Friday, June 21, 2013

In search of readers

Teachers have said, read, or heard it multiple times: good readers make good writers.  In fact, a quick search via Google yields about 46,800,000 results, all attempts to illustrate, explain, or build programs around the need for getting students to read and to write--whether more, a little, or at all.

This week, one of my classes (college seniors) is working on a written change management plan.  The students understand the concepts, can describe the organizations facing the change, and can answer my questions about the what, why, when, how, where, and who.  As a group, they struggle with writing.

I hear myself using phrases such as "narrative thread" and "tell the story" and "lead me to the conclusion," all of which make sense to readers. And I wonder if these phrases have any resonance for my students.

Somewhere during the week, I happened to actually see (as opposed to passing without noticing) one of the many stacks of books in my house.  I read.  A lot. Sometimes, I read mindless fiction (clay feet) but, far more often, I read texts that require my full attention. Authors who use metaphors I may not grasp immediately, words I rarely read or use (another trip to the OED, still my favorite dictionary), complex sentences that make me slow down or read twice (at least), concepts I don't understand, or premises with which I disagree.  Poetry, history, mythology, religion, political commentary, humor, biography, autobiography--whatever the genre, I've read it and I probably have it.

Fortunate enough to be raised by readers, taught by readers, and befriended by readers, I recognize good writing when I see it.  I may not be able to articulate why a particular phrase lingers well beyond the reading or what it is about a poem that beckons me to return (some of the best reading is well beyond the second or third go-round), but I know it when I read it.  Just as a catcher knows a good pitch, through a combination of experience, training, and practice, a reader knows a good writer.  And both good reading and good catching require work.

I don't have an easy answer for my students. Perhaps searching for an easy answer is, in fact, part of the problem.

Monday, June 17, 2013

"Just a reminder"

This is the message reminding me that Google Reader is going away. Did I mention that I am not happy about the demise of Google Reader? I think I did. And I may have written about my fondness for Reader. On more than one occasion.

I have been diligent in my research for a replacement for Reader. I have downloaded my data from Reader. And I have selected and downloaded a "replacement" (which is so far from adequate as to be undeserving of recognition by name) to Reader. I have also come to the sad conclusion that there is not an adequate substitute for the Reader I have made a part of my morning routine.

And so I find myself teaching a course this semester in organizational change, talking about the reasons why people resist change, encouraging students to remember that a compelling vision plus WIFM (what's in it for me?) will appeal to the early adopters and the early majority...and I confess to a wee bit of hypocrisy. I am futilely resisting the inevitability of this particular change. And should any of my students wonder about my humanity, this is just a reminder.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

It's rarely the one we think

Sometime within the last few weeks, I had one of those days...the days when everyone wants something and there's not much left to give them. By the afternoon, I found myself wandering through another cemetery, composing and taking photographs.  This time, all I had with me was my cell phone, which is far from perfect on a sunny day.  In fact, many of the shots I composed in my head disappeared the moment I tried to look through the viewfinder, leaving me with a shoot-and-hope perspective that somehow seemed appropriate for the day.

Today, when I finally had the chance to download and study the photographs, I was pleasantly surprised.  Some I liked a great deal; others, not so much.

The intention, for me, is not to work overly hard at composition, but to trust the urge to capture a particular image.  Since I have, over the course of my lifetime, visited countless cemeteries in various locations (including multiple countries and continents), I tend to trust the urge.  If something is unusual or shadows catch my eye or I am intrigued, I take a photograph. Sometimes they turn out well; sometimes, well, they don't.

But what I noticed today, and not for the first time, is that the photograph I am most pleased with is rarely the one I worked the hardest to compose or capture.  In photography, as in life, what captivates us most (if we are honest) is rarely the one we think, plan, or intend.  That favorite pair of shoes we bought on a whim, the book we struggled to get all the way through and then could never forget, the friend we found buried beneath the initial's rarely the one we think it will be.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Speaking of work

It's time to deal with the paper pile and the sticky notes, all of which are important enough to keep...but none of which are urgent enough to deal with in a timely manner.  The reminders of things I've done (the orange note and the green note) are the easy ones.  That leaves me with a reminder of the structure for a course in Blackboard, a reminder to practice gratitude (that one needs to stay...), a song I heard online that captivated me enough to search for the name and artist, several business cards of people I (still) need to contact, a random note that no longer makes any sense, and the pile to which I need to pay some respect.  

The random notes are gone, the actions I needed to take are taken, and I unearthed a beautiful tribute to an author and his latest book. When the book review contains phrases such as "for me, my friends are always the age they were when I met them" and "the gift of writing sentences that exactly reproduce what we feel and think in the moment we feel and think it," the review itself is worth printing and tucking away to (re)discover.

I am now headed to the bookstore.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Love and work

I asked a colleague today if he remembered loving his work...if he could remember a time when he looked forward to coming to work and enjoyed it enough to wonder why it was called work.  Though he could remember a time, it was long ago.  We commiserated about the short-lived gift of loving our work.

It's on my mind this summer, as my daughter describes her first summer job with phrases such as "Every day is a Saturday" and "I love being here" and "I can't believe they pay me to do this." She's one of the lucky ones who followed her heart to a job that seems in every way a perfect fit for her skills, her temperament, and her personality.  It warms my heart to hear and see this idyllic match between someone I love and the work that she loves.

And as I ponder the role of parenting and education, I wonder where individuals and institutions find the balance between economic viability (earning enough to support oneself and, perhaps, a family) and nurturing a soul.  I often tell my students that no amount of money makes miserable, life-draining, soul-deteriorating work palatable.  They rarely listen, surrounded as they are by salary surveys, advertising campaigns, and a consumerism mentality.

The gift of loving our work may not have to be short-lived.  But there are few enough who seem to know how to nurture and sustain the gift (assuming they find it at all) as to make one wonder how they continue to hear their drummer on that less trodden path.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Community and connection

What has happened when education makes us less aware, less tolerant, or more ethnocentric? What are we doing wrong?

These are the questions raised in recent conversations with people in my community, people who are leaders, philanthropists, business owners, and parents.  People who are concerned about food insecurity, poverty, health (and health care) in our midst.  People who wonder why education seems to make so many of us less concerned, less willing to help, and less aware.

My response at the time was that we have, perhaps, forgotten the purpose and value of education.  I've given it a bit of thought over the past few days and I have no better answer, though I have found others with more eloquence:
At their core, schools should prepare people to be constructive citizens. A part of that is the building of a common base of civic, cultural, social and political knowledge.  (The Jackson Herald in an editorial.)
Public schools are an instrument of democracy to the extent that they maintain a vital connection with families and their community. (Education historian, Diane Ravitch in her blog.)
Perhaps it matters to be competitive in a global environment, but not at the expense of being connected and constructive citizens of the community around us.