Archive for the ‘resiliency’ Category


All I Can Do Is All I Can Do And That Has To Be Enough For Me

July 11, 2010

For Friday, July 9, 2010

Note: I am in a motel once again—out of town teaching, and, as usual, connectivity is not all that I might wish!

Optimism doesn’t wait on facts. It deals with prospects. Pessimism is a waste of time. • Norman Cousins

In December 1969, a Gallup Poll asked people in the United States this question: For people like yourself, do you think the world will be a better place to live in ten years from now?

Of those who responded to the poll, thirty-nine percent felt it would be better. Eighteen percent thought it would stay the same, twenty-seven percent didn’t think it would be as good, and six percent had no opinion.

Criticism and pessimism destroy families, undermine institutions of all kinds, defeat nearly everyone, and spread a shroud of gloom over entire nations. • Gordon B. Hinckley

I was reminded of this poll by a student presentation that focused on class size. What I appreciated most was the group’s commitment to providing us with inspiring ideas about what teachers can do regardless of the size of their classes. As a relentless optimist, I am not unaware of life’s realities, but I am determined to try to maintain a positive outlook, particularly when it comes to education.

Pessimism is a very easy way out when you’re considering what life really is, because pessimism is a short view of life. If you take a long view, I do not see how you can be pessimistic about the future of the man or the future of the world. • Robertson Davies

Hope is one of the things I’m selling as an educator. If teachers aren’t optimists, what’s the point of our profession? Why bother teaching anyone anything? I have to believe that my work with students will make a difference for them and that they will make a difference for others. I have to believe that I can do this regardless of the size of the class or the equipment or materials I have. I have to believe in the power of my ingenuity and intention. This doesn’t mean that I think I can change the world. But I can affect small bits of it and my efforts, combined with those of others like me, matter.

The world may end tomorrow. But it may not, and if it doesn’t, people will need to know how to live in it.

Carve a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. • Martin Luther King Jr.

So, what do you think? For people like yourself, do you think the world will be a better place to live in ten years from now?

Few things in the world are more powerful than a positive push. A smile. A word of optimism and hope. And you can do it when things are tough. • Richard M. Devos


Books Can Be Dangerous. The Best Ones Should Be Labeled “This Could Change Your Life.” *

April 11, 2010

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.
• Oscar Wilde

The things that influence a person’s reading choices are another of life’s many chicken/egg questions. What comes first? Do we seek out books—or websites or magazines or other reading materials—because of what and who we are, looking for affirmation, or do the things we read influence who we become? Is there power in any kind of reading to truly change who a person is? No simple answers here.

I cannot imagine that anyone who writes for public consumption does not harbor some small hope that her or his words will make a difference for someone. Of course, writers intend to resonate with others of like mind, but there must also be some small secret dream that words can change minds.

I have long been a fan of Martin E.P. Seligman’s work. Seligman is the author of Learned Optimism (1990), a book that influenced my work with students in a dropout prevention program. His work in positive psychology also affirms my research into fun in learning. Focusing on the positive through discovery of students’ strengths and virtues and passions rather than targeting solely what they cannot do well is at the heart of my explorations into building students’ skills of interest and activating their desire to learn.

If students only learn to do adequately that which does not appeal to them, if they spend day after day doing things that they don’t enjoy or do well, if no opportunity is provided to become immersed in things that interest them, it’s not surprising that many students do not like school and that they view their experiences with teachers as largely adversarial. Teachers become people who keep smaller or younger or less experienced people from doing what they love, drowning them in a sea of “not fun.”

In 2001, my mother, a talented musician who started playing the piano by ear before she began kindergarten and a poet whose work has comforted hundreds of people, told me, “I just survived school. It had nothing whatsoever to do with who I wanted to be. My life in school was always about who and what I should be and keeping me pointed in that direction. You’re young and you don’t know better, so you buy into it, and even though you’re doing well, you know in your heart you’re not making the grade.” In 1988, three days before he died, my youngest brother, Greg, told me that he didn’t understand why I was hoping to become a teacher “because no one ever has any fun in school.”

I have a stack of books in my bedroom, overflow from multiple bookshelves in the room. The stack includes books I revisit and reread regularly because they remind me of important truths. Seligman’s (2002) book, Authentic Happiness, is in this pile. I remember it, oddly enough, when I am quasi-watching an episode of The Real Housewives of New York City (yes, I know this is trash, but I’m not really watching—just listening for breast quotations while I do other things).

It’s not just boobwords that tickle my antenna. I’m working on an exhibit I call The TechNObots about the human costs of technology, and when I hear Jill, one of the housewives, playing a months-old voicemail message for another housewife and a psychic, saying that she keeps it and listens to it to remind her to stay strong in her fight with the person who left the message, I hunt out Seligman’s book. Jill is wallowing in hurt feelings and determination not to forgive and her choice is not making her happy.

In Authentic Happiness, forgiveness and mercy is a category in the “signature strengths” the book helps people identify. I make myself a note to add to my TechNObot Collectory: technology makes it much easier to capture and cling to hasty or intemperate words spoken in anger and frustration. I also note a benefit of technology. If you’re looking for real life examples of psychological theory, reality television is a bonanza.

You need not buy a book to find lots of information about Seligman and his work, just Googling® his name will work. I recommend doing so if you are hoping to activate your inner relentless optimist.

Finding happiness in school takes work. You have to be determined to focus on your strengths and passions at the same time you’re working on things that interest you less or are more difficult for you to master. What are your strategies for building on your strengths and engaging your passions? What kind(s) of reading could help?

I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready and which have gone a little farther down our particular path that we have yet got ourselves.
• E.M. Forster (1951)
, Two Cheers for Democracy

School was the unhappiest time of my life and the worst trick it ever played on me was to pretend that it was the world in miniature. For it hindered me from discovering how lovely and delightful and kind the world can be, and how much of it is intelligible.
• E.M. Forster, British author whose epigraph to his 1910 novel,
Howard’s End, is “Only connect.”

* Thanks to Helen Exley for the title quotation.


Wanna Fly, You Got to Give Up the Shit that Weights You Down *

March 9, 2010

We have to fight them daily, like fleas, those many small worries about the morrow, for they sap our energies.
• Etty Hillesum (1942)

I am a particularly good worrier. I have finely honed fretting skills. I am not proud of this. If I could, I would be carefree and happy-go-lucky at all times. Unfortunately, this is much, much, much, much easier said than done. Much.

A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work.
• John Lubbock

I do, however, have some strategies that alleviate some of my worrying. For example, I am a list maker. This is because one of my worries is that I will forget to do something that I am supposed to do. If I put these things onto a list, I can move them to the back burner of my mind, knowing that I will be reminded that they need to be done. This does require actually looking at my lists, but I do this regularly. Sadly, this also entails making more lists, but that task includes the always delightfully satisfying slashing through of the already-done.

Beyond things like groceries and keeping track of household needs, I wasn’t much of a list maker before I went back to school. It was the constant nagging feeling that there was something I ought to be doing that drove me to making lists and keeping a calendar of due dates complete with progress checkpoints to help me stay on track and make sure I got all my work done on time.

If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today.
• E. Joseph Cossman

Another useful activity is one I often recommend as a stress management technique. I call it “Your Worries Go Here,” and here are the instructions:

Each week, record five things you’re worried about on a slip of paper. Date it and put it into an envelope. Once a month, review your collection of weekly worries. Are there patterns to your worrying? Things you can or should do? Things you can’t do anything about? Each month, determine one thing you can do to relieve some of your stress from worrying.

You can record your worries in a journal too. Be careful with this one. I used to rant in a journal until I found that rereading the rants just got me all worked up again. I much prefer to write about shiny happy things that are a joy to revisit. Of course, I still rant. What writer doesn’t vent?

Rather than calling this diary a record of my life, it’s more accurate to regard it as the sum of all my tears.
• Ding Ling (1927), “Miss Sophia’s Diary”

Distraction is another helpful ploy. Mark Twain advised worriers to “drag your thoughts away from your troubles. . .by the ears, by the heels, or by any other way you can manage it.” A walk. A movie. Exercise. A good book. Whatever. You got to give up the shit that weights you down.

What’s worrying you and what are you going to do about it?

My life has been filled with terrible misfortune, most of which never happened.
• Michel de Montaigne

* Thanks to Toni Morrison for the title quotation.


If I Were a Rubber Band, This Would All Be a Lot Easier

February 28, 2010

Fall seven times, stand up eight.
• Japanese proverb

It’s crunch time. Quiet week. The week before finals in a quarter cut short by budget cuts. I’ve been sick for several days and all the neatly arranged piles accompanied by carefully compiled lists are still sitting here, waiting for me to get busy. I’ve lost time and I cannot retrieve it. If you know me, you would think that this would mean that I am filled with energy, ready to attack the piles and cross off each item on every list as I methodically work through all the things that I have to do. You would be thinking wrong.

Instead I am filled with a sense of ennui engendered by my loss of momentum. I pick slowly at my have-to-dos, getting things done because, after all, I have to. There are students and others counting on me, but still, I cannot regain my enthusiasm. Duty is a familiar friend and I can dance to her tune, but I want delight to return. I want to feel enthusiasm and energy for my work and I do not.

I’ve written before about being overwhelmed by having so much to do that I’m paralyzed by it all, not knowing where to begin. I know that students experience this, especially if they get behind due to illness or other life circumstances. I know too that the only way through these feelings is to keep on going and doing. I know that if I give in to the temptation of doing nothing, things will get worse, not better. I know this because I’ve lived it.

Resiliency is the ability to bounce back after some kind of life disruption. A rubber band is resilient, returning to its original size after being stretched. In human beings, one quality of a resilient spirit is the ability to regain momentum. Each time you do so, you gain confidence in your ability to do it the next time. Keeping on even when you don’t feel like it is empowering. I know that if I move forward productively there will come a time when I will once again feel energized by accomplishment.

I’ve used one of my favorite quotations twice before, on October 29 and December 30 of last year. It resonates with me because it’s from the poet James Whitcomb Riley, a cousin whose poems my grandma used to recite to me when I was little. When I read his words, I think that Riley must have experienced these same feelings of overwhelmedness and discouragement, that he must have had times when he just didn’t feel like going on, but he continued anyway. He said about his creative work that “[t]he most essential factor is persistence—the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come.”

I do want to make it clear that I’m not talking about the doings of duty, those things that you could say no to, but don’t because you feel obligated or have gotten yourself into something you should never have begun in the first place. I do believe in saying no and even in extricating yourself from the unnecessary through honest communication. But every life also includes choices that require follow-through, not simply because you have to, but because you want to, because they include small acts that lead to the achievement of your larger goals. It is these things that build resiliency. I’m counting on this even as I write these words.

What do you need to do to put yourself on the path to final success this quarter?

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
• Miyamoto Musashi