Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Three stories

She was young, blond, in desert fatigues, wearing her fully packed backpack, and sitting on the floor of what appeared to be a busy suburban airport.  It was as though she had knelt to hug the child, then, overcome with emotion, had sunk to the floor, knees bent awkwardly back, heedless of the travelers rushing by.  She had both arms wrapped tightly around the waist of her daughter.  And she was crying because she had to leave.  Duty, honor, and love captured in a photograph.

Last night, South Pacific opened to a full house at The Walton Arts Center.  The show was captivating.  Elegantly simple sets, glamorous (and sometimes amusing) costumes, and performers who were a joy to both eye and ear.  They had us engaged in the story within minutes, from that first twangy reference to our very own Small Rock.  Everything was as it should be...the Arkansas hick, the French gentleman, the salty military humor, and the travels to far-flung places, only to meet the self we thought we'd left behind.   The remarkable story crafted by Rodgers, Hammerstein, and Logan (based loosely on James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific) has stood the test of time--we still laugh, hum, tap our toes, remember how it felt to be young, or wonder how it would feel to be old.  We are drawn in, entertained, and, if we wish to participate, challenged to think.  And as the story unfolded, I was reminded how very much things in our world have changed not at all.  Duty, honor, and love--the very essence of myth, legend, history, and art--were all on stage.

This morning, as I hurried to leave, grabbing papers that still need to be graded, it caught my eye.  It had been missing for almost a year.  I'd found it Sunday night in the midst of a frantic search for something else, tossed it onto a table, and forgotten about it...until I saw it again this morning.  It has my name, "daughter," my father's name, my parents' religious preference, and my father's military identification number.  It's the dog tag I was required to wear during an overseas flight to a three-year assignment.  I was nine.  And the things I remember most are saluting (lots of saluting), uniforms (dress blues, fatigues, camouflage), and how the entire base--every man, woman, and child--stood at attention each afternoon, while Taps played and the base flag was lowered and folded.  I understand now what I couldn't then--it was all about duty, honor, and love.
Stories--whether captured in a photograph, performed on a stage, or carried as a memory--can unfold in ways unintended and unpredictable.  The very best stories gain nuance as we gain life experience.  Were I younger, I might have walked down Dickson Street last night singing, thinking about love, or admiring the costumes (okay, got me there...I did like those costumes).  Having lived the stories I've lived, what I relished most about last night's performance was the portrayal of duty, honor, and love, inextricably confounded with joy, sorrow, laughter and tears.  It was life, writ large and executed beautifully.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Success, defined very loosely

It wasn't pretty, but I did it.  And now that I know which parts I don't do well (which, unfortunately, is most of them), there's always focused practice.

Getting into the cool technology rekindled my original enthusiasm for what can be accomplished with this teaching and sharing tool.  Students can access a recording where I've been able to combine any of the following:
  • Audio of my voice (as narration) or any other sound.
  • Video of anything on my computer screen, whether prepared or ad hoc.
  • Video of the activity occurring in front of my computer screen, whether monologue or dialogue.
And, when the recording is complete, we have Rich Media, Vodcast, and Podcast links for posting.  How cool is this....

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Make it stop watching me

I know it sounds crazy, but the newly-installed web cam makes me nervous. It's part of (yet) another technology that I volunteered to try.  And I can't seem to get past...well, doing nothing.

The idea is to provide brief, self-contained educational or informative content (aka lessons) that can be posted to a learning management system, with the option to access the content via a mobile phone.  It gives a whole new meaning to Miles2go, assuming I actually take that first step.  I have everything I need.  The software is installed on my computer, courtesy of the awesome (and they know I mean it) technology staff; the hardware (did I mention the evil eye?) is installed, courtesy of the same group.  I have a plan.  I have content developed and ready to try.  And, as of two days ago, I have a nice "are you doing okay with the new technology?" email waiting patiently for my response.  The only thing missing is my ability to take that first step and be willing to fail.

Make no mistake, my first effort will be less than perfect.  And that's the rub.  Playing to my strengths of my strengths.  I know the 2.5 things I do well and this will not be one of them, simply because it's new.  Despite being a teacher to my core, I still have tendencies to avoid things I suspect I will not do well.  With years of validation that focused practice is a key to doing well, the high standards I tend to set for myself still make it hard for me to fail...which means those same standards can make it hard for me to learn.

As I've written before, being forced to walk in student shoes is sometimes painful. Even with reminders that the only thing to fear is fear itself (and I do know Franklin D. Roosevelt had far weightier matters in mind), I am still hesitating.  So, akin to whistling in the graveyard, I am writing to force myself to act.  Rather than respond to the email from the technology staff (the gentle reminder from those who know that I've done nothing) with another email, I will use the new technology to record my first lesson, complete with narration of screen shots and a verbal reply that I've just taken the first step.  

I can't teach with this technology until I learn it.  I can't become proficient unless I'm willing to fail.

Even the most focused people (and, no, I'm not on that list) sometimes need external motivators.  My external motivator is giving me the evil eye...and it doesn't blink.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My daughter left for Greece this morning

I am my daughter's first and most important teacher; in many ways, she is also mine. I re-discovered baking because she enjoyed being in the kitchen. I read aloud all seven volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia because she hung on every word. I searched for child-friendly versions of Greek and Roman myths so that she could understand them and, through them, make sense of her world. And I have learned more in my role as Mom than in any other part of my life.

I've wanted to teach my daughter to respect herself, others, history, and her intuition. Sometimes, allowing her to learn about those things requires more of me than I really intended to give. The trip to Greece is a case in point. We had read about Hera and Zeus, Demeter, Heracles, Persephone, Apollo, Poseidon, and Atlas (among others), looked for the myths embedded in popular stories and movies, and identified the patterns—dysfunctional families, competitive games, petty jealousies—that just don’t change much, regardless of century. So, when I heard “Mom, I want to go on the Spring Break trip to Greece,” all I could do was smile. I brought it on myself.

And I asked for one thing from Greece: I asked my daughter to write about her trip...what she sees, what she learns, how she feels. Though the writing will serve as a reminder of her trip (all she remembers from London is Big Ben and "having to walk a lot"), the far more important reason is that the view through my daughter's eyes is the best view I know.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Score one for the old people

When we are old enough to have experience, we are often seen as merely old. I am reminded of this frequently.

I recently took my daughter (who is 15) to see Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis at The Walton Arts Center. We've been seeing live theater and attending concerts since she was old enough to sit through performances, many of which she doesn't remember. This particular event was high on her list, however, because she plays the trumpet and often listens to her favorite Marsalis CD. It was high on mine for several reasons.

Art, music, poetry, and literature are all--in some form or fashion--about history. Sometimes the history is of a people or a society, sometimes of an individual. And educating our youth to be productive members of society requires some understanding and respect for history. The recent concert was full of history, from Count Basie (one of my favorites) to Dizzy Gillespie and exciting new compositions commissioned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art (where I've also taken my daughter).

Soft-spoken Marsalis (who did not, by the way, command the spotlight very often or for very long during the recent performance), talked with respect, affection, and a gentle sense of humor about the jazz greats on whose shoulders he stands. He described one gentleman as being "old when I was in high school" and the one who would hang around "to tell us we were playing the music wrong." Marsalis went on to say that seeing the man as old meant Marsalis wasn't seeing (or hearing) the right things. This "old" man became Marsalis' mentor, teaching him much.

Being in the presence of history and learning from it is a rare gift. Most of us realize far later what opportunities we had, what lessons we spurned, what greatness we missed. Teaching, for me, means cherishing those moments when the magic happens...and realizing that most of the time my role is to offer what I have, letting others decide what they see or hear...and whether they need it. And, sometimes (as my daughter says), we can "score one for the old people."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What we learn...or don't

Predictable cycles are standard fare in strategy texts. It matters, for example, whether your industry is primarily a slow-cycle market or a fast-cycle market (affecting the speed with which your competitive advantage is lost). It also matters whether you are on the pendulum swing toward or away from centralized management. And there are others. But the up-close-and-personal cycle I'm seeing this week is the one seen pretty universally across colleges and universities--it's the mid-semester slump. We (meaning students and faculty) know it's coming, think we're better prepared for it this time, and experience it anyway.

Learning from the past (history) or from others (case studies) gives us the intellectual ability to interpret our behavior, whether corporate or individual. Amazingly enough, very few of us seem to be able to change it much.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Everything old is, well, all there is

One of the joys of teaching any subject is watching the "aha moment" when a new concept or piece of information slips almost visibly into place. One assumes a synapse fired, a neural pathway was created (or completed), and the mysterious process of learning just occurred. It's one of the best experiences I know. And the mystery is that the only things worth really knowing haven't changed--ever. Sure, the details change, the names change, the packaging shifts, but the truly important things don't change.

The challenge for teachers is to honor the ancient, understand the new, and help bridge the gap for the students. As much as I love this process, some days I am just not up to the challenge. There are not enough hours in the day, days in the year, or years in my life to know enough to be a truly competent teacher. It's humbling.