Sometimes we get to close to the edge

Bird Droppings April 19, 2011
Sometimes we get to close to the edge

I recall taking groups hiking in North Georgia and always there is that one person who has to be at the edge of a gorge or edge of the trail dropping two hundred feet down looking over and nearly falling. Maybe they were adrenaline rush junkies. It has been some time since I would edge my canoe off a rapids occasionally not knowing what lay ahead. I have gone off some pretty good size falls not paying attention.

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.” Soren Kierkegaard

I often wonder if I had chosen differently at various times in my life what would be the outcome and where would I be. What if I had not left teaching so many years ago would one of my former students perhaps have changed directions and not be serving three life sentences currently. I was aware of issues back then nearly thirty five years ago but I was just a kid working with kids.

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” Pablo Picasso

It is through experience that the highest form of learning occurs and it is learning that will stay with us as we move through life. I can describe how to tie a square knot and I can show pictures all day long of a square knot but until you physically tie a square knot with a piece of rope you will not recall the intricacies and methods.

“When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap?” Cynthia Heimel, Lower Manhattan Survival Tactics

I recently did a timeline of my life showing what I call coincidence points where a slightly different twist, trail, or take would have altered my life. People I have met, things I have done or not done all altered by a moments choice somewhere along the line.

“I dip my pen in the blackest ink, because I’m not afraid of falling into my inkpot.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have been a fan of Emerson for some time and as I read this line I recalled several comments from a friend who is an artist and very independent drawing a comparison to the Dr. House on TV. He is an arrogant extremely brilliant physician who offends everyone and seemingly solves unsolvable medical mysteries. My friend is a graphic artist and has learned the game of preparing art boards for clients; she will always do several and sort of over emphasize the one that she feels is best. You are giving your customer choice and options yet controlling the situation for the better. This is a Dr. James Sutton trick for working with Oppositional Deviant children. My friend has a customer who never picks the best one always the wrong one and now without just being obnoxious directs the customer to the best art work.

“Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” Frederick B. Wilcox

So often life presents us with challenges or with trails to follow do I go left or right do I take the steeper one or the easy pathway. Over the years hiking in the Appalachian mountains of Georgia and North Carolina you would come upon switch backs where the trail rather than going straight up would be a series of switches back and forth a bit more distance but an easier incline especially when encumbered with a heavy backpack. Some people want to charge forward and I had a few who would allows make a beeline for the top of Blood Mountain and avoid switch backs and about half way up the rest of us would catch up to them exhausted and bruised and bloodied from rocks and falls. Often there is wisdom in experience. Still those of us moving up the mountain maybe in a slower pace but would still finish ahead of them.

“Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?” Frank Scully

I remember picking apples and crawling out a bit too far on a limb nearly falling going for the best ones. Learning the limits of your environment can be beneficial and help you get the best possible of what you seek.

“You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Wayne Gretzky

I first used this quote nearly eight years ago putting a copy on my then principal’s door. Interesting that sheet of copy paper made the move to a new school and is still hanging in his office eight years later.

“I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.” G.K. Chesterton

I have never been one to back down from a challenge and Chesterton’s words are true so often people sit and languish sadly literally molding away.

“The torment of precautions often exceeds the dangers to be avoided. It is sometimes better to abandon one’s self to destiny.” Napoleon Bonaparte

In Risk Management you terminate the risk, you tolerate the risk, and you treat the risk and or transfer the risk which equates to the four T’s of Risk Management, Terminate, Tolerate, Treat and Transfer.

“This nation was built by men who took risks – pioneers who were not afraid of the wilderness, business men who were not afraid of failure, scientists who were not afraid of the truth, thinkers who were not afraid of progress, dreamers who were not afraid of action.” Brooks Atkinson

It was the vastness of the frontier that truly gave us the American Dream. I have been working on papers dealing with the development of education historically and it is interesting how the frontier paid such a significant role. Europe had reached a point where every corner and every nook was owned and possessed and a totally new atmosphere occurred when the colonists came across the ocean. It was a vast un-chartered frontier.

“Nothing will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must be first overcome.” Samuel Johnson, Rasselas, 1759

So many times in history because of various limitations imposed by religion and by rulers because objections hold the society in limbo.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Robert F. Kennedy

I recall the day Bobby Kennedy was killed and football Hall of Fame great Rosie Greer who had been helping with security, he was one of the great all time linemen in pro football was griddling his head. As the news started a picture came across the media. The photo was the huge Rosie Greer bent over a fallen Bobbie Kennedy with tears in his eyes. Shortly thereafter news carried the words word that Kennedy had died. He knew the chances but believed in what he was trying to do.

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” Seneca

Nearly 3000 years ago these words were uttered by the great Greek philosopher and today they hold as true as they did back then.

“What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” Robert H. Schuler

Pastor Schuler was never one to limit himself such as in building one of the largest church congregations in the country and the largest TV audience of all time.

“Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to preserve it. Has it ever been said that a man who throws himself out the window to escape from a fire is guilty of suicide?” Jean-Jacques Rousseau

I am amazed as to how perception changes as conditions change.

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little course and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice. Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

The old adage of getting back on the horse when you fall off still holds clout.

“Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.” Ray Bradbury

Every day some of us live this way waiting till the last minute and thriving on the adrenalin but not everyone can function in this manner. I sit back and recall my father going over the four T’s of risk management in a conference so many years ago and how applicable that still is not just in industry but in school, education, families, and life in general. Some people need a moment or two to catch their breath to ponder and make the wisest and sometimes safe choice. So today please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

Reflection is so much more than a mirror

Bird Droppings April 18, 2011
Reflection is so much more than a mirror

I was sitting out in my back yard as I do every morning listening and thinking wondering about the coming day and week so much to ponder as I listened to the haunting call of a whippoorwill. A friend had gone for an interview last week and I was curious how that had gone. A former student is recovering from an accident and again I was wondering how they were doing. I was sitting contemplating and listening to sounds that were ever so silent with the crickets beginning to start the new life as temperatures permit and in the distance spring peepers responding as well to warmer weather.
My graduate studies began at Piedmont College nearly ten years ago. I was at the time intrigued by a concept of reflection built into each of the courses and degrees and literally every day existence in the education department at Piedmont. It is not a reflective position such as from looking in a mirror but one of a deeper pondering of what is going on around you and with your experiences and understandings. I met Dr. Jane McFerrin after failing my initial interview for admittance into graduate school. On a side note the individual who failed me on my first interview and I are good friends now and share many common ideas corresponding regularly now. I was informed I had to go for an additional interview with the Dean of education which was a scary thought as I drove up to Piedmont College.
I found the education department sort of tucked under the library and although I have sat on the steps many times waiting for classes to start since that time watching the lake and geese that time was very significant. Dr, McFerrin called me in and introduced me to the assistant Dean of Education Dr. Cummings who is now the Dean. She asked how could she get on my Bird Droppings mailing list which was my first interview question and sort of caught me by surprise. I was on my second interview having failed the first as being “not professionally suited for teaching” and perhaps it was because I do have an issue with ties and how was I to respond to this first question. I got Dr. McFerrin email address and added her to the list over ten years ago.

“There is a growing recognition of the importance of the view of the classroom community in developing respect for human dignity as well as preparing students to be active participants in their own learning and in democratic communities. The theme around which programs in the School of Education are built is Preparing Proactive Educators to Improve the Lives of Children. Our students learn to be reflective, scholarly, and proactive educators.” Dr. Jane McFerrin, Past Dean of the Department of Education, Piedmont College

For me this is a very powerful statement and as I proceeded over the next five years to earn my masters and specialists degrees at Piedmont College that term reflective more than once was mentioned it became the standard of each class.

“…reflection is decidedly educational. It is simply an opportunity through which one can learn from experience. Reflection can take numerous forms, and touch on an endless variety of issues. It furthers learning and inspires provocative thought and action. Most of all, it can benefit the individual and the community.” Julie Reed & Christopher Koliba, Facilitating Reflection

It has been many years since the great educator John Dewey promoted reflection in his writings, of utilizing experience, understanding, and reflecting to promote and encourage thinking, and thinking about our thinking to borrow from Donald Schon.

“There are actions, recognitions, and judgments, which we know how to carry out spontaneously; we do not have to think about them prior to or during their performance. We are often unaware of having to learn to do these things; we simply find ourselves doing them. In some cases, we were once aware of the understandings which were subsequently internalized in our feeling for the stuff of action. In other cases, we may never have been aware of them. In both cases, however, we are usually unable to describe the knowing which our action reveals.” Donald Schon, The reflective practioneer: How professionals think in action

With teachers so often we hear or read about being burnt out. That aspect that teachers get so caught up in what they are doing it becomes tedious and boring. Reflection helps to alleviate this process and provides insight into each day and each experience. Earlier today as I read a response to a comment I made I was described as weird. I thought back to my daily greeting from a particular student, Mr. Bird you are weird. What my student is implying is I am different. If you asked him should I be normal he will respond, not hardly. He liked me weird. I thought about it and as I described an explanation I was reflecting on weirdness. I did not see my self as weird but as I looked around my class room yesterday it was not normal peeking in others as I walked down the hall. I have no desks and no official board so to say although I have a portable one when needed with bits and pieces of everything and anything scattered about, questioning sources I call them. My favorite question is Mr. Bird what is this? It is amazing how a day can go when a student asks a real question one inspired by inquisitiveness and not by a lesson plan. That is where true learning occurs and it is then transferring that inquisitiveness to the subject at hand that is the secret. I will reflect on that today but please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.