What Makes Teachers Amazing (and it isn’t their ability to administer FITD or online tests)

I would like to begin this post with something I posted to my Facebook page.  I hope you have time to read.  This is the textual opposite of a tweet.

I began by posting an observation of how teachers do what they do.   The teachers quoted have given permission.
Teachers know a lot about their students soon after school starts. Non-readers, slow readers, dyslexic readers. ‪#‎noonlinetestneeded‬ Since attendance is a big predictor of school success teachers know a lot about who may drop out some day. They don’t need test after test to tell them this. They know many of these things without even giving one of their own tests. When they do give tests they learn a lot about specific knowledge the students have. But they know their students very well long before they get the results of the fill-in-the-dot tests at the end of the year.
Which is a good thing. By the time they get the data from the FITD* tests at years end school is usually underway in the fall. The FITD tests are for politicians and prognosticators. Not teachers, students, or parents.

*FITD – Fill-In-The-Dot

First, I would like to explain how I learned this. I heard Greer Nichols, now retired from Broken Arrow Public Schools explain this at a workshop for first-year teachers in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. I was serving on the Professional Development Committee. Since the state (sadly) no longer funded mentors for first year teachers our district sponsored sessions for the new teachers to try to take up some of the slack. Greer pointed this out in one of the discussions. I asked an unscientific sample (my lunch group) about this. As a music teacher I knew that something similar happens in my classes, but we never have test data on these sorts of things. Sure enough, other teachers confirmed what Greer Nichols said. The test data, which is not available on the first day of school, just serves to confirm what they have already figured out about their students.

I am not sure if a first-year teacher would be so quick to figure this out as an experienced teacher. But it does appear to be a common thing.

Following my comment a lively discussion ensued, mostly between two teachers. One allowed as to how the test data was helpful to her. On the other hand, I she mentioned (as I already knew) that she was opposed to the over testing we do now. I was fascinated as I watched this discussion move quickly into a back and forth between two obviously great teachers who were sharing information about things they had found effective. With their permission, I am quoting their remarks (and mine).  These are two awesome teachers.

Stacie – OCCT can give valuable data to organize small groups.

Lorrie -They are autopsies rather than physicals.

Stacie-Why autopsies? I teach Reading. Those skills carry over from 3rd to 4th to 5th to 6th. It’s only an autopsy if not evaluated & a plan formulated:)

Rob Reck -For many many years teachers taught students to read without the kinds of testing we do now. There were tests, but many were given and scored at the school with immediate results. This was done even before the availability of computers.

Now we use computers and online testing. We give the tests earlier and get the scores even later still.

When a test is given in April and the data is not available until after school starts the data is already pretty cold. (Autopsy indeed!) If the idea behind the test was to help teaching the whole system would be structured differently. You can use “data” from your own tests just as well, and you can make immediate corrections as the students learn. In fact, this was the way it worked for few hundred years or so.

Lorrie – They also do not account for the summer slide. I do think they give information, even good information, but it is just one test on one day (as we all know).

The reason I used the word autopsy is because the results arrive too late for me to make any adjustments in the teaching of the kids the data is for. I think they are valuable for identifying who is going to need remediation but not necessarily what that remediation will be.

Stacie – I am no proponent of excess testing, but refuse to give a test only to file the data. I have seen growth across skill categories & the “ah ha” faces at the small group table are precious. 48 minutes is too little time to spend on skills that the vast majority of certain classes have mastered. If teachers are not using flexible skill groups they are missing a golden opportunity to help their kiddos. It makes me sad to hear a chance to solidify knowledge referred to as an autopsy itself. It’s through an autopsy, we learn.

Lorrie – I agree that flexible group is absolutely critical. I don’t know how else we make it work. I really don’t.

Stacie Dunn – Lorrie, do you not feel the next grade can gain insight?

Lorri – I do.

Lorrie – I do feel that they can gain insight.

Stacie – Cross-referencing OCCT with my lesson plans helps me plan for the next year.

Rob – But when do you get that? Are you just using generic data? Our teachers did not get anything until school was underway, sometimes for several weeks…

Lorrie – I give a lot of assessments and surveys in the first two weeks to get that information because I have kids who do not test the previous year.

Stacie – I believe I was making color charts by the first week of school.

Lorrie – Stacie…I can’t think of the program I want to tell you about…cough syrup…But when you said color charts it made me think of something…

Stacie – I start the nagging in June:)

Lorrie – but of course not the name..

Stacie – My program is a Word document & paint fill. I’m old school
Lorrie – I will think of it and I bet you have used it. I LOVE it.

Lorrie – This program does it all for you.

Rob – I like watching these two veteran teachers go back and forth. You guys rock.

Stacie Dunn -Thanks, you two!

Lorrie – My friend does that. And as she fills in the word document with the paint fill, she actually lets the kids fill it in. So they kids has a very visual reinforcement of filling in a hole in their knowledge.

Lorrie – She teaches Kindergarten.

Lorrie – Thank you Stacie. I will think of that program.

Stacie Dunn – Appreciate it!

Rob – For any non-teachers following along…. This is what makes great teachers. This kind of cooperation and collaboration make teachers better teachers. It is part of their DNA.

When you rank teachers state wide according to some value added evaluation system and then publish the results, as they do in New York, it forces teachers to keep these things to themselves and makes them self-centered instead of student centered. Most teachers will go ahead and do the right thing. But they are penalized for it instead of rewarded. How sad.

Stacie – A true word, Rob.

Lorrie -True.

(End quotation of conversation.)

This took longer to get ready than I thought it would because it just doesn’t work to cut/paste a Facebook chat into a blog post.

It takes awhile for teachers to get this good. Once they do it makes sense to provide economic incentives to keep them around. While “experience” raises smack of unionism to some, it is much better for students, parents, and teachers if the faculty is relatively stable in a school building. Many rookie teachers are very effective, but good teachers are also good students. They are always learning. And, as you can see, good teaching breeds good teaching. A new teacher that comes into a school with a host of veteran teachers has a potentially huge support group that can help with every aspect of teaching, both in and out of the classroom.

Part of the problem of the current evaluation models is that they consider teachers in a vacuum. This is not only wrong headed, it actually discourages the kind of collegiality and community that nurtures good teaching and learning. It does not figure the influence of the principal which can range from hugely positive to hugely negative. I have seen a lot of the former, thankfully. I have also experienced toxic leadership. It is not right to evaluate teacher performance without considering whether they get the support they need. It is also obvious that current models do not consider other factors outside of the teacher’s control. It is not so much as a flaw in the model as it is the belief in the first place that an evaluation model can reliably and objectively control for every factor in the teaching environment and come up with a meaningful score. If every teacher taught the same students with the same family support and the same economic means with the same ability to speak English and the same perceptual and cognitive abilities with the same administrative support and the same instructional budget  then an “objective” evaluation might be possible. When you truly think it through, the very idea is ludicrous.

In other words, any useful evaluation must contain some subjective judgment. It makes the determination of “merit pay” nigh impossible, although good principals have always had ways of rewarding good teaching. Parents too, come to think of it.

Thanks so much for Lorrie Desbien and Stacie Dunn for the use of their words. You guys area awesome. Teachers are awesome! It is high time to start paying them more and listening to them about how to makes schools better.


Coming Back From The Edge (Revised 12-26-2014. Probably not for the last time.)

Minor revision – A pillar of the Happy Rock Way.

The Happy Rock Way

A friend oClose to the Edge (2)f mine and I were commenting to each other about a mutual acquaintance.  I said that he seemed to be an unusually deep person, someone who had figured out a lot about life.   We all know those people who seem to have it all together.  If not all together, then a whole lot together. She commented, “You know, he has been to the edge of the abyss.” I didn’t know.  In fact, I still don’t know exactly what she was talking about.   But I did steal her phrase.   There seems to be an abyss out there and humans seem to regularly travel towards the edge.  Not always right up to it, perhaps.  But they do move in that direction.   Sometimes, the abyss seems to move to them.

Some people will be living a seemingly charmed life when the worst things come calling.  Sometimes they are self inflicted. …

View original post 455 more words

The Roller Coaster Life Club

We all kHappyRockRollerCoasternow that life has ups and downs.  It goes almost without saying.   “I had a good day.” “…bad day.” “….a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” (Apologies to Judith Viorst.)  But for some of us, life is more of an extreme thrill ride.  It is far from a little kiddie roller coaster.

Bandler and Grinder were, so far as I can tell, responsible for moving the idea of the sense-based learning styles into the mainstream of educational conversation back in the eighties.  People were primarily visual,auditory, or kinesthetic learners, they claimed. In their inner map people represent the same things differently. It is how they organize their memories.  That is the heart of the concept, although volumes have been written about it.   Some people are very balanced. Some people sense life with one system but represent it mentally in another.   So a visual artist might be a visual-kinesthetic. A musician might be an auditory-kinesthetic.

Just as a primer:
The visual style of learning/thinking is the most common.  Our visual culture has tended to make this more so, in my humble opinion.  People can change pictures mentally very quickly.  Extreme visual thinkers can be a joy or a terror to follow.   Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters (April 1964 – Tonight Show) appear (get it, appear?) to be visual thinkers. The pictures change quickly in their head and their comedy changes directions rapidly.

The auditory style is next most prevalent.  Auditory thinkers tend to access sounds in their head as they speak.  There eyes will look to one side as if to look towards their ears as they access the sounds in their head.  Sometimes they are listening to the inner voice and sometimes they are composing verbal ideas.  I got to hear Dan Quayle speak once when he was vice president.  He was an obvious auditory.  His eyes gave all the auditory cues, looking directly to one side or the other.  He was much better speaking from the inner voice than he was reading a teleprompter. It was a great speech and unlike his normal “teleprompter” performances. His political critics called him, “shifty-eyed” because of his auditory eye cues. Another famous auditory was Johnny Carson.  He was always telling his audiences that they “sounded great.”  He was very picky about pronunciation and I actually heard him correct the pronunciation of his guests from time to time.  He was constantly not only looking from side to side but literally moving his whole head and body, especially to his left.   (Carson Entertainment)

The kinesthetic style is the least common. Please note that we all have elements of all three styles, but most of us tend to work more with one.  The kinesthetic person is concerned most with the sensation of touch and/or emotions. These days this seems to be called “feels.” The kinesthetic eye cue is downward and to one side. When people are deeply sad you can see them do this, no matter what their learning/thinking style.  The two kinds of feelings, emotions and touch, are intertwined.  This is me. This my world.

Most creative artistic people have a strong kinesthetic component to their inner makeup.  Some are far, far over in to the realm of feelings.  Many of these are percussionists.  (I bet you suspected something like that.)  Kinesthetic learners often like to have their hands busy. (When I went to church as a child I worried the church bulletin with my hands until their was not much left of it when church was over. I am still pretty hard on programs.)  When they go to the beach, they see the sun on the sand, they hear the wind, the waves, and the seagulls, but they remember it by pinning it all to the feeling of the waves crashing against them, their feet sinking into the sand, the warmth of the sun (like the Beach Boys), and their emotional state.   We can all relate to those things, but the kinesthetic person primarily represents life this way. Their memories are anchored mostly by emotions and feelings.

Oh, by the way, athletes are frequently kinesthetic thinkers and learners.

This blog post is for people who are kinesthetes.  (I think I made up that word.) It is also for people who have kinethetes as coworkers, family members, and, yes, as children.  It has to do with lessons learned over time that, if understood, can help kinesthetes appreciate the unique lives they live.

The first thing to know is this: Mental pictures can change quickly. Mental sounds change more slowly. But feelings can persist for a long time.   As in, persist all day.   More than is helpful, sometimes. A kinesthete can get angry or upset about something at breakfast an still be feeling it at lunch. They sometimes feel it long after they have forgotten where the feeling started. (Whenever I present this idea to a group I see heads begin to nod here.) Knowing this helps one to work their way out of it.  But even after you understand the concept you will find that feelings tend to persist. Over time the intentional kinesthete can become much more adepts at surfing on the emotional waves instead of getting swept away.

The visual or auditory learner can also experience this, but you must remember that the difference is the depth of the experience. All people who do not have impaired senses have visual, auditory, and kinesthetic components to their thinking and to their experiences. A few of us are quite balanced in our representation of the world. The kinesthete will tend to represent nearly everything in terms of feelings and emotions.  It is no help if someone tells one to calm down or lighten up.  It can be helpful if someone shows that they understand, that they get it, that they accept your feelings.   That actually helps the emotional gears to shift. On the other hand, if you ever want to send a kinesthete nearly postal just tell them that they are “over emotional.”  Since we are actually a minority, we hear that often. Far too often. We think many people are just “under emotional.”

There is another side of the coin, however.  When life feels awesome, it is really awesome.  The best.   The kinesthete walks through the valley of the shadow of death, but also climbs the mountain. Perhaps King David, musician, poet, and warrior, was a kinesthete. (His feelings did tend to get him into trouble at times.) Psalm 23 really does seem to describe the journey up and down the mountain and through the valley.

The constant experience of the mountaintop and the valley is The Roller Coaster Life. Once a kinesthetic learner understands the way that their life works it seems to help them to cope. (It certainly helped me!) They understand that, while the mountain top experience will not last forever, neither will the trip through the valley, unless one stops and gets mentally stuck there.  But if they move on to the next part of life things will change. Sometimes I have suggested to a fellow kinesthete that they “need a new project” when they are feeling down. It is more direct if I do not have time to explain the whole process. It is amazing to watch them perk up if they accept the idea.  On a more basic level, I once heard a coach say, “When you are going through Hell, keep going!”  (It turns out he was quoting Winston Churchill.)

Some people literally get stuck in a feeling for many years.  Being stuck sometimes needs professional counseling/therapy to get back into the rhythm of life.  I have at times suggested that a person seek a therapist. Sometimes people actually take the advice.

Once again, these things are true, to some degree, for everyone. They are just more extreme for the kinesthete.

Kinesthetes sometimes get into trouble trying to “manage” their emotions instead of experiencing them. Emotional management or suppression is a poor substitute for learning appropriate means of expression.  Yet some people instinctively know that they are “different” and seek something to make themselves fit in.   Substance abuse can be a big problem.  Tobacco/nicotine is often the drug of choice for kinesthetes. Cigarettes are amazing, really. I have never smoked, but as a musician I find that have musician friends who do and I have asked them about this. As it turns out, a cigarette can really calm a person down when they are stressed and too wired. On the other hand, when a smoker is depressed and down a cigarette makes a great pick-me-up. I have read that scientists are actually studying how nicotine can be both an upper and a downer . It is easy to see why it can be so addictive.  It is sort of a one-size-fits-all for mood problems.  It is understandable that a kinesthete would find this attractive.  Some studies have shown that smokers actually overestimate the amount of life they lose by smoking yet continue to smoke.  It is a high price to pay for self-medication.

Cigarettes are indeed slow death.   They don’t kill you right away.   But if you are a kinesthete they actually rob you. They take away the top of the mountain. They also, at a high price, take away the valley.  Other abused substances similarly interfere with the full experience of life.  If you are a kinesthetic you are meant to experience the mountain and the valley.  And if you are an artist/performer/composer/writer (and and and) you are meant to experience all of this and then, through your art, interpret and share it with the the world.

There are many names for this up and down cycle: The Yin and the Yang,  both sides of the coin , the circle of life. Regardless of how we fit on the kinesthetic scale we are made to learn and grow from the good and bad things we experience.  Sometimes people are only able to learn the deeper lessons from dealing with adversity.   The mountaintop and the valley and the road in between are all part of life. If you are a member of the roller coaster life club your gift is your curse is your gift. Deal with it. Press on. Learn to live by savoring the way you were made.  Sometimes the best time of life is not the top of the mountain, it is the climb up out of the valley.  When have been knocked down and have gotten back up there is often lots of energy available if you look for it.

In truth, the top of the mountain is much more special because of surviving the valley. The life of the artistic, creative kinesthetic learning person not simple or easy, but it is a rich life full of the very things that make us human. It is a great gift from the One who made us once it is understood and appreciated.  And those who choose to use this gift to create works of art that help interpret human emotions to others can hopefully bless others.

A lot of what I have come to call the Happy Rock Way concerns learning how to live The Roller Coaster Life and make the most of it. It applies whether you are on a smaller roller coaster or on the big scary ride. All are invited to hang on and make the most of life.  Stay tuned.

How to Make Things Get Worse – or Better


Sometime during my tenure as a school music teacher I spent many hours listening to recordings of rehearsals with the conductor score in hand attempting to learn what needed to improve in a particular ensemble.  I began to notice something that happened yearly regardless of the ensemble.  It may have played out differently in a band than in a choir or string orchestra, but the underlying problem was the same.

Here is how it works in a string orchestra class.  A student realizes that something does not sound good.  Perhaps they are out of tune, or maybe it is their neighbor, but most likely it is the student who notices the bad sound that is out of tune.  In response, the student slows down their bow.   As a result, they are now still out of tune and also playing with a bad tone.  In their attempt to hide the problem they have made it worse.  In order to play in tune students must keep their bow moving and make a good sound.  The higher quality sound is easier to tune because you can hear it better in the first place and because the “beats” that identify an out-of-tune note are more audible.  (Musicians know about “beats.”)  A better tone will also sound better even if it is out of tune.  And a bad tone will sound awful even if it does happen to be in tune.   In trying to hide their playing the student produces a bad tone that makes every note they play sound bad.   So the student’s attempt to improve the sound has just the opposite result.

It initially struck me as odd that a student would attempt to fix tuning, which is a left-hand issue, with the bow, which is held in the right hand.  But I heard the problem every year that I taught string orchestra in most all the classes at one time or other.  So as odd as it seemed, it was certainly not out of the ordinary.  Much teaching energy was expended to fix this problem.  It did not always “stay” fixed.  But over the course of the year the issue got better and it was easier to fix each time the problem arose.   There similar problems with wind instruments and singers who try to reduce the amount of air they are using to hide their sound.

My music teachers and directors directors always told us to “make good mistakes.”  Now I knew why.   In music, a lot of making a good mistake has to do with making sure that the mistake is made with good confident tone quality.    Beautiful tone covers a multitude of sins, musically speaking.   But it also motivates the player to fix the actual mistake rather than running away  and hiding from it.

It has also occurred to me that sports teams also get in trouble when they play scared.  I have heard it called “playing not to lose.”   It is the same concept.   Players need to be confident and aggressive to play well.  If they begin to fear losing or making mistakes they begin to play cautiously and slower.    So they are far more likely to make big mistakes and lose.

After a time, I came to see that this had larger and broader human implications.  I mean, how hard is it to think of a situation in which a person has a problem and does something that makes things worse instead of better?    How about this:  A person is under a lot of stress at home and at work.  The go out to a bar and spend a lot of money getting stinking drunk.   It makes the stress take a break for awhile, but it makes things worse ultimately.  They sober up, they have a hangover, they are broke.   I have no problem with social use of alcohol, but it doesn’t really solve a lot of problems.   Or this:  A person is feeling a ton of pressure because there is not enough money to cover all the bills.   So they go to the bank, withdraw a few hundred dollars, and see if they can’t win it by gambling.  These are, of course, serious examples.  But there are many situations in between a kids soccer game or a beginning orchestra concert and full blown addiction of any sort.  The common element is the human tendency to make things worse if we are sloppy in our thinking and decision making.  In fact, actually thinking instead of reacting with no thought is the first step down the road to overcoming this tendency.

I am not enough of a psychologist or theologian to offer up an explanation for this conundrum.   But once I had noticed this human tendency I made an amazing discovery.   I do things that make things worse.   I do not feel up to having true confessions here, but lets just say that I, at times, have tried to find a cheap, easy, and frequently habitual solution to a problem that actually made things worse.  And sometimes I even convinced myself that my behavior was “justified because….”   So many of the challenges I faced in my life were, upon further review, self-inflicted wounds.  Perhaps some day I will be more forthcoming about some of these.  They usually seemed to center around an arrogant stubborn attitude that took years to adjust.  I still have to fight it at times. But not as much.

One of the beliefs I had to set free was the conviction that a musical performance, especially a competition, was so important that literally anything I could do in a rehearsal to get the desired results was justified.  I mean, it was contest, right?    This is not something a music teacher can give up easily.  Some never do.  But over time I began to see that some of the things I was doing were a poor substitute for good motivation and enthusiastic teaching.   And, over time, I noticed that my retention rates of students in my music classes was improving.  More of my students seemed to truly love music, and not just trophies.  (Although trophies and great music are a great pairing for young students who have not had that aesthetic epiphany.  If you are a musician you will most likely understand that.)

So the Happy Rock Way of dealing with challenges is to evaluate problem situations and our usual responses. Then we must search out new and better solutions. There is no promise that this will be easy.   Sometimes the sought after solutions insist on hiding.   But search on.   Sometimes we insist on learning things the hard way, but learning the hard way is still learning.  For some reason, things we learn the hard way tend to stick with us.    Along the way mistakes will be made.  But it is so important to make good mistakes.  While this works, it is still psychologically risky since you will have to admit that you are responsible for your own life.  But the risk is tied to the reward.

One of the results of this kind of examination of my own life that I feel I can share is that I am around thirty-five pounds lighter now (12/21/14) than I was at the beginning of August.  (I will probably blog  more about that in the future.  But this is an ongoing process and I am still learning.)

Another benefit seems to lie in ones ability to draw others into your circle and actually increase your ability to lead people through positive means as opposed to fear and manipulation.

The Happy Rock Way:  Rock your life.  Make good mistakes.  Learn.  Grow.  Move on to the next thing. Rock your life. Rock your world.

Added on 12/22/2014
This is so right.  This doesn’t directly use the term  “making good mistakes” but it totally explains how good mistakes work:   http://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve

Revised 6/30/2015   Thanks for reading.

Is it the Destination or the Journey?

[Big revision on 9/15/2015]

“It’s not the destination, but the journey.” I was checking on this quote because I have been thinking about it lately. It is a little hard to pin down because, it seems, the idea has become a part of human thought these days.  It is hard to tell who is quoting whom.

Perhaps it is stopping to smell the flowers.   Cliches aside, it really seems like it should be deeper than that, though flowers are nice.  (I know that this refers to taking time to appreciate beauty and not just flowers.  But still…)

It is not the journey, as such. Nor the flowers or works of art or  beautiful scenic vistas. Or even the great concerts and performances.  Or learning something new. I consider all of these things and more part of the fullness of this life I have been given.  All of those things have their wonderful place in life.  But none are the big thing.

Both the journey and the destination are what they are because of the people.  Partly it is the people you meet, but it is also the people who travel with you.

Many times our interactions with new people are on the level of, “Do you want fries with that?” or “Please push the fifth floor.” These are pretty shallow. But sometimes time we seem to randomly meet that person that connects on a deeper level. And sometimes the connection is so strong and full that it is affirming and energetic and awesome. And at times scary. Because this new person could be a friend, lover (for those still seeking), mentor, confidante, spiritual leader, fellow traveler, spouse, or even nemesis…. The possibilities abound.

Once I realized this I began to seek deeper interactions to see if there were more to be had. There are.  It is possible to make a habit of reaching out to people in a deeper fashion.  There is still a need for “surface mode”.  You can just say “yes” or “no” to the question about fries. It is not appropriate to do much more.  The people at the counter are busy.  But if one is energized to the possibility of making human connections it is amazing how opportunities will appear.  I have a goal to be habitually open to experiencing the humans I encounter on a deeply interactive level.  But not to push.  Just to enable. Some people choose to go with it.   Some not.  Sometimes I misjudge.  But by being intentional about my daily interactions with people I am gaining new skills.  How much improvement have I made?  I have no frame of reference.  All I know is that it is better than it was. And that is a good thing, because I still have a long way to go.   But if I can make even a small number of people have a better day because I paid attention to them and appreciated them for being…. being an awesome version of themselves, then I have been successful in my goal. And if I meet you and fail to engage you as the person you are, I apologize in advance.   But I am still going to work  on it.

Those that power through life at a high rate of speed en route to the final destination can fail to engage people on a deeper level. This is their loss.  There is even value in experiencing people who are disagreeable, because one can learn many useful things from such people, including how to spot them in the future and insulate one’s self from their negative influence.  While is often desirable to approach life in high gear., the Happy Rock Way suggests that we should at times take time to experience the awesome energy of other people.  In the parable of the Good Samaritan, I wonder sometimes if otherwise good people were in fact too darned busy to stop and show human compassion. Maybe we all are at times.

I taught school for a long time. (When I started, Jimmy Carter was president.) Along the way there were so many students, parents, teachers, admins and very cool support people… And there were all the artists, musicians, actors, dancers, and actors. I have friends all over the arts. Now there are a bunch of new folks at my new gig. And my wonderful church family. My family and my extended family are an amazing blessing (for the most part…ahem). Not to mention other amazing people who just happened to cross my path. What a pastiche of awesome humanity!  I refer to people who have touched me deeply at some time or other in my other blog posts.  Once you know this you will see it again and again in my stories.  (Of course this includes my close family, but mostly I do not like to blog about those closest to me out of respect. Just so you will know.  They are certainly awesome enough.)

It is not the destination, it is the people you encounter on the journey.  And it is the anticipation of meeting new people and of new experiences with those you already hold dear.

I am rich and richly blessed.

Thanks, truly, to all of you and thank God.

I wanted to say that some have asked me how you improve at interpersonal connections.   I am considering a post on how to make that happen.  Let me know if you think reading about that would be worth your time.

Rock Your Corner

Happy Rock Your Corner

We are meant to let our lights shine wherever we are and however we can. This is one of the pillars of The Happy Rock Way. I don’t usually say it that way. I just say, “Rock your corner of the world!” This may not be a geographical space in this day an age. It can be your corner of your family, your city, your school, or your online presence.  Make a difference in the world by making a difference wherever you interact with others.

There are some famous people who do seem to rock much of the world. But for most of us it all starts with that space where we happen to be right now.

Since Edward Lorenz coined the term Butterfly Effect it has in some fashion seeped into our group mind set. You can search “Butterfly Effect” if you want to know more. Lorenz contended that small things could have a big impact over time. The Butterfly Effect was an apt name. A butterfly flapping its wings in one time and space can cause a hurricane several weeks later and far around the globe. There is some pretty good math to support this idea.

If one takes the Butterfly Effect into account, rocking one part of the world even a little bit could cause some pretty great things to happen. Who knows? If you make an intentional effort to rock the world around you, it could send a rocking wave far around the world.

“An intentional effort…” This is a loaded phrase. That means that you have a mindset, make a plan, set a goal, or any other way we have of indicating that we are going to make something happen as opposed to leaving it to chance. If you truly believe that you could serve the world by just sending out a kind, loving, or otherwise encouraging words and actions, then you will need figure out how you intend to make that happen. As you get used to working your plan it will become habit. But in the beginning, it has to be intentional. Smiling is good for you. Smiling at other people is good for the other people. And you. I will allow you to follow that thought and see where it takes you.

Even if you never see the end result of all the positive you give the world, you will still like life better if you rock. Even if it is just barely. Even if it is just where you live. You are blessed to be a blessing. Send it out. There is no time like the present to get started.

After thoughts… I used to play in a band that did the song linked below.(Probably need to do a cover even now.) Those of you that know me will hopefully understand how I took the simple message of this song to heart.

Touch a Hand, Make a Friend – the Oak Ridge Boys

One last thought.  There will be times when life has come calling on you and you are really not able, for a number of reasons, to send out much positive energy.   It is important for you to be a part of a positive supportive community to lift your spirits during these times.  We are not meant to be loners.   Find or build a positive community that will help you be a rock star at the business of life.   And one that will support you during those times when you need it.

So…. Go rock your corner of the world!

Caring is a Wonderful Thing, Right?

This is both a word of encouragement and warning.

I always ask people what they want to be when they grow up. I always say, “I am still working on that answer, so I think it is a fair question.” (This is true. I am still working on it. And it is a fair question.)

Psychologists and theologians argue over how much of our behavior is determined by genetics, or by our environment, or by free choice. No matter what the answer, it seems obvious that at some people seem to be sure that they need to go into a caring profession. It is not just about whether one “cares” or not. It is about building a working life around a profession that is all about caring.

I always love to have a “caring” person as a server in a restaurant. One time, after an Oklahoma Bandmasters Association board meeting in Oklahoma City, I literally asked the hostess of a restaurant for a server that was “studying to be a teacher, a shrink, or a doctor. Or nurse.” People who care are just going to be good at serving people.

Caring is part of the human experience. For the most part, sociopaths and some with various other issues excepted, people care. Some. But some care a lot. They are at the upper end of the scale.

This is for the those who are at the upper end of the caring scale. When you announce your career choice and give the fact that your “really care about people” many people will smile and nod and say nice things. But I think, “Someone should warn that person!” And if I know them well enough, I will.

So why is a professional encourager like me warning people about something as wonderful as “caring”?

I will tell you. It is because caring takes a lot out of you. It can be very stressful. When those you care about make bad choices and run into hard times, it hurts. Sometimes it will take you right through the valley of the shadow of death. There is a reason that the incidence of alcoholism and substance abuse is higher among those in the caring professions.

But wait. You should still care. And even enter the caring professions. A lifetime in a caring profession will shape you:

You will either go over the edge and into the abyss. Or you will become amazingly strong over time. Caring can become either a super power or kryptonite.

Be brave. Seek your super power. But know that the edge of the abyss may be closer than it appears. Care, but look out for number one. Take care of you.

In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure…… If you are traveling with a small child secure your mask and then secure the mask on the child.  (More about this in another blog entry soon.) If you are going to give your life to caring for others you will still need to look out for number one at times. Surround yourself with people who care about YOU. Learn ways to recharge your batteries. It’s really pretty simple once you have the concept.

But it is not easy. It is a rewarding way to live if you are up for it.


JUST IN CASE ANYONE HAS FORGOTTEN: It is OKAY to be happy, even in tough situations. It is OKAY to begin to move on, even though your heart may hurt. It is OKAY to be strong, just as it is OKAY to be weak. It is OKAY to put yourself in situations that make you happy. It is OKAY to do what you want to do, freely, happily. It is OKAY to like someone because they see you exactly for who you are. It is OKAY to be exactly who you are, 100% of the time. It is OKAY to stand up for yourself and say, “No, I am not changing who I am today!” It is OKAY to grab your life and embrace everything it throws at you with open arms. It is OKAY to surround yourself with the people that make you happy, no matter who those people may be.

It is OKAY to be happy, even in tough situations, and it is OKAY that I am HAPPY.

Terin Camber Brownen

Not only is it okay to be happy, it is OK to move away from those who steal your joy.  Friends have disagreements,and so do spouses.  There is a difference between a disagreement and a toxic relationship that steals all your happiness.   I have actually seen students who are happy when their friend is absent from school.  But they turn unhappy as soon as they see their friend again, because the “friend” is all about manipulation and control.   And if you choose to ditch that a toxic “friend”, good for you!, then that is, in fact, okay too.   Disclaimer:  This is not a comment on the situation that brought forth Terin’s proclamation above.

Sitting in the Kitchen

(First posted online August 24, 2013)

My Uncle Gordon, (may he rest in peace) was an unassuming man who, on the surface, lived a simple life as a United Methodist minister.  He was not a very good preacher, honestly, but he was a top-notch pastor.  His abilities as a pastoral counselor are somewhat legendary among those that knew him. He had an interesting perspective on joy and sadness.  He said that we all had our favorite things to feel happy or sad about and that we tended to repeat those patterns.  I believe he was right.

He also thought that sometimes we just needed to face up to our sadness and stare it in the face for a bit before we moved on. Sometimes those strokes of sadness come from unexpected directions at unexpected times.  Sometimes you can just work right through them.  But at times, according to Uncle Gordon, we just needed to go sit in the kitchen and do our best “sad” for awhile.  Just go sit down and feel terrible for a bit, long enough to know you are a human being and not some kind of robot.   Cry if you need to.  Get it over with. I think he was right about that too. (True grief can take longer, but it is still something to be worked through. This is not about that.)

I teach a lesson on Elijah sometimes in adult Sunday School that was inspired by my Uncle.  He reminded me that when Elijah was calling out to God as he sat in misery under a broom tree that God, when he finally spoke in that still small voice, gave Elijah a list of things to do. If I seem l am happy person it is not because I have no sadness. It is because I give my sadness its chance.  I experience it and thank God that I care enough about someone or something to be sad when it is gone or when it ends in disappointment.  And then I move on.   In truth, emotions are a gift from God, both happiness and sadness.  They are different sides of the same coin. Sadness cannot be successfully avoided, but it can be experienced in a better way.  This seems an odd statement.  But I contend that sadness is to be a part of the life experience and not a way of life. Once you have given sadness its due time  get your to-do list out and get after life again.

Taking the time to experience the  the joy is an important part of moving through life.  One can also get stuck in the joy of a good moment  when it is time to move on to new joyous adventures. Live, experience, and take time to feel lie a human being, whether good or bad. Cherish the ability to care enough to feel. Denying and repressing feelings can lead to a bad end.   But so can wallowing in them.  It is all about balance.

I just had a moment this evening and when I got up from the table I knew I needed to write this down and share.