Sunday, 19 June 2016

A WEEK FROM HELL and LOOKING AHEAD


I struggled all last week with a bronchial issue that caused extreme physical stress. That was quickly put into perspective with the Orlando massacre last Sunday night followed by the tragedy with the boy from Nebraska and the alligator.  A bad cold that evolves into pneumonia is not a tragedy.  While it results in a lot of personal discomfort, it can be treated.   Senseless deaths of loved ones at the hands of a terrorist have no known cure except to mourn and grieve and eventually heal from being torn apart. 93 gun-related deaths in the past 72 hours not including Orlando. (6.19.16)

Listening to the debates and discussions, if you can call them that, about guns and gun control, mental health, and the presence of angry, alienated young men in our society leaves me with a feeling of helplessness and I don’t like it.  To hear a physician/psychiatrist say that the gun crisis is not a public health issue makes me wonder what he thinks is a public health issue.  His name: Dr. Keith Ablow, really, a Fox news commentator named ABLOW!  You can’t make that up!  He also had a choice psychoanalysis of President Obama that isn’t worth printing.

Back on the personal front, two of our three vehicles have been in the shop for repairs, neither being dealt with competently and delay after delay as a departure date for two of them looms large this coming Wednesday morning.  No time margin and no extra breathing room tend to exacerbate stress and it’s fairly common knowledge that stress can be debilitating and we’ve already had enough of that, thank you very much.

We have all had a bad day or even a bad week.  Gratefully, last week is over. It is past, gone and done and I will find a way to put it to rest and move on. I can let go of most of the bad stuff coming down and yet I wonder at times, what’s next?  I am not overly concerned about that for I believe I have the resources to deal with whatever comes along regardless of how serious, how major or minor. 

Perspective helps, faith helps, and family helps enormously.  I think and I talk and I write.  And I get quiet and go inside myself.  It all helps and the questions that remain are what return can I make, what help can I provide?

Today is the first day of a new week, fresh and unspoiled thus far.  Tomorrow is Summer Solstice, a time to celebrate the greatest amount of daylight of any day in the year.  The Sun will be at its highest elevation in the northern hemisphere with the North Pole at its maximum tilt toward the sun.  Let’s make it a week of LIGHT AND LIFE.  For me, Tuesday is a day of preparation and Wednesday marks the beginning of a ten-day road trip filled with happiness, joy and celebrating with others.  We press on, Regardless!  

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

KEEPING UP: UPDATES AND DOWNLOADS



Have you noticed how often you get a notice that a piece of software or an application needs to be "updated" and "downloaded" to be sure that you have the latest and greatest whatever?   It seems to me that it's at least a weekly function like filling the gas tank or going to the grocery.  It cleans up the old and now you're all fueled up and filled up.  I just did one for iOS 9 point something and iOS10 is supposed to debut in the Fall alongside a new iPhone 7.  Jeez, I just updated to iPhone 6.   Here's my concern.

Why do things go out of date so quickly?  Is there some kind of conspiracy like a new car model every year in order to boost sales?  Oh yes, there are improvements and sometimes, on rare occasions, increased speed and efficiency. I am not persuaded that faster is always better.  In fact, I now believe, and there's some evidence to support this, that slowing down is healthier and more productive, especially when it comes to mental tasks.  I have suspected built in obsolescence since the advent of Apple.  My old MacBook G-4 from 2006, worked just fine.  So why did I succumb to a new 13" Mac Book Pro Late 2011?  Was it the Intel HD Graphics 3000 384MB?  Honestly, that means nothing to me.  I'm just glad the damn thing works most of the time, doesn't get viruses, delivers what I need in terms of communication, files and storage and the rest I leave to the techhies. Yes, it's a great design and user-friendly but I am no longer dependent on the hardware or software for what means the most these days.  Must be one of the great benefits of "retirement" or shifting gears and enjoying the ride.

I no longer have the need or the desire to try staying current with too many things, too many people, too many contacts.  It's simply too much so I am in the process of cutting back, cutting out and cutting down.  I may even Link Out of Linked In.  I belong to very few groups online or otherwise.

If I offend anyone in the process, I will send my apologies ahead of time.  I doubt it will be traumatic for any of them but I have concluded I want to spend what time I have in activities other than software updates.  I find it's a little like too much traffic that makes me wait while there's a space for me to enter and continue.  I think I'll just use my new GPS to avoid the traffic.  Thank you very much.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

WHY WE TEACH

 
“Teaching may be the greatest of the arts because the medium is the human mind and spirit.”  John Steinbeck    

The original occasion for this piece was a gathering of thirty outstanding teachers from all over the United States.  They had been accorded that status by their district, county or state or in a few cases their own school.  They had been recognized as outstanding due to their achievements, their unflagging zeal and their commitments to the profession and to their students and colleagues.  They were star quality teachers.   They were each invited to come to Santa Fe, New Mexico because I wanted to know why they were outstanding and why they, among so many, had been singled out for this special reward and publicity.  What they told me was that they never gave up, that they believed they could always do and be better, that they worked hard. It was clear that they were conscientious, responsible, reliable and dependable and that they loved what they did.  It was also clear that they loved their students.   Here is what I told them.

We teach because we want to transcend that which holds us back…that and the sacred otherness of life are the most compelling reasons that we teach.  We all know the things that hold us back.  We have looked at and encountered some of the obstacles and barriers and they come in all forms, shapes and sizes.  Here is a partial list in no particular order: uncooperative or uninvolved parents; unrealistic and bureaucratic administrators; unmotivated and apathetic students; colleagues suffering from arteriosclerosis of the mind and heart; discouraging lack of progress as shown by where we are compared to other industrialized nations of the world; reading and writing proficiencies; math skills and general knowledge.

Realize that only one-third of eleventh graders in the United States could identify, on a multiple choice test, in which half century the Civil War was fought, less than 40% could identify the purpose of the Emancipation Proclamation and fewer than two-thirds knew the significance of Brown versus the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas.  Appalling? I think it is inexcusable, irresponsible and the result of years of cowardice and caving in trying to please everyone by making it easy, comfortable and appealing, and trying to find shortcuts to success.

Real learning means that children inevitably find out that they are not the center of the universe, that they are not infallible or invincible and that pooled ignorance has no place in the classroom or a school, let along in our state and national governments.  Their group does not rule the ant hill and they will learn that their lives and ours, if lived honestly and with integrity, will be eked out in the valley of tears sometimes and that mastery of any academic subject demands hours, days and even years of hard work and maybe, just maybe a high degree of individual responsibility and accountability.

In one school where I worked we adopted our own three R’s, as we liked to call them, and while on the surface it sounds canned, like “Character Counts”, I think it went farther in terms of understanding the reasons and the values for adopting such a code of ethical behavior.  The three R’s were Respect, Responsibility and Restraint.  Most have often heard of the first two but seldom the last one, and all we need to do to know how much we need to exercise restraint before we speak is to sample some of the behavior of both children and adults in both the public and private domains.  Television, the movies and social media are filled with examples of the lack of restraint, often in the name of entertainment.  Who are the role models for our children today?  Fortunately for some of the students of these outstanding teachers, they have served as models for their students.

One of those outstanding teachers said to me that one of the biggest rewards she had was a student coming to her and saying, “I want to be just like you.”  That student may not know entirely what “just like you” means and what that teacher has done and what she does all the time to be who she is.  But there is something about teachers that is extremely valuable that often reaches students at more than a cognitive level.  We teach because we care and because we want to make a difference.  We teach because we want to change schools and communities and the world. Another of the outstanding teachers wore a pin that said she was changing the world, one student at a time.  It is about growth and change.  And here we have this magnificent and wonderful opportunity to teach kids the value of learning and knowing, of loving what you do, of being happy that we have been given a place where we can express the best that is within us.

We teach because we want our students to become active, lifelong learners, sharing ideas and experiences, telling stories and being affirmed and encouraged and supported to go on.  We want to challenge our students, lead and direct them and have them take on responsibility for their own learning and growth.  It’s why we like to see them graduate and continue their journey with whatever we have been able to add and contribute to the process.  We want them to be inspired by that which sustains life, that which enriches and makes it exciting, enjoyable and rewarding, that which makes it all worthwhile.  It is really an awesome and noble profession that you have chosen, or that has chosen you.

So, we teach, not because we can’t do something else but of all the things we could do, this act of teaching, this commitment and dedication to kids and families and schools and communities, this helping people to value themselves and others, and helping them to learn how to live productive, constructive, creative lives. This is what gives us all hope that the world will be better because we and they walked in it for awhile together.

Friday, 29 April 2016

EXECUTIVE DECISIONS



Making a tough decision and making it stick is but one challenge of a leader in charge.  An executive decision requires more than using that part of your brain called “executive functioning” which is officially defined as “a set of cognitive abilities that control and regulate other abilities and behaviors. Executive functions are necessary for goal-directed behavior. They include the ability to initiate and stop actions, to monitor and change behavior as needed, and to plan future behavior when faced with novel tasks and situations. Executive functions allow us to anticipate outcomes and adapt to changing situations…” 
That all sounds accurate and desirable except that it’s from the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders!  It’s when that function is lacking or disabled that signs begin to appear that all is not well, thus some kind of malfunction, not what one wants to see in a CEO.
If you are going to be adept at solving problems and anticipating outcomes, one of the main functions of an effective leader, then it’s imperative that you have the ability to anticipate those problems before they become even larger. You might call that foresight, something beyond insight. There is even a Foresight Institute (www.foresight.org/) that promotes transformative technologies that promise to address how to capture the opportunities and avoid the risks of nanotechnology in the future.   Perhaps every organization should have a “foresight institute” or task force of some sort, capturing opportunities and avoiding risks. Or maybe that’s one more task for the executive in charge.
Two other main functions of an effective leader, from Nan Keohane, are making things happen and taking a stand.  An effective leader is a catalyst for actions that will have positive impact on people and the community that he or she leads.  Making things happen doesn’t just mean deciding what will happen or who will do what, but also understanding why you are doing what you’re doing and why you’re doing it that way. It is then easier to communicate your actions to others and ahead of the decision rather than ex post facto may be the better strategy.
Taking a stand is being able to articulate with clarity and consistency your core values and how they inform, direct and support programs and policies that are the infrastructure of your organization. And being able to do that even in the face of controversy.  Getting everyone on board as much as possible so that you can move forward with common vision and common purpose is easier when your constituents are subscribers to your mission and understand it sufficiently to repeat it often. 
Executive decisions need to be sound, wise and well-informed and in the best interests of those whom you lead and serve.  The most effective leaders understand the burden and blessing of responsibility that go with the position.  Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to exercise your executive authority with courage and conviction and perhaps most importantly with grace and generosity of spirit.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

GETTING BACK ON TRACK



Almost everyone I know, including myself, have had some kind of event that has thrown us off track, hopefully temporarily.  It’s not always easy to resume, like pushing the button on speed control.  There are many reasons why it’s so difficult to regroup ones energy, purpose and drive to continue.  We can feel emotionally and physically drained, fuel tank on empty and no immediate relief in view.

These life events range from the death of a loved one, a serious illness of a family member or ones self, and less major occurrences that can include being disabled, laid low for awhile with a health issue and even something like losing a job or being rejected repeatedly while trying to get an application or a manuscript accepted or just changing jobs from one track to another.

A neighbor down the street recently had his leg amputated, at first just above the knee and then all the way to his hip.  His attitude appears to be I’m still alive and I intend to make the most of what I have left while I can.  He has made great progress on a walker, has been fitted with a prosthesis and he drives his truck with his left leg.  He is definitely getting back on track, maybe not with the same speed or ability but he is a great example of doing the best he can with what he has where he is.

A number of people who seem to lose a sense of purpose and the desire to continue have a hard time convincing themselves that the effort and energy required would be worthwhile and that it would be easier to just give up, give in and throw in the towel.  The truth is that it would be easier.  The encouragement and support of friends and family are well-intended, maybe even helpful sometimes, but they either don’t understand or if they do, their answers are what they would do, and those may or may not work for you.

It may be that we need to step back and “recalibrate,” a term I learned from an Intel employee who often used the term when she meant that we needed to have another look and see if our assessments were accurate and on track. Her experience from another industry helped us on numerous occasions to take another, different approach.  It fits the “on track” metaphor because trains run on tracks that are definitely calibrated and recalibrated frequently.  In the U.S. most tracks are exactly 4 ft 8 12 in or ​1,435 mm.  When I worked on the railroad, we spent a lot of time lining tracks and making sure they were the exact, correct width.  Now machines do that job.

So, what can we do to get back on track besides realigning the road ahead?

·      Take time and don’t rush it.  Step back and evaluate your choices.
·      Make sure you’re doing what you can for yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, meeting those needs for good health.
·      Talk to someone who might understand and appreciate your challenges and perceived obstacles.
·      Start with building a simple step-by-step plan and adjust it as needed. Take baby steps.  It’s the way to move forward.
·      Engage and connect.  We are social beings and isolation sometimes delays getting back on track.  However, there is also value in spending some time alone gathering your resources.
·      Rediscover a new purpose or explore something entirely different.  Consider giving some time as a volunteer.
·      Realize that each day is a gift and what you make of it is up to you.
·      Check in on your “attitude of gratitude” and how you might appreciate what you have in a different way.
·      Read, listen, watch and pay attention.  There are clues out there.
·      Be KIND to yourself.

There is no magic formula or recipe that works for everyone.  Each person has his or her own unique personality and figuring out what is going to work best for you is a process, not flip the switch and instantly be on a different track.  And remember, breathe deeply while you consider the road ahead.




Monday, 11 April 2016

SCHOOLS and the " REAL WORLD"





Schools are already in the “real” world.  They just aren’t taking advantage of their external environments in creative and contemporary ways.  Instead they are still using old models for new learning.  Put new wine into old wine skins and what happens?  They burst, wasting the wine.  Too much energy, time and resources have been spent on correcting mistakes rather than getting it right the first time.

Educators must be clear about how to make things work and take it a step at a time and keep backing up before going forward into unknown territory.  Before you can play a piece of music, it helps to learn the notes, where the fingers go on certain instruments and then practice, practice, practice. 
It’s the same with sports.  Much more time is spent practicing than in playing the game.  Certain kinds of athletic skills are developed and finally mastered in order to play the game at the highest level.  I wonder if we make the mistake of trying to get to the performance too soon, before the skills are refined and there is a sufficient level of confidence in those skills to be effective?

School might be restructured more like the real world and organized according to areas of interest.  There are signs of that with magnet schools and some other specialized schools in science and the arts.  I would not have been particularly interested in mechanics and robotics but there are plenty of kids who are.

I would have been drawn to a school that focused on reading, writing and producing whether essays, books, plays and movies or in telling stories of people in different cultures.  But, I would not have wanted to miss an introduction to science, engineering, technology, math and the arts.  That sounds a lot like STEAM and PBL.

I think it’s time to reexamine why schools are structured the way they are and perhaps shift not only the paradigm for educating kids but building entirely different models for different kinds of schools for different kinds of kids.  The schools all look too much alike and smell the same.  Kids are different and schools need to be different too, much more so than they are.

In the real world there are there are engineering, scientific, manufacturing and distribution jobs.  There are the worlds of design, retail and entertainment.  There are unlimited opportunities in health care, public service and education itself.   Kids need to see all of those, and more, up close and personal. They know that there are huge problems in the world needing their talents and skills to solve.  That will require a complete overhaul of the system, not just introducing technology and updating methods and environments.   The focus on changing the delivery system is a good start but it’s only a beginning and there’s much more to be done.

Yes, kids need basic skills of effective communication and presentation and they need to understand the value of social interactions without depending wholly on the internet, cell phones, texts and face factories.  What keeps schools from radically altering their identities is not only their marriage to the status quo but also their lack of preparation to make the shift.

IF you were starting over, how would you do it?  What would you do differently and what is preventing you from doing that now?  Look at the obstacles and either dismantle them or leave the old behind and find a new wine skin.  One example among many others evolving currently is Big Picture Schools. Here the design components are based on three foundation principles: first, learning must be based on the interests and goals of each student; second, a student’s curriculum must be relevant to the people and places that exist in the real world; and finally, a student’s abilities must be authentically measured by the quality of her or his work.

Here's another new model that includes action-oriented research: 
http://leadsandserves.blogspot.com/2015/12/a-new-school-model-teaching-hospital.html

Saturday, 2 April 2016

QUITTING AS A GOOD THING



I’m a quitter.  In my first year of my first graduate school in 1959, I didn’t like it and I wanted to quit.   It did not seem like a good fit and although I was succeeding academically, I was not happy in pursuing those studies.  So, I decided about mid way through that first year to take a test to see if I could learn to fly with the U.S. Navy.  I made an appointment and traveled about 45 miles from Princeton to Lakehurst NAS, New Jersey.

The test was a long day of examinations, written tests and physical exams.  The results came back a few days later and I had passed.  I was told that I could report to Pensacola, Florida, to begin flight training in January.   As I considered this option several thoughts came to mind.  I had started something and I usually finished what I started so I thought of a compromise. 

What if I finished at least the first year and delayed my start of flight training for six months?  Would the Navy consider that?  Yes, they said they would. Would the graduate school hold a place if I washed out of training?  Yes, they said they would, so at least I had a back up if I needed or wanted it.
Between December and June, three incidents changed my mind about flying.  Two close friends of mine in college, were both killed in separate accidents flying for the Navy. One was killed in training in Corpus Christi, Texas, and the other flying off an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.  A third pilot, older brother of a high school friend was killed flying for the Marines. I will spare you the details. Suffice to say, the impact was sufficient for me not to pursue the Navy offer further.  I had seen the devastation of the families up close and believed that the risk/reward ratio, and the statistics, were not in my favor. It wasn’t fear as much as it was seeing the aftermath.

I returned to graduate school, finished another two years, got a master’s degree and gave my best efforts to practicing a profession about which I had continuing questions, doubts and concerns.  Seven years later, I quit that profession and went back to another graduate school to get another master’s degree, a doctorate and continued working for another 43 years, a total of 50 years of full time work, enough to “quit” once again just five years ago.

Although I had been schooled in my early years by the adults in my life that quitting was negative and undesirable, I learned later that quitting could be a good thing.  In fact, I quit and left more than one job for one reason or another and now, as I look back, quitting was the right thing to do in almost every instance.  Would I do anything different if I had to do it over?  Maybe.  I might have quit sooner although the timing in most cases seems to have worked out just fine.  It wasn’t so much about quitting as it was about a change, welcomed and embraced.  When you quit one thing it’s an opportunity to begin something else or even something similar in a different place with a different cast of characters.  This is true whether in work, life, health or relationships.

This journey of living and working has been rich with change, with growth and with evolving into someone who is both the same and different.  It has been and continues to be a marvelous experience for which I am most grateful. I continue to explore the opportunities and adventures that I can explore and look forward to even more.  Close one door, open another.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

LIFE WORKS: A WORK IN PROCESS





Like many of you, I write down my thoughts and experiences from time to time, keep a journal on occasion around travel, maintain a blog and use social media, mostly Twitter and LinkedIn, for a variety of purposes.  I have written several books, numerous articles, and have a web site, in need of an update and refresh.   Until recently, about five years ago, I never considered myself a writer although I may have morphed into that activity out of the encouragement and support of others in my network of colleagues and friends.  I wrote columns and contributed to newsletters considering those part of my work and career.

Now, at this later stage of my career, having begun professionally in 1962, I have the luxury of working part time. I respond only to those invitations and projects that interest me most, often having to do with change and transition, whether in organizations or in individuals.   While change is an all-embracing topic, I consider myself a life-long learner who is still willing to change what I do or how I do it if I believe it will be better than what I was doing previously.  And, I stick to some “tried and true” practices as well.

I began working outside of home in 1947 at age 10 when I set pins in a bowling alley. I always had jobs at home and still do!   I got my social security card and felt like a real grown-up worker guy. The Protestant work ethic was alive and well in our family from an early age onward.  Other jobs I had before I graduated from high school included working on the railroad in maintaining the tracks; being a grease monkey in my Dad’s auto dealership; helping my grandparents, one on a farm, the other in a general store in a small town; and being a camp counselor and cook for 300 Boy Scouts. Work in the college years included life guard; construction labor; and office experience.  Such a variety was most welcome especially as learning experiences and the pay was good too.
  
In 1959, I started driving buses and continued that through graduate school and beyond during summers, holidays and sometimes weekends. Last year, because I enjoy driving vehicles of any kind, I accepted a job driving an airport shuttle from Santa Fe to Albuquerque two mornings a week. It was fun and I met all kinds of interesting people from all over the world.  The stories of their lives and work are fascinating.  None of these other jobs have ever taken anything away from my main career as a teacher, administrator, leader and consultant.  If anything, those jobs of a different sort add a dimension of understanding and appreciation for the human condition.

I am deeply grateful for the immense opportunities that I have had to be an active participant in so many productive experiences.  My education contributed enormously to my career.  The K-12 journey followed by 4 years of undergraduate school, 7 years of two graduate programs in two different places resulting in 4 degrees have all played their respective parts.

The privilege of being selected to lead several schools in their growth and development as principal or headmaster was only successful because of all those other people who contributed to those experiences. It was truly a team effort.  Out of all of this came an invitation to serve as a consultant to both organizations and individuals that were considering transitions, significant growth and change.  I did that formally and professionally with a firm located in Boston, and I had the privilege of living in and working from Santa Fe although it required a fair amount of travel.  Now I do it on my own time when and where I choose.  I would not have dreamed of such even ten years ago but here we are.

What’s next as I look ahead?  I am continuing to learn more about technology and educational reforms, planning a few more writing projects, some more travel. I contribute to the professional development of others through seminars, workshops and symposia on several different topics and did two workshops last November, one in Santa Fe for Leadership and Design, and one in Barcelona for ECIS (European Council of International Schools) and another in London in January.

On the personal front, we have downsized (see blog entitled “When Downsizing is Right Sizing: Why Less is More”) and we are very connected to our seven children, thirteen grandchildren and several siblings.  I am blessed with good health, energy and enthusiasm for living fully.  We are looking forward to having all our children and theirs together next Thanksgving in Vermont for one of our ongoing reunions and they all have their own unfolding stories which are fascinating.  What a tribe and what a world!

If you've gotten this far and you consider yourself a fellow-traveler, lifelong learner, you might be interested in my brief catalogue of learning experiences that were a big influence in this life thus far:  
http://tinyurl.com/ngshjm4   Enjoy!

Sunday, 20 March 2016

SPRING 2016




Many people associate Spring with the advent of new growth that we can see and smell.  In the southern hemisphere, not so, as it's autumn there and the amount of daylight is decreasing.  While some spend more time inside than outside in the winter, we are now glad to be outside again, except of course for those of us with some miserable Springtime allergies.  And the closer you are to the earth, the more enhanced the senses.  I usually remember at this time of the year that Easter (Eostre, pagan goddess of Spring) is the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the vernal equinox, a movable feast to be sure.

If you want to get precise about it, it will happen at 4:30 UTC or 10:30 PM EDT today.  That’s when the tilt of Earth relative to the Sun is zero, which means that Earth’s axis neither points toward nor away from the Sun. However, the tilt of Earth relative to its plane of orbit, called the ecliptic plane, is always about 23.5 degrees. So much for the scientific side of the equation.

Vernal, which means literally fresh and young and youthful, refers to Spring.  This is true in the northern hemisphere where Winter is ending.  However, in the southern hemisphere, it is really the autumnal equinox and while the hours of daylight and nighttime are almost equal there as well, it is the ending and beginning of different seasons.  Those of us who live, work and play in the northern half sometimes forget the other half.  There’s a metaphor in there somewhere!

I am one of those who follow the sun’s path on the horizon, especially at sunrise and often at sunset.  It really does not travel north and south but that is how it appears and that’s good enough for me.  This week the sun will be halfway on its journey north .
Find what you can in your world to celebrate the arrival of Spring.  For a long time, I associated Easter with Spring and then had that realization that it was biased toward the northern half.  Regardless, Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox and whether or not you celebrate Easter or Passover (the origin of Easter) or Ostara or some other tradition in Buddhist or Hindu calendars, you might pay homage to your own gods or goddesses that bring so many blessings of the seasonal change. After all is said and done, one more time, it’s about change.  Embrace it!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

MORE TIME, MORE CHOICES


I have often mused on the meaning of time, how we regard it, use it as if it were a commodity, even talk about how we spend it.  One reason the concept of time interests me is that I regard the sun, moon and stars as better keepers of time than we are and I believe the indigenous peoples were onto this long before we invented clocks and attempted to regulate time according to our needs and interests.  My conclusion, along with a few others, is that time is a construct, an invention for our convenience.  Most of our measuring, organizing, and even selling time contribute to our illusion of time as something real which we can see and manipulate.

How we experience the passing of time has been a subject of exploration and invention for centuries with various instruments put together to first see how the sun and moon, relative to the earth, moved from one day to the next. The earliest devices such as obelisks and sundials were not mechanical but mechanics gradually put pieces of machinery together until we had clocks and those were based on either 12 or 24 hour periods of time, periods of time, spaces from one period to the next.  Soon people started measuring their days by hours and assigning various activities to certain hours such as work, home life and projects of all kinds with timelines. 

Today, most computers, smart phones and calendars will tell you what time it is without your having to do anything but look and, if you forget to look, there are reminders in the form of bells, whistles and gongs. Those are to let you know what needs to be done or how much time you have before the next appointment or task.  Or if you set a timer, it means time is up.  Up? Expired, gone. Where did it go?  The mere name “alarm clock” should be banished.  Why should it be an alarm which means “an anxious awareness of a danger” instead of “gentle wake up clock.”  Yes, I know, they make those too, soft increasingly louder chimes. 

Of interest to me is that I now have more choices about how I use a day, week or month than ever before, being free from work, growing children, and earning a living.  Here is a quick summary of what I did for the past four months without all the details, observations, and conclusions.        
1. Researched and purchased our 6th RV/motorhome.
2. Traveled 7000+ miles on highways from NM to CA to MX and back through TX, AZ, CA and home again to NM.
3. Camped, with amenities, for two months on a beach in Lo de Marcos, MX.
4. Invested time walking, reading, writing, meditating, questioning, musing.
5. Worked with three brief projects each taking about a week’s worth of time.  What is a week?              
We all have the same amount of time, more than enough to do what needs to be done.  It is not about time, nor how much nor how little. Rather, it’s about the choices that we make that fill up the space of an hour, a day, a week, a month or a year.  We can think of those five entities as spaces given to us to use as we wish, or in some cases, as others would like as well.  In the end, what matters is whether you believe your investment of time has given you and others the benefits and rewards of a life well-lived.



Thursday, 18 February 2016

LIVING INTENSELY: A MEASURE OF DAYS, PART II


“I was astonished to find how intensely one lives in one’s eighties.  The last years seemed a culmination and by concentrating on them one became truly oneself.  Though old, I felt full of potential life.  It pulsed in me even as I was conscious of shrinking into a final form which it was my task and stimulus to complete.”         Florida Pier Scott-Maxwell  "The Measure of My Days"

Defining “old” these days is an interesting exercise made all the more interesting by talking with people who are advanced in years but who are also active, energetic, engaged and living well.  I recall seeing a cartoon in The New Yorker some time ago, two men sitting at a bar, one saying to the other, “Seventy is the new nothing.”   That seems to have come from the observations that 60 is the new 40, according to scientists who say longer, healthier lives mean people now hit middle-age later.

What we think of as old has changed.   Age can be measured as time already lived or it can be adjusted taking into account time left to live.  What is apparent to me, as I approach my eighties, is that we can make of it whatever we can to the extent we are ready, willing and perhaps most of all, able to do so.  (“Ready, Willing and Able” was a 1937 film starring Ruby Keeler and Ross Alexander and featured the Johnny Mercer song.  “Too Marvelous for Words.”  Ironic or a coincidence, that was the year I was born.)

My observations correlate with the feelings of many others although each of us occupies a unique position relative to our own condition.  At this point, I happen to be healthy, in good spirits and looking forward to the next chapter and whatever adventure I might explore next.  I continue to be an eternal and incurable optimist grounded in the reality of the moment.  There may be a few exceptions given some of the external situations around politics, the environment, health care and education.  Although I have been a social activist in several fields over the years, I believe it is now time to leave those concerns to others.

The past has been rich and full.  It is gone and in truth we are disconnected from it except as we allow it in for memories and reflections, perhaps some learning lest we make the same mistakes all over again.  The present is what it is although I feel increasingly detached from it as well.  It seems often too busy, too noisy and somewhat stressful, none of which are among my preferences.  I much prefer a quiet mind, free from ideas and opinions, and I celebrate these days of walking, reading, writing and being with myself.   

What will come from this remains to be seen and, as my wife put it so eloquently and humorously a few months ago, “What’s to become of us?”  I believe I may now have at least a partial answer to her question.   What will become of us remains to be seen and that opens the door to unlimited possibilities. At this point in time I feel privileged and blessed, grateful and glad.  Each day continues to be a gift begging to be unwrapped, embraced, celebrated and shared. We shall make of it what we will, do the best we can with what we have where we are.  That seems good enough for now.




Thursday, 11 February 2016

A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE - Taking a measure of days




Looking ahead to the start of my 80th year in a few months. I am enormously grateful just to do that. I am healthy for the most part, still active physically and mentally, as far as I know, and I am enjoying wonderful opportunities for work and play, days of re-creation.  My days begin and end with gratitude for the gift of time, places to go, things to do and those are more available than I would have thought about previously since I live as fully as possible in the present.
We are currently in Mexico for several winter months enjoying the tropical environment along the Pacific coast.  Some might say that we are retired but I think quite the opposite, opposite being a place where I often find myself compared to what others think.  On my morning walk yesterday I saw a couple who are bird watchers and we stopped to chat about what they’ve seen.  In two months, here at the edge of the ocean and jungle, they have seen 70 different species in two months.  Among our favorites is the black-throated magpie jay.  This couple from Texas have lived “on the road” for 15 years, energetic, active, hikers and birders. He carries binoculars and she carries a camera.  They are a team.
In the past three months I have worked on short-term educational projects in Barcelona and London, continued this blog, worked on a manuscript for a book called “Pearls From An Irritated Mind,” traveled in our thirty-two foot motor home and am trying to learn Spanish albeit at a snail’s pace.  We will accelerate that a bit when we move from here inland to San Miguel Allende in a couple of weeks.  Lifelong learning is just part of who we are.  My wife, Susan, was “in class” last night with her teacher in Bolivia, a class on “Advanced Memoir Writing.”  
We look at this upcoming election with amusement and amazement, talk with each other about the candidates and the process, and debate with our friends about these people who say they want to be elected so they can make things better.  As the UK said to the U.S. recently, “What are you thinking?” I would like someone to explain why we spend (waste) so much time and money with this spectacle.
As a country we have had both time and opportunity to “make things better” and while there is evidence that we are better off now than we were ten or twenty years ago in some very specific areas, it's debatable for the larger picture.  Some other countries seem to have figured things out better than we have, at least from my perspective, on things like health care, education, the environment, and child care.  Many have not and are suffering greatly.  I am looking forward to Michael Moore’s new film, “Where Should We Invade Next.”
In my 75th year I wrote an abbreviated memoir called, Seven Decades: A Learning Memoir and the following year, I published Your Child, Your Choice: Finding the Right School for Your Child. My first book, co-authored with a colleague, and published by Longman in1988, was Understanding and Enjoying Adolescence. It is both out of print and out of date.  I thought of revising and updating it but the number of changes in 28 years would require more than a revision.  Some developmental issues have not changed all that much but the world has changed significantly and rapidly.
We read continuously and I just finished Oliver Sacks’ memoir On the Move: A Life, as well as his recent work, Gratitude.  Other books we have enjoyed lately, in case you’re looking for one to read, include Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande; Circling the Sun by Paula McClain; Plainsong by Kent Haruf; and I am in the middle of Adventures in Being Human: A Grand Tour from the Cranium to the Calcaneum, by Gavin Francis.  Our weekly addictions include "The Huffington Post" and "The New Yorker Magazine."
We are connected digitally to the outside world via more than enough technology to suit our needs and interests. That helps us stay in touch with the world as a whole, with professional colleagues, our extended families of seven children, thirteen grandchildren, brothers, sister, their children and in-laws, plus Susie’s mother who celebrated reaching102 in January.  It’s quite a tribe all added together and we look forward to seeing many of them in the near future.  There is no substitute for face-to-face presence.
Life is not only good, it is full.  Our days begin early, before sunrise, and end early, soon after sunset. “You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.”   Florida Scott-Maxwell, The Measure of My Days.
Our hope for you, your families and ours. is a good measure of days, living joyfully, thankfully, engaged in those things that are challenging. rewarding, and satisfying. Every day presents choices and opportunities.  Try and make the most of what you will and if it fits, be fierce with reality.

PS - An earlier review "LIFE WORKS" is here:


Saturday, 6 February 2016

MAKING A CASE FOR THE BRIDGE YEAR




 

Most educators, and parents, know about the concept and practice of a gap year.  Often that year is taken between high school and college but not necessarily then.  It could be a junior or senior year abroad in either high school or college or it could be between the freshman and sophomore year of college.  The point is to consider the benefits and rewards of such a year or some other extended period of time outside of the regularly scheduled, progressive march toward a diploma.

My first point is to try and change both the concept and the term from gap year to bridge year because the notion of a bridge makes more sense and is far from a year off but rather a year on another path.  That path crosses the gap with a planned structure of design, engineering and construction that takes you from one place to another.   OK, enough said about that.  You get the point.

Secondly, think about all those kids who have spent 13 or more years in school, fairly well tied to a curriculum that has all kinds of good intentions for expanding the student’s world of knowledge, understanding and skills requisite for a good education.  You can address the question, “What are the marks of an educated person?”

Third, there are now numerous programs to assist students and their families who are interested in one of these experiences that might include an internship in a profession or business or the arts, travel and study abroad in a different country and culture, or a self-directed study in a field that the student is passionate about from technology to outer space to the inner spaces of human behavior.  Suffice to say that a year like this may well provide the student with a new and deeper level of understanding about the possibilities for careers as well as a renewed vigor for continuing formal studies in a college or university setting.  Colleges look favorably on such experiences.  For a fine, solid example of such a resource have a look:  http://www.uncollege.org
Finally, this kind of opportunity is also one that provides additional responsibilities and choices that can add a degree of maturity to the individual’s growth and development.  Not only does it give the student time “off” from the regular grind of school, but it also allows time for some serious reflection about addressing the question of why they are doing what they’re doing.  That alone would make this year of great value.

What I recommend is to engage in a conversation about the opportunity, the possibilities, the pros and cons and have a go at evaluating whether this might be a terrific opportunity for one of your students or children, knowing they are unlikely to be reading this post!

EPILOGUE:  This Bridge Year is not only for students but can also be for older adults who could use a bridge year for an important transition.  In the world of academia we instituted sabbatical years. In other professions and in business, people sometimes take a year to plan a significant change in careers.  And in life itself, there can be an event that has a tremendous impact such as an illness, an accident, a divorce or a death. A bridge from that previous experience to the next stage of life may be exactly what is needed to effect a desired change.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

LIFE LESSON FROM DAD

I was probably nine or ten years old and my parents had dragged me off to church as they usually did on Sunday mornings. After an hour in what was called Sunday School, singing, learning Bible verses, and going off to class with a small group of other kids my same age, we were invited upstairs to the sanctuary for another hour of worship.  More songs, more Bible verses, a sermon, a choir, and if you are familiar with this scene, you know the rest of the trappings.  If you're not familiar, imagine a very large room with big windows, some of them in stained glass, a kind of stage up front with a lectern and a pulpit and the choir of 30 or 40 people. There were rows of hard, oak benches or pews filling the sanctuary that held some 300 people.  The order of worship was pretty much the same every Sunday.  This was what was called then The First Congregational Christian Church in a small, western Ohio town.  I often wondered where the second, third orfourth might be, as I knew of banks in town that had names First National and Second National.

As the church service unfolded there came a point in time where the ushers - four, suited gentlemen - marched in step from the rear of the church to the front.  There they received four large brass plates from the pastor, after a short prayer asking people to give as they had been blessed in their own lives in order to help the lives of others.  Frank was the CEO of the church who was often called "the preacher" for that's what made him popular or so it seemed to me. He delivered sermons with a fairly high degree of passion and intensity that kept most people awake and listening fairly well.  However, as I looked around I could usually find one or two who had nodded off.  I looked around often, counting ceiling tiles, window panes, organ pipes, people, whatever I could find to keep my mind occupied.

As the ushers proceeded from front to back, row by row, they passed those large brass plates back and forth to each row so that people could put their "gifts" which meant money, into the plates.  Those gifts were in numbered, weekly envelopes or in hard, cold cash.  My parents put their envelopes in each week with the cash inside duly recorded after the service.  I watched this weekly ritual with great interest and one Sunday morning, I turned casually to my Dad, as this part of the service began and said, "Can I take some out?"  With his characteristic candor and wisdom, he leaned over and whispered back, "Yes, you can, but remember to always put in more than you take out."

Little did I know then the impact of what my Dad said which was also what he did in his own life.  Later on in my life this life lesson was renewed over and over as my career of learning, teaching, leading and serving unfolded and evolved over some fifty years. That aphorism was so imprinted on my mind and spirit that it became a constant guide for my work, my relationships and my goals.
I have not always lived up to it 100% as there have been times when I felt like I took out a little more than I put back although I may have tried to repay it later in another way.  Regardless, it's a lesson from Dad, one of many, that has stuck with me over the years and served me well.  For that, and much more, I am enormously grateful.

(Included in Seven Decades: A Learning Memoir (River House Press 2013)

Monday, 25 January 2016

A GENIUS IN DESIGN, ENGINEERING and CONSTRUCTION


I watched two garden spiders yesterday, connected by the same web, work their magic. I sat there in amazement as they worked to restore and expand their web, eat or store a few insects along the way that had given the signal of their arrival.   You have no doubt seen a spider scamper across a few strands in order to wrap up this unsuspecting invader for a later meal.

These two spiders appeared to be of the same variety, small, yellow spots, long nimble legs, the larger one about 25 millimeters including large, jointed legs and the tiny one less than half that size.  At first I wondered if these two were from the same family, cooperating and collaborating, or if they were competitors, the larger ready to consume the smaller at any moment.  Or might it become a David and Goliath scenario?

You have probably heard that spiders eat their young and actually it turns out that a mother spider will often feed herself to her young in order for them to grow.  Talk about the ultimate sacrifice.  There is also a tremendous amount of research about spider webs as they are extremely strong and resilient.  Materials scientists have taken numerous lessons from what a spider web is and how it functions.

As the wind blew and the web seemed to stretch about 30 centimeters and spring back to its original form, I kept watching intently at both the web and the two spiders.  They would work very fast and precisely for a short time and then go back to a spot and wait, I thought possibly resting from their intense work.  Or maybe they were making more silk.  There are people who spend their lives studying these things.  I am just a casual observer.

While watching all of this activity, I kept thinking about how those of us who have worked with organizations could have a field day with this exercise.   Take your team to the garden, find a spider web, look carefully and quietly for at least half an hour to an hour and see what you might learn from the experience.  Let your minds wander, take notes, and then gather and share your observations and reactions.  And while you’re at it, you might check out some of the research.

By the way, I just went outside to check on my two spiders and sure enough, they are there, ready for this new day and so am I.   I think they might also have been working all night although they do have circadian rhythms that vary by species.