children of “helicopter parents” expect the whole playground to shut down when a scrape or tumble occurs, and their vocal “siren” to bring things to a halt usually is effective.  However, it does raise everyone’s stress level and takes time away from the limited recess period for everyone.

            I have been amazed at the parenting done by my teachers whose babies came to school with them every day.  I watched these one and two year old children play along with our regular students aged 3-5 on the playground.  Following the modeling of the older children, these little ones handled all things well, including climbing up ladders to the tornado slide and sliding down.   One of these children just finished her first two weeks of summer school camps as a three year old who will attend PK in August.  She was perfectly adapted to school life, meeting and interacting with new students, and doing classroom activities.  She did give a little whimper as Mom left for home, but she sniffed once or twice and went right on with school activities for the whole day.  I think she had a great foundation laid for a successful school career!  

-          Kay

As our family closes the book on the college years, my mind turns to those families anxiously preparing to send their loved ones off to college in a couple of months.  I remember stacks of boxes in the garage being added to daily with “just one more item he/she might need,” and the subsequent hauling “Beverly Hillbilly-style” of all that stuff to Chicago.  There is so much more to preparing a child for college, though, and it begins way earlier than the senior year of high school.

     There are three main areas of preparation necessary in secondary school:  1) balancing work and fun, 2) budgeting and doing chores, and 3) networking

      Balancing Work and Fun

      I have often told my students that college itself is not fun; it’s harder work and lots more of it.  If they make a plan that does not allow procrastination, though, they will have time for some of the best fun of their lives.  In my English/Lit class, the kids have a whole week to get their writing assignments to me via email… the final due date being Sunday evening at midnight.  Over my fourteen years of teaching at Lawton Academy, the number of students who turn in their papers in the first two days averages about two students a year.  The percentage who turn it in within an hour of the midnight deadline, however, is around 85%!  Since these kids have roughly thirty weekly writing assignments per year and I have them for multiple years, I get a lot of opportunity to talk to them about procrastinating – especially when the Internet goes out on Sunday evening!

     As a parent, you should be involving your teen in the process of deciding when to do homework.  Left to his or her own, most teens will put it off till five minutes before lights out, figuring you will let them stay up to do something “so important.”  This habit will not change unless you make it uncomfortable to do.  Preemptive:  let your teen set the time he or she will do homework, but make it known that you expect an appropriate amount of time be given each evening to studies.  Making the study area in a family living space where light monitoring can occur is not out of the question (and highly recommended).  If you do this in middle school, the habit will be established enough in high school to continue with less supervision.  You should also recognize that your high schooler is beginning to become a night owl, and as such, will be prone to fill the evening with social interaction and leave the homework for after the curfew you set for being in the house at night.  Setting the curfew at 10:00 p.m., for instance, allows for the teen to do the work from ten to midnight.  While some mothers are probably raising their eyebrows at this, doing the homework late at night is important prep work for college.  College students sometimes have to work in groups with people who don’t get off their jobs till late evening, and sometimes it’s your kid who is having to work a job and go to school at the same time.  They should not expect a solid eight hours of sleep in college – it’s not going to happen!

   College is the last opportunity your son/daughter has to really have fun with a large group of friends.  Help them to see that the fun of college comes if you actually get to stay there, and that won’t happen if they don’t make the grades.

     Budgeting and Chores

    I cannot believe the number of secondary students I see each year who do no chores and have a steady supply of money.  What horrible training for college!  I have been known to tell my students that the mother who does everything for them is crippling them so they will never leave her side.  If she truly loved them, she would teach them to fly. 

   In my own family, I continued the practice my parents used:  the children have chores because they are part of the family and they have allowance because they are part of the family.  The two are not related (they don’t get one because of the other).  The allowance included the amount needed to cover the expenses I expected them to pay and a little more.  In my better organized years, I did the whole budgeting idea with them:  some goes to tithe, some to wallet for immediate purchases, some to short-term savings (like for a Six Flags trip coming up), and some to long-term savings for college or a car, every $50 of which we would match.  I still like that plan a lot.

   I will admit that I used the allowance to teach.  My son kept forgetting to take out the trash.  My father pointed out that he didn’t need to remember; I would remind him each Sunday.  So, for a couple of Sundays, I didn’t remind him, and the trash didn’t get taken out (by him).  When allowance time came, I “forgot” to pay him.  He would mention it a day or so later, and I would say, “Oh, that’s unfortunate.  I forgot.  I promise, I won’t forget next week.”  Then I’d walk away.  It didn’t take long for him to get the point and remember to take the trash out!

    In college, your child will be tempted to spend money to go out - nightly, he will have to keep quarters to do laundry, and he will buy at every impulse.  You have simply got to teach your child to budget now. 

     Similarly, college students do not see the need to clean until they move out of the dorm!  You don’t have to make a neat freak out of them (because no one will want your child as a roommate!), but you can teach them how not to be a health hazard!  Doing laundry, cleaning sinks and toilets and showers, and mopping are three key areas to hit before heading off to college.

    Networking

    The whole point of college is to get a job at the end.  That will not happen if your child does not network during the college years.  Applications are a dime a dozen; the only thing that counts is who knows you.  Internships are a great way to get known.  When your teen chooses a college, make sure the town in which the college is located can support another person in the chosen field because the internship is likely to lead to a position.  If your teen doesn’t like the area or is in an already-saturated field, it is your turn to prepare… for him/her to move back home!

    Both of my children had work right out of college.  This is to their credit.  Both did the necessary interning and networking to get known by the right kinds of people, and both have achieved much more than their peers. When someone says to me that there are just not jobs to be had, I shake my head knowingly, but inside, I am thinking, “Your child didn’t network enough.”

    Networking doesn’t come naturally.  It requires confidence to walk up and introduce yourself to someone who could later help you.  To gain that confidence, you need to teach your children while in their teens to do this.  One great way is to volunteer in the community.  Volunteering requires meeting people, talking to them to assess their needs, and connecting them with those who can help.  There are so many opportunities for volunteering in the community, but very few of them will just let a teen come into help without the parent being involved.  Make this a priority; I guarantee it will pay off in the long run… the end benefit being that maybe they will become philanthropic when they reap the successes afforded them because you laid these foundations early!

-          Michelle

The topic of laying foundations is very interesting to me because I am in a unique position in my place of work to lay the foundation for something big. If you don’t already know, I work at a co-working space for physical product innovation and manufacturing. This space features 2.5 million dollars-worth of equipment, including laser cutters, 3D printers, SMT lines, woodworking tools, and more. While we have the space and we have the equipment, we are only three months old, and we are still laying the foundation for what this organization will be moving forward. I am a part of a small team that is building and shaping the foundation off which we will base everything we do.

This is both an intimidating and exciting position in which to be. On the one hand, being a large organization with a small staff means that each decision is more influential than you know. One mistake can cause major problems down the line for our predecessors. On the other hand, we are empowered to make a lot of the important decisions individually, rather than as a team. Everything we are doing right now is a foundation that we are creating and upon which we will grow.

There are a lot of times in our lives where we are laying foundations for what’s to come. Our entire education system is in place to lay a foundation of skills and information that will eventually prepare us for our work. If you have worked hard and laid a strong foundation throughout your schooling, it is easier to build a career on top of it. A shaky foundation or a foundation with some holes in it will not support a successful career without some problems.

This can also be applied in terms of personal values and ethics. Throughout our time growing up in our parent’s home, the foundations of our moral compass are laid and developed. This will come partially from us, but typically it is primarily from our parents. Laying a strong ethical foundation at a young age can keep you out of trouble as you grow up.

The foundation is an essential part of any structure. The key to foundations is that they are laid first. Building and developing strong foundations at a young age will help you succeed in creating a strong structure with your life. You can’t go back and redo your foundation after the building has started; anything after that is just repair work.

-          Bria

Finishing

    As of 3:00 p.m., Bria is now an alumna of DePaul University! Having practiced the routine last year for her undergraduate degree, we came well-prepared this year.  While others wait in 91-degree heat to leave a parking lot of a thousand cars while a thousand more try to enter for the next graduation, we are relaxing in our hotel room.  In honor of commencement speeches, here's a few thoughts from each of us:

     What looks like a finish is really a beginning, as all these graduates begin searching for work!      - Kay

     I'm losing a huge time-commitment, but I'm filling it as fast as I can with work!  IAM thankful to have a job, though.   - Bria

     "It's just you and me in the house now, JT."  sniff, sniff   - Michelle

    As I am fond of saying, there is no Land of Done.  Bria is not finishing... just transitioning. We wish you and yours a wonderful week, and we will write separately next week when we're not in Chicago.

 

             

    

Ambition

Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.

-Salvador Dali

 

In the past few weeks we have talked about qualifications and winning and topics that focus on one’s ability to achieve or move forward in society. Ambition is an interesting topic because without it, there is no way to succeed. It is important to be intelligent and talented and creative, but at the end of the day, ambition is what makes you reach for the stars.

 

Ambition is one of the best qualities a person can have. It means that they will stop at nothing to make their dreams a reality. Currently, I work at a co-working space for physical product innovation and manufacturing. Every day I get to work with passionate, driven people whose ambition has pushed them to believe in the reality of their dreams. I see people around me creating demand around an issue they care about and making job titles that did not previously exist. Not all of these people have an engineering background or the wherewithal to start manufacturing a product based off of one good idea. Ultimately, I see these people achieving great amounts of success because they did not let this barrier to entry stop them from making their product a reality. They had an idea, and their ambition drove them to success, disregarding a lack of formal education or experience in manufacturing. Without ambition, these people would not have succeeded in making their dreams a reality.

In many industries, one can observe this phenomenon of people, who on paper lack the necessary skills and education, achieving their dreams because an ambitious attitude pushed them to work harder than those around them. There’s a great article that is posted in the New York Times every Saturday. The New York Times Corner Office is an interview series conducted between journalist, Adam Bryant and a plethora of successful CEO’s across many industries. This article is different than many because it does not talk about the company, or sales or the future of the industry. Rather, it focusses on the executive’s personal life and how he/she got to this point in his/her career. Over and over, I see amazing people that have achieved great things with a variety of overwhelming circumstances. These people are successful, not because of their background or their education, but because of their ambition. Last week, the interview was with a CEO of a major software company. She talked about her first real job as an assistant to an account executive at a hotel chain. She noticed early on that all of the accounts executives had accounts that they cared about, and what she called “dog accounts.” She convinced the sales manager to give her all of the “dog accounts,” and in a matter of months, she turned all of the dog accounts into profitable clients. This was a turning point for her career, and it shows her ambitious character. Week after week, I read stories of individuals that took similar risks and chances to distinguish themselves and move their careers forward. This is all based on ambition.

As you progress in school and your career, what is your “dog account” scenario? What will be your hurdle to jump to meet your personal goals? The sooner you identify this, the closer you are to achieving your dreams.

-          Bria

Ambition…an eager desire for success, honor, or power… is usually considered a positive trait.  I especially am aware of this as I have just returned from a wonderful trip to the countries of Eastern Europe where my husband and I cruised down the Danube River.

            I saw ambition exhibited in many different ways as we toured ancient cities and reviewed our understandings of history.  As we climbed the steps of ancient Roman fortresses, I thought about all the successes that nation prided itself on – built upon its conquests of weaker nations.  Then I immediately found myself surrounded by structures that were conquered and lost by Napoleon and countless other monarchs through the ages.

            While the personalities who built the magnificent castles, fortresses, cathedrals and palaces   died, the displays of power and honor continue to be viewed by millions of visitors each year.  Most of the structures fill the cities with artistic beauty and even cause today’s bustling crowds to pause and just ponder the workmanship exhibited.  However, there was also the reminder of ambition at its worst: the parade grounds and government buildings built by Hitler. 

            As I met people in different countries, I was really touched deeply by the disappointment some expressed in recounting their struggles under the Soviet Union’s Communism.  Many were working very hard to accomplish success as they viewed it in American movies and music.   I noted the exchange rate of some of their coins to our U.S. dollar, and I realized how hard they would have to toil to reach some of the U.S. luxuries we take for granted.  It was a very humbling experience. (Think about $5 per liter for fuel!)

            However, I did note a spirit of ambition and drive in the young people of these countries.  People walked and rode bikes and generally seemed in good physical shape.  What struck me as noteworthy was the desire of these strangers to share with us their ambitions for the future.  It is almost like an electric current jumping from one person to the next, energizing all along its pathway.

            Finally, I now reflect upon the square in Hungary and an old friend of ours.  I remember how he told us he could trace the lineage of his family back five hundred years and how that family lost everything on at least three occasions.  The last was in 1956 when he and a friend ran from the Soviet tanks that were squelching the rebellion in his town.  Bullets took down his friend and missed him as he escaped only with the clothes on his back.  So he lived life to its fullest with fast cars, boats, etc. noting, “You can lose it all in a moment!” 

            The cathedral builders had great ambitions…perhaps to even reach heaven with the awesome spires on their structures.  My ambition in life, however, is to have made a difference just because I lived.  I felt a calling long ago to teach, and I’ve been very happy carrying out that task to the best of my ability for the past 50 years or so!

-          Kay

The problem with ambition is that it requires determination and hard work.  I hear a lot of people talk about “strong desires to achieve” something (the first part of the definition of ambition), but very few nowadays seem able to last the long time it sometimes takes to fulfill that goal.  I frequently tell my students that there are no cheat codes or Staples “easy buttons” for the task I’ve assigned.  Many don’t know what to do with that.  They just kind of stand around and wait for the allotted time to expire… or someone else in the group to do it. Is that really a problem of “nowadays,” though?  I mean, truly ambitious people never have been the norm. 

    After watching The Founder, the movie based on the McDonalds mogul, Ray Kroc (an appropriate name), I came to the conclusion that my brother was right.  He told me back in 1988 or so that I was the type of person who would invent a product or develop an idea, sell it to him for a couple of hundred thousand dollars, and be content… while he took it and made millions.  I guess ambition has levels.  The McDonald Brothers were seeking an answer to long waits at drive-ins and frequent misorders.  They developed what is now the system known as “fast food.” My family and I want students to be able to learn without having to attend a sterile, silent institution.  Lawton Academy is a colorful, sometimes noisy educational facility with a proven track record of high achieving students. Both of us have been able to achieve a small nearly perfect solution.  Our ambition IS the solution

    Mr. Kroc’s ambition was success, and his success came on the back of the McDonald Brothers’ solution.  He achieved success, but the product was never quite as good as the original.  For that very reason, I know that this school could never be franchised.  The minute someone tried to turn it into a moneymaker, it would fail.  We succeed because we keep costs low.  Sure, it means we don’t turn much of a profit, but if profits are counted in the success of those we teach, we are indeed very rich.  Hmmm… our solution is others’ success… Go figure!

-          Michelle 

"Qualified"

Qualified is one of those definitions that means something slightly different to each person, depending on to whom you are talking. In terms of being qualified for a certain position, the definition is usually subjective because each person that weighs in on the definition will hold certain traits to a higher standard than others. For one person, it might be all about what school you went to. For another it might be all about your experience. Another type of person might not care at all about your background; they might just care about your motivation and work ethic. In each person’s eyes, checking that block makes you qualified for the position. But if we think about how different each candidate might be, depending on who ends up interviewing them, we see that the definition of qualified is much broader than it seems.

Qualified is a standard that we will face at several points in our life. As young people, we qualify for awards or competitions. This is important because it teaches us that there is a set of standards to which we will be held accountable for many things we do in our lives. Competitions establish a general knowledge of the concept of qualification as well as the pattern of qualification throughout our professional lives. Getting children to compete and succeed at a young age will better prepare them to compete and succeed in the workplace. Promotions depend on qualification, but there is also a competition aspect of promotions because you have to be more qualified than those around you.

The last interesting part of the idea of being qualified is being overqualified. As a young person, I do not typically think about being overqualified. But after I receive my MA in two weeks, there will be certain low level jobs for which I will be overqualified. Not all employers will tell you if you are overqualified because they figure that they are getting a great deal. It is ultimately your own responsibility to decide when you are overqualified for a position. This gets further complicated when you see a person that you know is way overqualified for the job they have, but they do it because they are passionate about the work they are doing. This is all to say- that qualification is subjective and sometimes it can be very important, while other times it is basically irrelevant. Early on we will have to prove that we are qualified in certain areas, but as we grow in our career we have more autonomy to choose whether or not we will abide by qualifications. Until then, do your best, play the game and work hard. That will get you far in life.

-          Bria

 

     I find the two definitions that come up for “qualified” to be somewhat ironic:  1) officially recognized as being trained to perform a particular job; certified, 2) not complete or absolute; limited.  I do not disagree at all.  My grandmother used to say of seminary that it “ruined some of the best preachers.”  She’d call it “cemetery.”  I have often told people that I don’t look for certification in a potential teacher; I look for people who are born teachers… people who cannot ignore the “teachable moment.”  It’s not enough to be “certified”; if not born a teacher, the certification does not make up for the fact that this person is “limited.”

    Don’t get me wrong:  I do believe there are safety issues that are addressed with qualification standards.  I’m not questioning the need for qualifying for a position or title.  I’m questioning the standards by which one is “qualified.”  That piece of paper saying the professional in front of me is qualified doesn’t mean a hill of beans to me if he doesn’t have the common sense God gave a goose!  And therein lies a great conundrum:  what would be sufficient qualification? 

1)       Knowledge?  Not just knowing a set of facts (Common Core) and being able to recall them for a college entrance exam, that’s for sure.  Knowledge, to me, requires apprenticing.  We get much better results when we train a person from within a given field as opposed to outside of it.  I personally believe that’s why so many choose to go into the business a parent was in… it was sort of an apprenticeship.

2)      Results?  Before I will book a hotel or order a product or go to a movie or use a particular doctor or dentist or realtor, I always read the reviews and seek referrals.  I then have the choice to use or buy or watch or visit.  Where are the reviews for teachers?  Where is the choice?  Hmmm.  Instead, we hang everything on test results, and we wonder why so many teach to the tests.  They’re very jobs hang on the results. I don’t blame any teacher who does so, but I also do not consider them “qualified” teachers.

3)      A test score?  How long has it been since you’ve taken a “qualification” test?  You have the test required to get a driver’s license.  I passed the test and entered the pool of licensed drivers.  After not one, but two wrecks in the first three years, could I be called a “qualified driver”?  (Only one was my fault, but that’s one more than I should have had!)  Some people are really good test takers.  I am not one of these people.  I especially hate the ones that ask you to choose the answer that best fits the situation.  In the practice tests, I actually verbally disagree with the published answers.  I have justifications for why I chose a different answer as “best.”  My father wisely told me not to put what I think, but instead put what a team of professionals in the field for which I am testing would pick because they made the test.  So, even though I may not agree, I try to answer like they would.  If I pass the test – not agreeing, mind you – am I then “qualified”?

   None of these alone can prove “qualification.”  Even combined, they do not guarantee it.  We are left to this:  only time will tell if someone is “qualified.”  If your doctor has helped you avoid dangerous conditions, then he/she is qualified to advise you medically.  If students of a particular teacher go on to great schools and become wise in their fields, then that teacher is qualified.  Who is the judge?  You are.  Just as “an audience” is the only thing needed to be considered an artist, a group of people who believe one produces good results in his/her given field is my standard for the title “qualified.”  Hopefully they’ve written reviews so we can all benefit!

 

-          Michelle

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