Tuesday, December 26, 2017

4 Reasons Why B.A.P's 'Wake Me Up' is My Favorite Song of 2017

I don’t claim to be a music expert in any way, and I definitely have my own quirky tastes, but I felt compelled to claim B.A.P’s Wake Me Up as my favorite for 2017. There were many other incredible K-Pop works this year, but this one grabbed my philosophical side, which is what gives it a special spot in my heart.

(Side note: The other song that hit me this this year was the collaboration of BTS's RM and rapper Wale, which I wrote about in When's it Gonna Change? Right Now.)

B.A.P has been a group since 2012 and in their most recent years, have focused on songs with messages covering important topics often avoided by many, whether performing artists or not. Columnist Jeff Benjamin highlights their history and his own support for this song in his March 2017 Billboard article, Why B.A.P's 'Wake Me Up' Is the K-Pop Act's Most Personal & Accomplished Single Yet. Here are my thoughts on why this song is my 2017 favorite.

  1. Lyrics of physical & mental reality
The lyrics to Wake Me Up aren’t revolutionary but they are important and forcefully presented. They speak a good therapist’s truths, but based in their own experiences. B.A.P knows the reality of the warfare we wage on the inside. “Wake my other self within me, fading light that was dim” “To the soul deep inside me, burn up everything. Wake me up, wake them all.” 

Let me make clear what I think is expressed in this song: we have social and emotional barriers that we must break down and connections to make.

We try to hide our misery, and we know hate and anger are around us more and more. Something has to give- we need and deserve to live our supportive truths- but we can’t do it alone. We need others to help us out of our dark times. We need to call other people out of their darkness, as well.

  1. Inclusive video  
The actors in the Wake Me Up video clearly come from all racial and social backgrounds and all suffer from deception, alienation and violence. This is a critical part of the video’s success. By coming together and being willing to struggle as a group, they *may* overcome. 

Initially blinded by choice and manipulation, the people start to see reality. One woman finally sees that her food isn’t really food. Another stops hiding behind masks and vomits out the pills and alcohol she’s been using to deal. A man, desperately trying to clear the puppet-inducing darkness people are walking through (he promotes an Emotion Revolution), smashes a stalled car before tiny lights start to appear: first from the band members who want to share their light, and then larger and varied types of fires as people come together.

  1. Melody that supports the lyrical call to arms
Of course, this song's addictive sound was what first drew me in. It's been a mainstay of my workout soundtrack. B.A.P are masters at layering beats, vocals, and instrumentals. 

The song first whimpers, then cries, yells, howls and finally explodes in a crescendo as you’re moved to an energized, hopeful energy as the group paints a picture of What Could Be. The singers glare and the music lacks any fluff but is not all gloom, either. There are no guarantees. However, we absolutely must try to reach up and out so we can all experience a bit of the warm sun.

  1. KPop tragedy affirms this song's truth
B.A.P’s great strength is rooted, in part, to the huge problems of their industry. Illnesses based in depression, anxiety and other mental conditions connected to isolation and feelings of lack of control are part of the modern world on the whole, however, and we all have to face that fact. Thankfully, they have dealt with their trials openly. SHINee’s Kim Jong-hyun’s magical talent was no match to what he felt he was facing, alone. He didn’t escape his pain. His fans embraced the symbol of a hand holding a red rose after his death: the rose of love. In B.A.P’s video, you see the newly awakened, in their new world, holding red roses and smiling.

Many fans are making connections between this song and that tragedy. For all of us who see the sun rise in the morning, we have the choice, opportunity and obligation to try for that new world for everyone to feel respected, loved, and valued. Together. 

The alternative? Our destruction.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this or your own 2017 favorites. Please comment below.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

What Will I Try in 2018? Apples & Spring

Today, I'm sharing the full Week 17 essay from my book, Dear Teachers. As we are surrounded at this time of year with the bright lights and festivities of the holidays, it can be a reminder of the incredible symphony we're so fortunate to be surrounded by.

We can take time now to ask ourselves: 

What will I try in 2018? 

Or, as the fine folks at www.WomenEd.org put it: 

How will I be 10% braver in the coming year?

Best wishes to you all today and into our tomorrows- which can be our spring, if we choose. Together, we can do more and be more.

Do you know how many different varieties of apples there are?

It’s a trick question*. Apples can change their identity with each egg and pollen combination. If one really wants another Gala, one can’t rely on the seeds. You must take a graft from a Gala apple tree.

Think of the wonderful diversity in our classrooms, homes and towns. There’s a kaleidoscope of personalities, looks, interests, ethnicities, traditions and abilities. We should rejoice at that depth and breadth.

I love cultural studies at school or field trips that invite exploration of views that might not be our own. Crafting a piece of art, learning of another’s history or tasting a food that is new can inspire and excite a person for years to come. I attribute a high school Asian Studies class as the catalyst for my lifelong exploration of Asian cultures and am forever grateful to that teacher for sharing her passions.

Not everything is for everyone. 

Exploring the unknown includes learning to practice positive ways to say when something is currently beyond our reach. We all have limits and that’s a great learning moment for our students as well. I can’t handle sushi (yet**) but I do enjoy painting a springtime cherry blossom branch.

Winter is for minimalism. Spring is an opulently designed stage whose displays of fantastical colors, textures and scents are almost overwhelming. The richness can make our senses purr with delight. Again, diversity gives us a richer experience than simply having one thing all the time.

Let’s enjoy the wonderful orchestra of life!

*As an editing note, there are approximately 7,500 known varieties of apples in the world, according to The University of Illinois Extension.
** As a second editing note, I'd like to share my other essay on the power of YET, Yearn, Embrace & Try.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Regret: A Look Back

I wrote Never Regret a Smile a little over a year ago: November 30, 2016. My format and writing style have evolved a bit from even that long ago. My opinions have only strengthened.

The kpop community is reeling today with the news of SHINee lead singer, Kim Jong-hyun's, suicide. At a personal level, it’s reminding me of all the self-inflicted or otherwise untimely deaths I’ve seen through the years, back to the suicide of a former classmate in my college days. The wrenching sadness, loss and regret can never be forgotten entirely.

There it is: regret.

I wrote in Never Regret a Smile that we should base our lives on joy, happiness and wonder. If someone dies young doing that, we can at least have that condolence as we grieve. If someone dies young and we see they were clearly not experiencing joy, happiness and wonder, the knife twists in our own guts more keenly. Why? Because we know we failed them at some level.

People don’t intentionally kill themselves when they are happy.

Never Regret a Smile came from the perspective of self: don’t be afraid to enjoy something that others might think of as silly. From the perspective of other, it takes on a whole new meaning:

You’ll never regret offering someone else compassion in the form of a smile.

Maybe it’s not a face-to-face smile. Maybe it’s a card or encouraging meme. Maybe it’s a hug- real or emoji. Maybe it’s holding a door open. Maybe it’s a grateful tweet to someone who said something you appreciated on Twitter. Maybe it’s a totally random positive you voice somewhere, that someone who needs it takes in by chance.

Some people fly high and far. Most of us don’t, but we still do have a circle of influence that we control. Many of us teeter on the edge at some point or another and just need a helpful hand.

We can all be a helpful hand.

I wrote all of this before watching the video Dr. Pooky Knightsmith just posted on Youtube called 5 things it's helpful to know if your friend is depressed. I am not and cannot make any connections between Kim Jung-hyun and any diagnosis of any kind. Dr. Knightsmith is a knowledgeable expert in the field of mental health and I am simply offering her as someone I feel has some great general tips any of us can practice. Just as I’ve stated here, Dr. Knightsmith says at the end of this video, “It’s sometimes the small things that make a big difference.”.

Small things. Like smiles.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Our Time Best Spent


Two quotes I posted from famous women authors over the years popped up on my Facebook timeline this month. I want to consider them both today.

“The great thing about getting older
Is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”
-        Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time

“It’s good to have an end to journey toward,
But it is the journey that matters in the end.”
-        Ursula K. LeGuin, author of The Earthsea Cycle

We journey for as long as we have time, and our today is influenced by our yesterdays.

I’ve never been one to long for times gone by. I’m here. I’ve made it this far. I’d hate to have to go through the pains and struggles that I have experienced yet again.

The good and the bad experiences still live inside me and in you. And as Ms. L’Engle points out, we still have those other ages within us. They (both who were were and what we went through) can be today’s gifts if we look at them in that light.  They can teach us today, and now we have the added benefit that their immediacy is not longer a part of the deal. The experiences are tempered by time. All we have to do is look back with our eyes of today, and not struggle to retrieve the experience and the eyes of yesterday.

With our eyes of today, we can step forward into tomorrow.

Ms. LeGuin adds a twist. I can have a thing I want to reach- a hope or a goal, but the getting there is my true reality. I may never get that hope, but I will have the reaching for it.

What’s the story of my reaching? What’s the story of your reaching?

Every day I get older- I’m a bit different from the previous day. Every day, I’m a slightly new me, built from all the previous days and interactions. The same goes for you.

We need to support each other's journeys. We’ll do that best by remembering our past days while also letting today and tomorrow have their place. We’ll do that by acknowledging the similarities, and respecting the differences that add richness to life, and removing the practices that go against those two goals.

I have an idea for another essay that’s springing from this one. One that covers how our institutions should be in step with our individual values. More on that later. In the meantime, as we wind down 2017, I wish you peace on your journey. May you have what you need, love what you have, and give what you can.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Juggling Then, When & Now

I almost slid completely off the back end of the treadmill today.

It was a reminder: “Pay attention to what you’re doing now, Susan.” It’s one of the reasons why the shutoff clip is on the machine in the first place.

I’ve mentioned previously how I listen to KPop when I’m running. (2017 has been a great year- Michael Choi is running a nice poll of The 50+ Best Kpop Songs of 2017 on Ranker.com if you’re interested in sampling a bit.) Music was the key to get me to exercise regularly. With rhythms that beg to be followed and variety in style and message, KPop keeps me focused and distracts me from wallowing in the bits I dislike. I need help with both.

My mind still manages to wander, however. 

Today, I was chugging along, nothing fancy. My goal was to just get a run in without stopping- I’ve been having problems with that lately. Despite that goal and the music’s call, I started thinking about other things. Writing topics. Speech scripts. What to do during winter break. The kitchen repainting I’ve just started.

That’s when it happened. My attention wavered and I slowed. Suddenly, all the tread was ahead of me and I sensed my back foot was hovering over air and not rubber. I scrambled to regain my footing and advanced back to the control panel. What a perfect example of a well-known fact:

Multitasking leads to a drop in quality.

We’re all struggling every day, juggling care for our bodies, minds and spirits and interacting with a bunch of other people doing the same. That’s tough enough. When we add our worries of both the past and the future, it can become a tornado we become lost in. The job at hand stays the same; we are the ones who affect the outcome by leaving the moment.

Mindfulness allows us to truly experience our lives.

Mindfulness: immersing in the current moment completely, unmoved by judgement. My extra thoughts of what happened before or what could happen in the future led to a reduction of my current physical speed. My mind left my body in the dirt. I clearly wasn’t exercising as intently nor was I even enjoying the music filling the air around me as I typically would (sorry, Super Junior!). Or as I should.

It wasn’t a catastrophe. It was just a little blip. However, those blips can add up over time. What are the other treadmill slips happening over the course of our days?

We have right now. 

We have what’s around us and what we are. Now. We have the breath coming into our bodies and the gust as we exhale it back out again. That’s it, but it can be amazing if focus on it and really feel it.

A long series of well-experienced “Now”s can lead to a lifetime of growth, learning, and happiness. The “Then”s and “When”s won’t.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Quests for Light: 2017 in Review, Hopes for 2018

Time to look back and ahead!

A quiz on Facebook last December gave me the following predictions for 2017:

· A journey that will change your life
· A year of success and growth
· You can look forward to new friendships
· Good health will make you happier than ever

I did take several trips that were great changes to my daily routine. From a family trip to Florida to two concerts in Chicago and another live show in Milwaukee, it was a year of variety. I developed new friendships on social media from a range of interests and have shared my book with some people I did not know of in 2016, but who have taught me some important lessons this year. My health is pretty good- I’ve bobbled some lately, but I feel on the mend and have continued to run, dance and lift weights routinely.

To me, these are all lights. Lights that brightened my outlook and fed my body, mind and spirit.


I had hoped to receive 10,000 hits and reach 6 continents on verbostratis.com. While I am suspicious of some of Google’s data, I believe I can legitimately claim the 6 continents at least. People in Columbia, India, Ireland, Australia, Canada and Kenya all saw my blog. I’m also up to over 1,300 followers in Twitter and I’ve also started up another blog just for my book.

My most popular blogs? The power of KPop shone even for me, with 2 of the top 5. The remaining 3 all dealt with dear topics to me and I was glad to see they resonated with others as well. Stronger by Falling, Hopes and Opportunities, and What Drives You Forward? all deal with getting back up amongst struggle.


I published Dear Teachers on April 30, 2017. I’ve sold 32 copies on Amazon and distributed an additional 114 as either direct sales or gifts. Not bad for a completely cold start-up without advance advertising. I’m so grateful for everyone who have given my book a try!! Taking expenses into account, I’m only about $250 in arrears overall and have learned so many things!

Published articles:

I had 3 articles accepted and published on websites this year. It was fun to try different voices and receive feedback from a variety of editors.

TeachThought's Professional Development Blog, July 8, 2017
Dear Teachers: Don’t Forget To Take Care Of Yourselves

Notre Dame Academy's Fall 2017 Women of Vision magazine
On Being Beautiful...Confidence and Kindness
Beyond Type 1’s Share Your Stories blog
To Love, Honor and Cherish

Looking to 2018:

I am thoroughly enjoying the writing process, however, I need to improve the monetization of my ventures. The reality of life is barging in on my craft, but that’s OK! It’s as it should be. I will continue writing. I will continue networking. I have published a book of my own words and that’s what I sought to achieve.

My goals for 2018 are vague. When I try to picture myself in 12 months, I just hope to feel connected. 2017 was excitement and change. 2018, I just want a better sense of place. I have a rough draft of another book, but it is disturbing me. I’m not sure where it will take me. I have another book idea of chapter titles that I could begin to flesh out and ½ of a novel that I really should complete, too. Perhaps this wintertime will help me reflect and nurture something as I pause by the hearth. I’d also like to explore a script idea for a video I have with someone with that kind of experience.

One thing I was reminded of in 2017 was that there are amazing people around the globe. Huge hearts. Huge brains. Huge lives of drive and conviction, seeking to breathe life into amazing ideas. It’s not all gloom. It’s not all hate and anger. My voice is one voice. There are many others. The more we speak out, the more defined our links will become, and the stronger we will become.

I guess that’s what I really want for 2018: to experience and be a part of helping light rise out of the darkness. Let’s all be a part!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Wonder v. Bias

The one where I combine holidays, science, and Hedy Lamarr, using Adam Savage.

I’m excited to be able to finally reference Adam Savage in one of my essays. My family enjoyed, as many have, the fun experiments he, Jamie Hyneman and the whole Mythbusters crew performed through the years.

Mr. Savage has taken his interest in science education and exploration back on the stage, this time with Michael Stevens, more commonly known as the YouTuber, VSauce. We saw Brain Candy Live! at the Riverside Theatre in Milwaukee and it was a fantastic experience.

It was fantastic on several levels. First, the science itself. They cover things that, as my kids pointed out, you might just never think about, but are cool if you do. Second, there were unscripted mistakes: things failed to work the first time. Or even second. Adam and VSauce handled them with humor and determination- both of which were GREAT teaching moments for us parents to see and bring up later. And perhaps reminders to ourselves, too?

Lastly, I fell in love with one of Mr. Savage’s responses to audience questions. An audience member asked (I’m paraphrasing): What’s your biggest science no-no?. His reply?


As he explained, we all have biases. We tend to believe certain things or people. The key, he explained, is to realize that and work hard every day to remove yourself from your experiments. For me, that also applies to our overall lives. The fewer biases we have, or the more we can be aware of them, the more clear and true our lives become.

When we’re soaked in bias, we can become cynical.

Synonyms for cynical include “skeptical”, “sarcastic”, and “suspicious”. One develops a response to the world that assumes the worst. Ideas that control a cynic: “See, I told you.”, “I bet you it won’t work.”, and “What’s the point.”. Basing your thoughts and life like this, it becomes hard to embrace some pretty powerful and uplifting concepts, ones that the Brain Candy Live! show seeks to cultivate. Why cultivate them? Because these ideas allow us to explore and grow as both individuals and as a species.

Exploration and growth come from having a sense of wonder.

The excited “Aha!” moment of discovery. The wide smile that slowly creeps across your face when an understanding comes to you for the first time. That sense of awe when you arrive at an overlook after a difficult climb and you come face-to-face with a gorgeous panorama.

Without a sense of wonder, you may never seek to combine old things into novel new concepts. The new movie, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, explores the life of 20th century Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr. Leslie Camhi contributed an article this week in The New Yorker on her life, entitled Hedy Lamarr’s Forgotten, Frustrated Career as a Wartime Inventor. Sexual bias was part of the reason for the US military not using Hedy Lamarr’s system to guide torpedos. That discovery eventually led to today’s GPS, Bluetooth and WiFi, as more wondering minds expanded our technology and finally used her work.

Children can usually feel wonder. We can, too.

It’s the end of the year and time for many around the globe to celebrate joyous occasions. In January, I wrote a short piece called Slainte! Health to You!!, on a historic celebration in the UK, that does a little comparison of cynicism and wonder during the holidays. Wonder is not a fantasy. It can be destroyed, certainly. However, a sense of it can be restored.

Brain Candy Live! gave examples of the incredible beauty in our world. Reality can inspire wonder if we have the eyes, hearts and minds to see it.

Best wishes to you- may you experience a sense of wonder this festive season and beyond!

Inspired? My book, Dear Teachers, offers inspirational photos and thought-provoking essays for anyone in education- with space to record your own thoughts, too! Order now for yourself or someone you love.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Lessons from Zebra Mussels

Life experiences can teach you lessons for as long as you live and remember.

I studied the effects of zebra mussels on the phosphorus-chlorophyll relationship in Lake Erie as an undergraduate. Back then, the natural world was all I could handle. People confused and scared me because I grossly lacked experience, assertiveness and confidence in myself. That lake and its inhabitants offered me a safe place to explore and discover many amazing things.

That was decades ago. I have many more miles on my odometer of life now, and I find myself looking back at that time with new eyes. Today, I live hundreds of miles from its shore. However, that lake is teaching me a new lesson.

Life can achieve rich balances with many thriving beings.

Lake Erie was an extremely bountiful lake, flush with genetic diversity. A kaleidoscope of fish, bird, invertebrate, mammal and plant species called it home. The largest orchestra playing the most complicated symphony would be an apt comparison.

With that diversity, the lake could adapt to many things, whether natural or those driving my human activity. When conditions shifted, there were species who could multiply, fill in and take advantage.

There are community-builders and absorbers.

Some behaviors in the natural world allow for other organisms to coexist or to even benefit others. Healthy populations of algae and microorganisms feed baby fish, who grow up to be large fish that create waste to feed more plant species that support more microorganisms. Those large fish are also prey for birds and mammals- including us.
From https://minnesotawaters.org/westbattlelake/invasive-species/

Some behaviors, such as those demonstrated by zebra mussels, rock entire water systems and their inhabitants. Zebra mussels pelletize everything in the water they “swallow”, even if they don’t digest the material themselves. They also produce massive amounts of offspring that continue this cycle. Those offspring attach to any surface they can, cloaking all the hard surfaces found under the water’s surface in thick crusts of their shells. When introduced into Lake Erie, native populations were faced with massive changes to their food supplies and water chemistry. Some benefited, others faced extinction and the whole ecosystem became susceptible to new patterns of aquatic plant populations as the water clarity increased.

Our behaviors can be community-building or absorbing.

This is today’s lesson from Lake Erie to me. There are people today who act like zebra mussels. More troubling is the idea that most corporations act this way, as well. They boost of record profits and squirrel that money away in assets they control and enjoy. When overwhelming dominance is a top priority for either an individual or group, pain and suffering for many others will result.

I don’t look at species such as zebra mussels as “bad” and seeking a place is every living thing’s goal. All of us humans seek this goal. We all want a place in a community.

We humans also have 2 amazing skills: we can acknowledge the results of ours and others’ actions and we can amend those actions to achieve a balance. That sense of community can drive us to make decisions that build and not just absorb. We just need the resolve to do so.

To the teaching community, the holiday season is upon us! Dear Teachers, a year’s worth of beautiful nature images, supportive essays and space to record your own journey, makes a great gift for yourself or a teacher in your life!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

All Our Pieces. All Together.

The sun is shining this morning. Gloriously bright and warming my body and spirit as I sit at the kitchen table with my laptop.

The trees are skeletons once again. Their naked bones rise up between me and that fiery ball in the sky, casting sketchy shadows across the lawn and cement.

I’ve been struggling over what to write. I have quite a bit in my head- too much, in fact. That’s pretty common for me. Thoughts, ideas and stories spin through my mind almost continuously. Right now, I can’t seem to piece together a full tale. So, I decided to step back for a minute and simply note my surroundings. It’s quiet. The cats are sleeping. My coffee's cold. But again, that sun is shining down on me.

I need to write. I need to run. I need to call people. I need to clean and later, I need to cook.

I sigh and close my eyes. (Yes, I can type still. Those typing classes in middle school were probably some of the best ones I could have taken.) The furnace kicks on and I return to my task here.

I’m being pulled in many directions. Physical and mental needs and demands are pressing hard, and yet, there’s that other force bringing me back to the inviting sun and the moment which is now. It’s my spirit. It’s asking for some of my attention. To be acknowledged and affirmed.

We all have these parts: body, mind and spirit. What if we don’t pay heed to them all? In a word: chaos.

I am adamant in my assertion that we all need to work on all 3 parts. I dislike exercise, but a weak body does my mind a great disservice. If I try to isolate myself from others, my spiritual self is shorted but my physical and mental worlds are as well. In addition, those who could benefit from my presence lose what I can offer them. It’s a two-way street.

Oh, but it can be so, so so much easier to narrow our vision and forge ahead with just the basics. Or, we may feel there’s simply no other way to exist. We can be so damaged today from a lifetime (or generations) of dealing with people who have neglected or abused their parts that we don’t see the point or possibility of anything but simple survival.

We can always get and do better.

There are so many things we can list that worry us, anger us or depress us. It doesn’t matter who you are. We all know of things we’d like to change about ourselves, our immediate surroundings or our world at large.

We can. We can because it’s not all planned out in advance. We can make choices. We can reach out to others. We can help and be helped. We can crawl, then walk, then run and then maybe even fly. We may find ourselves on a path through a murky wood that fills us with blinding fear today, but we can try to cut a new course.

We can find that sun. We can embrace that warmth. We can find a peace inside that lets us pick up our work once again. As whole people. Together.

My book, Dear Teachers, can be a light in your life or in that of a teacher you hold close to your heart. Please consider it as a holiday gift- perhaps combined with some warm socks and the makings for hot cocoa!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Stretching and Flexing to Thrive

Tuesday is usually a lift day for me.

This week, I decided to just stretch. It’s been awhile since I put some gentle, flowing music on (Michael Fesser's RelaxDaily is one of my favorites) and just went with where the music would lead me. No reps, no challenges, no pressure.

I began slowly, warming the joints with easy motions. It felt good to reach high and arch my arms through the air. I went back to some yoga poses and some felt tugs and resistance. It didn’t matter. The music was setting the tone: relax.

I held poses. I breathed and balanced. I shifted from one focus to another and then back again. Yoga instructors encourage you to feel your stretches become deeper. Yesterday, I experienced that once again. I felt my hips and back relax and and I sank. Blissfully, I sighed, and eventually my hands wrapped around the soles of my feet, peacefully.

We get so caught up in the daily grind: in our days and in our expectations. We become locked in and driven. That can lead to success. Yet, it can also lead to a loss. Our eyesight and mindset tunnel and we become oblivious to other truths and realities. My run today felt a bit better- perhaps the change I did yesterday has something to do with that.

Whether it’s our bodies or our minds, if we maintain some flexibility, we can more readily adjust to what life throws at us. If we demand a certain framework every single day, we miss the beauty of flow, growth and the thrill of exploration and discovery.

I stretched and yet, I know I can stretch more. I know I can reach out more.

Why do the grasses, bamboo and willows flourish? Yes, the flex. But their roots also take in those messages from above and reach further to the ground to help the plant survive. We can do the same. We grow. We experience. We adapt. We succeed.

What can we do to stretch and flex a bit more tomorrow? Let’s pick something and give it a try.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Great Expectations. Or Not?

An article came out this week that is getting quite a bit of attention in the education world. Goodbye Clip Charts, Marble Jars, and Stickers for Behavior was written by Kristine Mraz, an author and kindergarten teacher in New York City and member of The Educator Collaborative.

Behavior management systems.

Huh? If you’re not a teacher, you may never have stopped to consider how one adult orchestrates a large group of children (25-30 typically at a time, more as they get older and/or if districts cut back teacher positions) by his/herself all day AND gets stuff done. Things learned. Projects started. Full thoughts conveyed. How?

If you’re a parent, you know the temptation to bribe and coerce.
From Target.com

We’re entering that peak bribery and coercion time of year, in fact. “You better behave! Santa’s watching you!!” Here in Wisconsin, there’s yet another character employed to solicit compliance: Elf on the Shelf. This creepy elf (my personal opinion, granted) is WATCHING YOU.

This compliance approach has led to a variety of practices used today in many schools. Check Ms. Mraz’s article for specific details if you’re interested. For my purposes, I’d like to focus on our overall use of this in our culture, and see if I can tease out some more general problems we may all be familiar with and reveal some possible alternatives.

Bribery and coercion are effective in the short term.

Beyond the whole Santa thing, which obviously only lasts a month or two before you’re right back where you started (and perhaps worse off because the kids are coming down from a holiday free-for-all), we see bribery and coercion used in us adults. Rebates if you stop smoking or lose weight. A free month of gym membership if you sign up for a contract. Points for preferred customers.

We’re tempted to comply. It works for a while. We know we’re getting played, even as we comply. Many times, we slide back into our old ways. Or, we’ll pretend things have changed and we’ll hide the cigarettes and cupcakes.

Real change (growth) takes vested interest and a plan.

If I want to be healthier, if I want a specific job, if I want a relationship- I own that decision. To reach that goal, MY goal, I will find steps to get there. I need to understand what I can do and what I need to obtain. Training? Supplies? Expert advice? I will start the process and I will probably stumble. Repeatedly. If I’m really committed, I’ll step beyond myself and ask for teammates- family, friends or professionals- to work with me closely. They will help hold me to my plans and support me mentally and physically. I will practice and perhaps revise my plans and then try again.

When I reach my goal, I will feel that success deep in my bones. I’ll be grateful to all those who helped me. If I don’t succeed, I’ll still feel that gratitude and I’ll know that I tried as hard as I could. I will feel good for those 2 facts. My failure may eventually give me ideas that will lead to a future success or others may see my successes and failures and be inspired in their own journeys.

How do I become an adult who will do all that work?

I need to learn how to define what I want. I need to learn how to commit and to hope. I need to learn how to work with people. I need to learn how to pick myself up when I fall. I need to learn how to adapt. I need to learn how to ask for help. I need to learn that we all make mistakes and that’s just a part of life and that something good can still arise from “failure”.

This line from Ms. Mraz’s essay spoke volumes to me:

“Who cares if kids can read at level Z in first grade if they grow up to be narcissists, seeking rewards for kindness and masking shame behind bravado and cruelty?”

How do I become an adult who will do all that work? It’s by learning about and practicing those “I need to learn” skills I just outlined. At home. At school. At work. Practicing and living them every day. From birth. These are the things that teachers like Ms. Mraz are seeking to teach in their classrooms.

Is it necessary?

To answer that, I will leave you with these questions. Do you see many people today who seem rudderless, just looking for praise or fun? Do you see many people today who hide behind bravado and cruelty? Of those people you consider truly successful and positive, what traits do they embrace? The ones I indicated here and those advocated by Ms. Mraz and others, or the ones that are supported by bribery and coercion?

We all have a role in this, just as we all can play a role by changing our behaviors if our answers lead towards that call.