Thursday, April 21, 2016

140 Characters, A 90 Second snippet or a Living Room Story?

Elevator or Living Room Version of a Story???

Elevator or Living Room Version of the Same Story???
Middle School Staff Blog
Welcome to Spring
April 21, 2016


Elevator Version or the Living Room Version
My wife and I were invited over to some friends house for dinner a few weeks back.  We sat there in their living room for a time, then the guys went out into the back and lit the grill and the ladies stayed inside.  When it was just the two of us in a smaller setting, we were able to actually have a conversation.  We waited for each other to finish thoughts.  We asked each other direct questions that demonstrated prior knowledge.  We waited for the answers and allowed plenty of time for processing.  We were able to talk about more than the weather, the Cardinals or each other’s health.  It was a time of connecting. I felt refreshed, energized and renewed that I was in a good place in my life.
The next day, Jayne and I were heading down to her doctor's appointment on the 8th floor of the Brentwood Building.  We walked in the building and noticed  another couple looking at the marquee, looking for their floor.  They turned Jayne happened to know her.  They were heading to the 11th floor and so we rode the elevator together.  It was during this time, the ladies began chattering about common friends and family.  Who was ill, why they were in the building, lost friends and even the uncommonly warm weather, but they couldn't really finish anything.  We said goodbye at our floor, the girls promised to “get-together, soon” and we exited on our floor.  I was feeling exhausted from the quick snippets of stories.  Eventually, I realized something when I compared this incident with the evening before.  For the first time, realized the difference between a LIVING ROOM VERSION of a story or an ELEVATOR VERSION of the same story.  
The elevator version is quick, it conveys facts, ideas and basic information but it contains few details and possible important omissions.  The Living Room Version is longer, filled with details, drawn out and maybe even embellished a bit.  There is time for interaction between the speaker and the audience with reflection and segways frequently following paths into deep conversation and thoughts.
From here, I began to wonder about my versions presented here at school.  Do I try and force a living room version when I only have time for an elevator story, shoving too much into a small window, forcing others to “drink from a firehose?” By trying to get it all done, am I really adding to the frustration level? Or, do I give the elevator snippet when more information is needed, possibly the reasoning or back-story or explanation of my limited reasoning?  Regardless, as I continue to practice, hone and develop my communication skills, I realize they will never be perfect. I will never be able to convey my intended message precisely or exactly.  But I can’t let this stop me.  Perfectionism is a manifestation of insecurity.
I wonder about any applications for the classroom, teaching or learning?

Friday, April 8, 2016

From Rich Hill to Invictus...

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley

The author, Henley, lost his foot and part of his leg to illness yet he still carries this positive and overcoming outlook on his life.  He is NOT afraid and makes that clear with this writing. At the other end of the spectrum, we meet three young men in the movie Rich Hill.

Rich Hill  
Movie Review: Rich Hill - Watching this film reminded us of a stream of consciousness recording the lives of three young men.  A few things happened in my mind and thought process

  1. I saw the same behaviors, people and characteristics in many of our students.  (It seems like just the names were changed)
  2. The three stars were trapped in a cyclic pattern that was too hard for them to get off without external support. (That could be teachers, coaches or other caring supporters.)
  3. School there looked like school here. (Thinning hair, goat, and rehearsed speech, DFS, troubles and the geographic fix to solve their problems, because things were always better before, in the past.)
  4. Motivation comes through the relationships. (These students tended to drive and push those that could help them the best farther and farther away, just by building their walls, acting out and doing the ONLY thing they know what to do.  WE DO NOT KNOW HOW TO PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS UNLESS WE ARE TAUGHT HOW TO DO THAT!)
  5. We must deliberately remind ourselves who we are, what we do, and our purpose in this place.

Teachers, care givers, coaches, school staff and even administrators act with great confidence and compassion, offer such good variety, interest and enthusiasm all, while contributing to the lives of our students.  Students thoroughly enjoy those contributions to their lives but seldom do they express it the way we like to hear it.  Regardless, keep up the GREAT work. 

Tom McCracken
Winfield Middle School

Monday, April 4, 2016

What is an artificial environment? Ask the Fox

What does the Fox say?

This juvenile polar bear weighs over 1500 lbs, lives in a nice tank and setting at the St Louis Zoo, gets fed twice a day, plays in the water and pretty much enjoys the only life it has ever known.
What if we release him in the arctic wasteland? Will he survive?

We had a lunch discussion the other day about finding an injured wild fox and what it might say. We speculated over some options and what could happen if we took the wild animal home and tried to nurse it back to health and strength. Besides the legal implications of owning and keeping wildlife in the State of Missouri without a permit, we thought only of ourselves. We enjoyed the emotional or sentimental response that doing this good deed might illicit in inside ourselves. We thought bringing something back from the brink of impending doom held a certain mystique, or power behind it. Then we considered the fox and the necessary struggle it needs to grow, get strong, learn how to find water and food. It will also need to learn from its mother how to avoid predators, roads and civilization, including mankind and possible negative outcomes. At the onset, we felt like it would have been nice if we took care of the abandoned animal but at the end, all we did was postpone reality.

So how can we reconcile this cynicism and still teach school? Schools deal with children, communication, growth and feedback? How can we allow a certain amount of struggle necessary to increase stamina, strengthen skills and learn resilience? For one we must allow some failure, but not too much!

Teachers often times know how much to push, blending the right amount of encouragement with a little bit of wait time and some wrestling with the concepts before they even think about giving an answer. Often times they answer student questions with a question of their own, not wanting to give away the answer but make their wards work to get theirs. Teachers walk this fine line with every conversation, supporting a tender reed in one instance and replying with firm yet compassionate clues in other settings.

It’s not what we do! It’s who we are!

Tom McCracken
Winfield Middle School