Monday, June 27, 2011

Lessons from "Special People"

Time has become a precious commodity in my life. Not so much that I don't want to try new things, but rather the result of my plate being full with upcoming events: my 40th Class Reunion, a couple of Wedding Showers, my mother-in-law's 80th Birthday Celebration, Relay for Life, Kiwanis, our son's wedding, a small part-time job...and not-to-forget summer school. This is all good and I feel most fortunate to have excellent health and a state of mind which allows me to stay active, but there are also times when you have to call for a "timeout" and pause to spend a day with someone who needs a friend.
My wife's nephew, John, is one of those "special people" who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. He is the same age as our son, Jacob, and I recall his early years of life when he was filled with anger and rage. His parents chose to ignore the symptoms and over time his condition deteriorated to the point where he could not make good decisions. Since he cannot live independently on his own, he now lives in a group home almost 2-1/2 hours south of us. John enjoys calling us whenever he can, and often this is 4-5 times per week. In our mind those conversations are redundant, but to him they represent a connection with "family," providing an outlet for him to stay in touch with his immediate family and maintaining his positive outlook on life.
Yesterday we made the trip south to spend the day with John, and we all went to a local community fair in Lake Mills, one with carnival rides and games. John had a blast enjoying the simple pleasures of eating a corn dog, tossing darts at balloons for stuffed animals, shooting basketballs at the hoop in hopes of winning a poster, sitting on the park bench while the local folk band played songs from The Eagles, walking the midway, finding pennies on the blacktop.....all of this brought out the BEST in him....and ME! It reminded me of how important it is to stop and smell the roses of set more time aside for John and all the other "special people" in the world. They represent innocence and love. They have need for the company of family and friends. The greatest gift we can provide is our time and attention.
By the end of three hours John was ready to return to his home, greatly in need of a nap and quiet time. He gave us a hug, thanked us for coming, and encouraged us to return for another visit before the end of the summer. His comments and smile reminded us of the lessons we can learn from the "special people" of the world. To keep a little room on our plate open for them. To take a day every now and then to enjoy the simple pleasures with all the John's who need us to be part of their life.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Reflections on Strategies for Reading and Writing

Sitting on the bank of a river, my first impression of the water is how it moves along in what appears to be a uniform and unchanging pace. Whether one was found on the surface of the stream or riding the bottom, whether one was in the heart of the river or riding the shoreline, there was but one speed for which we were aware of. But knowing how it really is, the waters swirl with varying currents, anything but constant and perpetual. I would imagine that there was a time when it was assumed that everyone read and write at the same pace, placing demand on the learner to keep pace that was set by their teacher. Sink or swim. One pace. One expectation. One size fits all. Regardless of what we “see” at the surface, the river is a churning current of liquid, always changing, always altering its true shape and mass. It is multidimensional in the truest form, and can never be mastered for its simplicity.
The world of education is an amazing place, one filled with new experiences in ways that exceed my imagination. The past two weeks have deepened my passion for learning new ways to help those who struggle with reading and writing, knowing that once they learn to use some of these new techniques, they will strengthen their capacity to learn. These practices add a new perspective to classroom learning, helping both strugglers and achievers to improve upon their skills.
Much like the river for which I hold great respect, my classroom is never one dimensional in nature. Using the variety of instructional strategies provided to me, I play an important role in a student’s development of critical thinking, problem solving, and performance skills. The works of Tovani, Buehl and others have a proven track record of success, and these will be instrumental in how I work with young people in education. These strategies are there for the taking, but if they aren’t used, they cannot be further developed or enhanced to their total capability. It requires responsibility and accountability on my end, to open up that tool box and look for more than just a hammer and screwdriver. I have a wealth of specialized tools at my disposal and each of these was created with a purpose. It is more than understanding the content of what I am teaching, but also appreciating the tools which can chisel a unique flavor of charismatic character.
Monitoring my progress requires ongoing reflection of personal and professional practices, always looking for ways to improve upon individual skill sets. Written reflection represents that “day with the ducks” and assures that I stay the course of my true potential. It is thinking aloud about my wonderings, evaluating myself, and then identifying ways to grow as a professional. This is the road on which my journey now continues, one with curves to maneuver around and potholes to avoid, but best of all, my toolbox grows in dimensional depth and fortitude.