#oneword2017

Designed by second son.

Designed by second son.

This is the third year my family has participated in choosing One Word to focus on for the upcoming year. This year we decorated a box with our words and wrote why we chose that word on a tag that was then placed inside the box. The plan is to share events that highlighted our words during Sunday dinner. We will write out the event and place them in the box.

My word this year is BE. I’ve blogged about the idea behind my word in the post, Greatness. My goal this year is to BE the person I am instead of trying to be that person. It’s a small difference in thinking, but instead of trying to be a good husband, I will be a good husband. That means I do what it takes. If I just try, I give myself a built-in excuse to fail.

Not this year. This is my year to BE.

Share your One Word stories with me in the comment section or on Twitter. Here is to a great 2017.

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My Holiday Wish

wish

With only a few days until Christmas and a week before New Years, my thoughts fluctuate between what I could have done better last year and what I want the next year to be like. In a time where it seems our society is divided, where hate is easy to express, I wish you strength of spirit. I hope your life shines with joy even in the face of hardships.

I look forward to sharing this next year with you, to making it the best year yet.

 

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Student Assignment

One of the reasons I love teaching is when a student connects the class work to their life. When an assignment becomes more than just a grade. For my English Composition course the students end the year with a research based persuasive essay. I have all kinds of assignments built around helping the students produce that final essay. One of those assignments is to write a letter to an authority connected to their topic. Throughout the last 18 years those “letters” have actually been used by students to make a difference in their schools or communities. This year one student tackled a serious issue, binge drinking.

Now, Anthony is a non-traditional student. He is a father and is working a career change. And his letter to an authority was an honest letter. After you read it, you’ll understand why I wanted to share his work.

18 November 2016 

Dear Parent,  

 This may go without saying, but I’m asking you to stay very involved in your child’s life as they go through college and into life beyond. Please make sure they are not falling prey to an issue many young people face today. There is a problem that is not only prevalent in this area, but all across the nation. This problem is binge drinking in our student body. As I write this, college students across the nation are gearing up for a fun Friday night. Going to the liquor store for the first eighteen pack of the weekend, maybe a bottle or two of fireball. There is a game tomorrow, so surely the booze will be flowing at tailgate parties. That’s tonight, tomorrow, and tomorrow night to drink as much alcohol as one can.  

Binge drinking is defined as more than five drinks in a two-hour period for men. For women, it’s more than four drinks in the same period of time. According to the C.D.C. (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), almost 90% of alcohol consumed by binge drinkers in the U.S. today is by people under 21 years old. Those who admitted to binge drinking are fourteen times more likely to get behind the wheel and drive while impaired.  

As a student myself attending college I have seen this first hand. Not only in the student body but in myself. I have been in the shoes of the hung over youth. The boy who wakes up not knowing where he is or how he got there. Trying to make sense of the night or day before. Only guessing at whether I hurt anyone or just what happened. All of these situations seem to be the social norm. Usually talk during the week consists of how much was drank or just how drunk they got. Blacking out seems to be the goal. This is activity is very dangerous.  

Drinking and college go together like a hand and glove. It has been a cultural rite of passage for American youth for generations. It may be impossible to completely stop drinking for a good time or to relieve stress, but discouraging underage drinking and binge drinking could lead to better grades, increased overall health, and decreased chances of alcoholism. All while diminishing accidents or fatalities associated with alcohol.   

I’m asking you to let your children know that you care. Your influence may mean more to them than you think. Just talk to them about the dangers of overindulging. Education, love, understanding and communication are the best tools to reach them. Misery is not required for one to be happy. 

Sincerely,  

Anthony

 

Thank you, Anthony, for letting share such an honest and powerful letter.

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The Gift

the-gift

What do you think is inside? Socks, a gift card, a new Bluetooth speaker, or maybe a half empty jar of mayonnaise? How would you react to each of those possibilities?

At the beginning of the month I attended a conference in Portland, Oregon. The final keynote was a local improv group, Brainwave Improv Company. The conference attendees were separated into five teams. At the end of the keynote each team would actually play an improv game and be awarded points. Think Whose Line is it Anyway.

While working in our groups the members of Brainwaves taught us a few different improv games (one of which would be the one we were judged on). Through those games the actors discussed aspects of improv that correlated to dealing with people at work and life. The same principles that made for a great improv session can be used to build strong relationships at work and home. One of my team’s games was “Gift Giving”.

The idea is simple. Two people exchange gifts. The person giving the gift could not say what it was, but through their actions give a hint to what it might be. A person might seem to be lifting a huge box to give to the other person, or act like the box was moving. The person receiving the gift had to take the gift, “open” it, and share what the gift actually was. Of course the whole game is to be funny, but the lesson the actors shared was powerful.

Brainwaves first shared the idea that in improv everything is a gift; a line, a situation, a moment of silence, anything can be used by the actors to make the game / scene funny. As actors they had to be open to whatever the “gift” might be and adapt, even if they had an idea ready to use. To make a scene flow they had to embrace the gift of the situation.  They then moved the idea to work and life by teaching us how to play the game, “Gift Giving”. See, the real responsibility for the game is on the person receiving the gift. The whole game centers on how that person reacts to the gift, even when it is something crazy or unwanted.

If the person receiving the gift responds in a negative way the whole scene falls apart… You see where this is going don’t you? We have all been on both sides of this situation. We have received a gift that we didn’t like. We have given a gift only to seen the rejection in their face when they opened it. The scene falls apart.

To play the game we had to love what was in the gift. We had to carry the game with our reaction. But the actors took the idea a step deeper. Remember that in improv anything is a gift to the other actors. Brainwaves pushed that idea to dealing with everyday life. How did we act when presented with situations at work? How did we responded when we have to work with someone we don’t like? How do we respond to a child spilling milk? Yes, it is the attitude cliche. We have all heard, in some way, that your attitude is the key to handling life. But what got me about how Brainwaves addressed the issue was the metaphor of a gift.

In my house a gift is a way someone shows that they care about you. (Yes, it is one of my dadisms for my kids.) Now, I’m not naive. I know that tragic things happen to us. We get our hearts broken. Life can blindside us and drop us to our knees. Yet, how many success stories come from those tragedies? How many people took the situation as a gift and ran with it? Not to mention just using the idea to handle our everyday mishaps. What gift have you been given today? Did the scene fall apart? Or did you run with it?

 

 

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Hard Conversations

I’ve become a fan of Ben Rector. My second son, who is into electronic / dance music, actually shared his music with me. He said I would like it. He was right. Ben Rector has a song, “Like The World Is Going To End,” that has gotten me thinking. Well actually, it is a few lines from that song that got me thinking.

say-till-then

This idea runs through the song until in the last verse he sings that he would bring everyone he loved to California so everyone could say the things they were scared to say till then.

What really got me thinking was the idea that they wouldn’t be sharing secrets or past hurts, but speaking honestly about their love for each other. How scary is that?

How hard is it for us to tell someone how much you truly love them?  Now, I am not diminishing the power of saying “I love you” to family and friends. I’m talking about expressing our emotions openly to someone. That is hard for a few reasons. First because we have to remove all our defenses to that person. Our heart is out in the open and it bruises easily. Second, even for me, sometimes we just can’t find the words… or the words we have don’t even come close to revealing the depth of our feelings. Even as a poet, I can not tell my wife how beautiful she is when she smiles as she plays or interacts with our children. Or explain to my little girls the rush I get when they run to hug me when I get home.

Back to the song. Back to the idea that Ben Rector is sharing in the song. We should be telling our family and friends how much they mean to us, how much we love them. We should do this more than we do. No matter how hard it is. How scared we are to open up. Because I love how he ends the line, “till then.” In the song he is referencing the idea that the world is going to end. But I feel that he is also hinting at that once you decide to share your love with others you’ll wonder why you waited.

I hope you have some hard conversations today because

“Now that I think about it. Maybe we should always live like the world is gonna end.”
-Ben Rector

 

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Love this Life Gives You

There has been a line from Tim McGraw’s song “Humble and Kind” that brings me to tears every time I hear it.

Quote With

How many moments have I lost over the years?

“Hold on, I’m tired. Give me a second,” I would say as my daughter just wants a hug. So, she just heads to her room to play alone.

Or I would just holler to my wife that I was home, then sit in the chair and turn on the TV. I might ask what’s for dinner as she walks into the room.

Or the thousands of letters or cards I never sent to friends and family.

Or how many summer nights I could have sat outside watching the stars with my sons.

Love is not only given but it is received. And sometimes that is the hardest part of the equation because we let so many insignificant things fill our time. We miss the purest expressions of love from others because our attention is on other things. I take for granted that my family will be happy to see me when I get home. I take for granted that the stars will shine tomorrow night. I’ll write that letter, later.

If we would take the time to recognize the love we receive from others, I believe we would be amazed on how deep this life can be. In any given moment this life is showing us that we are loved. We give love, but we must also receive it. Today is too wonderful to take it for granted.

Here is the song the line comes from:

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What I Learned from My Students

It has been an interesting year for a number of reasons. But this post is about what I’ve learned from my students over the past year. Some background information, last year was my first year teaching a regular lecture college course for Central Community College (CCC). This semester I am teaching an online course for CCC. In the past I have taught the early entry courses for seniors taking dual credit courses through CCC. Even though I taught a college course, my everyday teacher life was centered in the high school routine. There is a difference between high school students and college students at CCC. This is what I’ve learned.

Education Matters

Even though I lost students over the year to a wide range of issues (I’ll talk about that in a few lines), students understood that gaining an education was important for them to reach their professional goals. I had one student who used her lunch break to attend my class. She would arrive a few minutes late, in her nursing outfit from work, and was raising a family. Another student had worked construction for almost two decades and loved it. But an accident kept him from returning to that job. He was studying business in hopes that he could return to the company in a new position.

My students understood that getting an education was going to help them reach their goals. But it is not easy.

Life Can Be a Hurdle

In high school, life is school. Football games, dances, school, they are all part of the everyday experience. For many of my students at CCC class was just a section of their life. I had students in class that ranged from 18 to 63 years old. I have a student right now who is traveling the world and taking my course online to get some general education credits handled before he comes back to the States. I had a young man at the age of 21 who had already gone through rehab twice.

I am proud to be a part, however small, of their lives. But life did cause some hurdles that challenged my approach to teaching. One aspect was the workload I expected from them. It made me think about what was really important for them in my course. This was hard for me because I love sharing extra material, to try to foster learning beyond the curriculum. I had to consider what I asked of them regarding assignments and homework. Not that I took it easier on them, but it forced me to align my course work according to importance and expected time spent on it. A simple example is that I used class time to handle small assignments and tried to give feedback on those right away because many of the assignments connect to their essays (which are the major assignments for the course). This allowed my students to work on the essay at home with more confidence in their ability to accomplish the writing.

Education versus Learning

This area is still challenging me, and maybe it always will. But not in the way you might think. I know many of my students only take my course because it is a general education course that all programs require. I actually lean on that idea to emphasize the importance of taking the course. I repeat, over and over, and over, that the number one goal is to help them become better writers for this course, for upcoming courses, and even for life. I present them with a WHY. Many of my students just want the credit, I know this. But their learning is their education which is their life, their goals. My battle is in creating a course, an assignment, or developing content that aligns to that WHY. And yes, I believe it matters.

The student who used her lunch hour to attend my class has two children and she revealed why it matters. During one session on writing with tone/voice, I was discussing how this characteristic of writing was the reason we like certain books, songs, and other media. I continued to expand on how important word choice  was in creating that tone or finding their own voice. Unbeknownst to me at the time I connected the WHY to her life when I lead a discussion on how hard it can be to write a personal letter to someone expressing our feelings (word choice/tone). I shared a personal example of writing a card for my son, and even how hard it was for me to get that card right. I happened to then share that that type of writing was just as important as an essay for my class, which I believe. At the end of that semester, which ended in December, that student sent me an email to tell me that she was excited to write a Christmas letter to her children and husband sharing how much she loved them. She wanted to make these letters a new tradition for her family.

What my students taught me was that education matters, for their goals, for their life.

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