Posted in education, meandering, motivation, parenting

How do you teach…

I have had so many conversations with colleagues near and far recently, and there have been two themes with regards to deficiencies in many of our students (though I wish I could say the problem was limited to just students…).

One is attention to detail.

How do you teach attention to detail?

A student in a colleague’s band had a playing test on the G Major scale. The student had music as pictured to work from. Despite the highlight and label, the student didn’t play the F#.

I gave a written test to my classes years ago when I was student teaching. The extra credit question was “Spell quarter note.” A significant number of kids got it wrong. Wrong! (They left out the second R, which is how they were spelling it previously.)

There are endless examples of simply not noticing details. And yes, we all do it in some way or another some of the time, but ’round here, it’s chronic.

I think much of it ties in to the second theme.

I can’t teach people to give a shit.

Let’s say, in the above example, the kid saw it but played it wrong because he didn’t care. “I got most of the notes right,” or “Band isn’t important anyway,” or “I’m not going to play next year so who cares what I do now?” How do you change that?

Most often, we use punitive measures—we’ll lecture you or lower your grade or call your parents or revoke a privilege. Parents do the same—we’ll revoke a privilege or yell at you or hit you. They work OK sometimes, but if they gain us anything, it’s only compliance, not investment. And there is almost always a next time.

I teach a subject that kids have to opt into. Parents need to take steps to acquire instruments for their kids, even if it’s a school instrument. And still, there are so many of them who just refuse to engage, regardless of what the project is for that day.

I understand that sometimes, kids (all people, actually) act like they don’t care when they do, as a means of protection. “I can’t do this (or I’m afraid I won’t be able to do this) so I’m going to act like it doesn’t matter and I’m choosing it to be that way. This way, I feel like I’m in control and I don’t need to be vulnerable.”

I also understand that just teaching kids to be compliant is not ideal. We need kids to be active and engaged and thinking and experimenting and learning the way that kids—all people, actually—learn best. There is high value in rule-breaking in some contexts, but it’s not typically willy-nilly “I don’t feel like doing that” that’s valuable, in or out of school.

All that said, there is a requirement for some degree of compliance in any social space. There are boundaries (rules, procedures) and, for the most part, they have good cause. We can have roads and freeways and grocery stores and malls and parks and movie theatres and on and on because of these boundaries—and we get angry (and potentially hurt or killed) when people in those spaces disregard people around them.

My classroom has rules and procedures, and I work to adjust the space for students who need it, or for students who make a reasonable and implement-able request.

Not everyone is interested in all things. Not everyone who is interested is interested to the same degree. I fully understand all of that (and certainly see how it applies to all people, not just my students). But if you’re going to have to be here, you might as well try to get something out of it.

It used to be that I’d consistently have kids in band who didn’t do well in the rest of school but loved playing their instrument. They behaved better for me. They worked harder for me. My class was where they thrived.

I don’t have that any more, or I haven’t in the last few years. I feel like the kids who might have been those kids are already checked out and won’t even try. Even with explicit invitations, those kids are gone.

I have spent a lot of time this school year talking to kids about emotional safety. About how mistakes are normal and OK and we all make them, including me. About how we need to make the space safe for each other, that that’s not something I can do by myself. About how, as a team, we’ll be better if each one within the group has space to learn and to mess up and to grow. Because we can’t learn this skill without messing up. You’ll make mistakes on your instrument for as long as you play it.

Maybe there are kids I’ve reached, kids who have received this message and changed their behavior somewhat. Or their perspective. Maybe they were already safe for other people but now feel other people are a little bit safer for them.

I don’t know. I’ll probably never know. (This is one of the things about teaching. Planting seeds that you often never see sprout, much less thrive. Shout out to former students who have gotten in touch.)

I’m at a loss. I don’t know how to teach attention to detail. I don’t know how to teach giving a shit (to students; sometimes also to parents; occasionally to colleagues). Not only does the success of my classes require it, but the success of our businesses, of our economy, of our families, of our country all require it.

Posted in meandering

Happy 107th birthday, Arizona!

On this day in 1912, Arizona became a state.

Here are some fun facts about the Grand Canyon State:

It is the 48th state, followed only by Hawaii and Alaska.

It is also called the Copper State, leading the nation in copper production.

The southernmost border was drawn that way to intentionally prevent a seaport. Railroad only!

There is a state fossil (petrified wood). Do all states have a state fossil??

Arizona is one of the Four Corners.

Except for the Navajo Nation, Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time. We have enough sun in the summer, thankyouverymuch!

Interesting town names include Tombstone, Gillette, Gunsight, Tuba City, Why, Nothing, Strawberry, Snowflake, Miami, Carefree, and Tortilla Flat.

I don’t know where most of those are, but “middle of nowhere” is most likely. There’s a lot of “nowhere” out here.

Hopefully, it stays that way…

Posted in ebb & flow, motivation, storytelling

When it’s hard to write

I accepted a challenge on Halloween to blog daily.

Beginning November 1, I’ve shared my writing here every day.

Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes less so.

I was never worried about having enough to say; I have plenty of thoughts to share and writing is so much easier for me than talking.

I expected my biggest hurdle would be time, since that’s what it’s always been in the past. (Or that’s what I let it be.)

I was wrong.

It’s energy.

When I have a bad day at work and/or The Kid is needy and/or The Climbing Daddy is not amazing, it’s hard to write. There’s just not a lot of juice left, and the things that are in my brain are typically not appropriate to blog about.

I’ve been able to work through that. I feel that the quality of those posts is lower, but I don’t know what readership might think. My favorite posts and the favorite posts of the masses rarely match.

The biggest time factor is that I don’t write then hit publish. I write and let it sit and edit and maybe let it sit again and edit again and then hit publish.

I have never gone back to a post for the first edit and changed nothing. There is always something to tighten up. (If you do writing, you should edit, too. Just sayin’.)

Sometimes, the time between writing and editing is only an hour or two, but usually it’s a day or more. It’s not often that I write and you read on the same day.

I’m liking this challenge so far. I haven’t been working on my book as much as I’d like, but I have a plan in place to spend more time on that during and after spring break. The goal is to have it done in 2019.

I love it when someone discovers my blog and is interested enough to click through and keep reading. Happens from time to time. I add a follower or two every week; up to 31 so far. My mailing list, which receives a week’s worth of posts once a week, is steady.

But mostly, I’ve been writing every day, and that feels good.

Posted in mental health, mindset, vulnerability

Poking around in people’s brains

Asking questions from a place of curiosity (as opposed to from a place of judgement) isn’t invasive.

How can we ever get to know people and grow relationships if we can’t ask questions?

If you’re a safe person to me, I am reasonably sure there aren’t any questions you can’t ask. (If you’re not, that’s another story entirely.)

Poking around in people’s brains is one of my favorite past times—though it’s been missing-ish in my recent years of too much to do and not enough socializing—and I am grateful to people who don’t keep walls up to prevent it.

When in doubt, avoid questions about hot-button topics, but really, any question (or comment) can be a button-pusher for the right person. We can’t possibly know what are sensitive subjects for people, especially if we don’t know them very well. “What made you move to Arizona?” is a pretty common question around here, but if the person you’re talking to was escaping an abusive situation, that question is a lot more emotional than someone who just wanted a change. No way to know unless you ask.

We get to know people through talking to them. (Sometimes simply through spending time with them, but there are a lot of asterisks on that.)

Academically, I learned in grad school a process that probably has a formal name but basically deals with self-disclosure. In order for two people to form a positive emotional relationship (not limited to romantic relationships), mutual self-disclosure is required.

One person needs to disclose something about themselves at a level appropriate to the depth of the relationship, the disclosure needs to be met positively, and the process needs to repeat in reciprocity.

The whole process isn’t exactly a tit-for-tat, one-to-one series of interactions, but the relationship quickly becomes imbalanced if only one person is doing the disclosing, or if one’s disclosures are substantially deeper than the other’s.

So. Reveal yourself. Ask questions. Answer questions. Build connections. At the end of the day, those connections are where our fulfillment is.

Posted in mindset

When you love your job…

I have a handful of comic strips bookmarked and read them every day. One of them is Frazz. I started following him on Facebook, and it turns out he writes a paragraph or two every day with a post of his strip. I dig it.

The following is from February 7. (If you use Facebook, you can see the post here.) I thought about writing about it, but it’s really his idea, and he wrote it plenty well himself, so I’m just sharing.


I’ve worked from home going on I think 16 or 17 years now (Frazz turns 18 in April, but I can’t remember how long I worked two jobs in the beginning), and the jury is still out as to whether working from home is a net asset or a net liability. It’s a mix. The commute is awfully handy. But sometimes it’s too handy. When you work from home, after all, you’re never home from work.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, because I can always fall back on the adage that when you love your job, you never have to work. Which I assure you is also a crock. This job is a ton of work. But I never minded working. I just never liked working on stuff that I hated, or was bored by, or thought was pointless or ran against generally being a good person. And I don’t have to do any of that. So I’ll work as hard as I have to from wherever I get to, and it’s a pretty good deal. Even if I’m never home from work.


Posted in mindset, motivation

Finish strong

We had another track meet yesterday.

A lot of places were traded in the last 10 feet. (Not always 1st/2nd.)

Most kids ran hard all the way through.

But a fair number of kids pulled up before the finish line. Missed out on a last-minute take or were taken just before the line.

As anyone who has watched a game with me can attest, this is one of my biggest pet peeves with baseball. So many guys don’t run all the way through the bag.

But I got to thinking (of course) that it’s a metaphor for so many other things. How many projects have I started and not finished? Or finished half-assed?

Perhaps I need to limit my projects to those that I can finish (in terms of time, other resources, and interest). Commit to those I start.

Run all the way through. Literally and as metaphor.

Posted in differences, know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Birth lottery

The following popped up in my Facebook memories:

The crap this morning reminded me that while I am privileged enough to choose not to be here next year…or even just not to be in this neighborhood in the evenings and on the weekends…my kids here don’t have that choice. I didn’t earn this life. It was given to me and I didn’t squander it, combined with a whole host of dumb luck (see last week’s post re: finances and cancer for one of countless examples).

I wrote this during my last year teaching in south central Phoenix at a K-8 school in a low-income, high-crime neighborhood.

A few of my junior high kids had been caught dealing and using drugs on campus. Kids who did well for me. Kids whose names I wouldn’t have expected on that list. I was heartbroken and was reminded that their reality and my reality were so different.

That I didn’t attend a school like that had nothing to do with me. That I didn’t grow up in a neighborhood like that had nothing to do with me. That I’ve never had to live in a neighborhood like that has some to do with me and some not.

The point is—and I said it in the quoted portion—I didn’t earn my life. I was handed my life and I didn’t squander it.

(Other things in my life, including good mental health, pro-social interpersonal skills, etc., I worked my butt off and earned.)

Certainly there are some people who are handed a life like mine or better and squander it, most likely because they didn’t work their butts off to earn the other parts. (Societally, we don’t really talk about and definitely don’t deal with the other parts.)

But the majority of people in dire financial positions aren’t there because of bad life choices. They’re doing what they can with what they have. Sometimes, what is innate in a person is enough to help them get out of that type of situation, but we can’t blame everyone else’s failure to do so on the stars aligning for those few.

We judge them, I believe, for one of two reasons.

One is that many of us are not many paychecks away from being in dire straits ourselves. We judge to shield ourselves from that reality, to make it seem like a character flaw in them that we don’t have.

The other is that we need to believe that we did this ourselves. Because it doesn’t feel good to acknowledge that we have basic needs met that others don’t through no fault of our own. Again, we judge to make it seem like a character flaw in them that we don’t have.

But it’s not our fault that they don’t have what we do, necessarily. No need to feel guilty. Use your privilege to help. Do a little bit of volunteering. Donate to places that are reputable. (Donate money or items that are useful, not just what makes you feel good.) Speak up on behalf of those who don’t have a voice, or whose voices are ignored. Vote for people who support programs that help those among us who need it the most. Give the guy on the corner a couple of bucks without sizing up what he’s going to spend it on.

My reference to finances and cancer in the quote above?

If I’d been diagnosed 10 months earlier, I wouldn’t have had any health insurance. If I’d been diagnosed two years later, I would have paid a lot more out of pocket. If I was diagnosed now, I’d pay at least 10x what I paid then. That, my friends, is sheer dumb luck … if you can call a cancer diagnosis lucky.


Posted in exercise, mindset

You’re a runner if…

You run.

It doesn’t matter if you run fast or not.

(It doesn’t matter how you define “fast.”)

It doesn’t matter if you run short distances, long distances, or crazy long distances.

It doesn’t matter what your body shape is.

We sometimes have trouble giving ourselves a label when we feel like we’re “less than” in the crowd of people Doing The Thing.

But there are always going to be people running faster, running farther. So what?

I’m a runner. I run between one and three days most weeks.

I’m not a distance runner. My runs around the neighborhood are between two and three miles. I do 5Ks and 10Ks. I confirmed—twice—that half marathons are too long.

I’m not a fast runner. When I’m very consistent with my running, I run between 10:30 and 11-minute miles. Sometimes the weather changes that a bit. (Running in 105 or 110 degrees definitely drains the battery a bit.) I’ve done two sub-30-minute 5Ks, but I trained and have only done that with speed-specific training.

But I’m still a runner.

If you run, so are you.

Using bits that have been thrown around quite a bit:

No matter how slow you go, you’re lapping everyone on the couch.


A 15-minute-mile is just as long as a 6-minute-mile.

You want to do it? Get out there and do it. At your pace.


Posted in mindset, physical health

G.I. Joe

I don’t remember the conversation at all, but I do remember at one point in college telling a vegetarian friend of mine that I wasn’t into “all that healthy shit.”

Times have changed.

For me at that point, there was no draw to the healthy stuff. It wasn’t a defense mechanism—at least not one that I was aware of or can identify retrospectively—it just had no importance. There was no consequence to being unhealthy because I was 20, had always eaten like this, had nearly always been somewhat overweight, and it didn’t matter. No, I couldn’t run and wasn’t very flexible and on and on, but unless there was a call for those skills—and there wasn’t—it didn’t matter.

So not having connected consequences (short- or long-term) is one reason for the indifference.

Feeling powerless is another.

If a person has a strong external locus of control—they believe that things happen to them and there’s not much or anything they can do about it—then they’re not going to believe that they have responsibility for their health, and their reaction to an offer of information about health habits is most likely indifference.

The other underlying reason for a reaction like that would be for defense. A person knows on some level that what they’re doing is causing a result that they don’t like, but they have a roadblock—known or unknown—and aren’t fixing it. Their response is in defense of themselves.

Defense also comes into play in cases of insecurity. Sometimes insecure people latch on to every person or idea that comes through. But sometimes, they lash out at every person or idea that comes through. All ideas or plans are stupid or bad or dismissed on some detail or other.

This is at least part of why G.I. Joe was negligent. Maybe knowing is half the battle, but the other half—the doing—is much more difficult. Most somewhat-educated people know enough about health and wellness to keep themselves relatively fit. Doesn’t matter. In my classes and mentoring, teaching people what to do is not challenging. People following through? That’s the challenging part.

Posted in mindset, motivation, physical health, tips

Pants for weight maintenance

I’ve talked to so many people who have lost weight (intentionally) and kept their now-too-big pants “just in case.”

If keeping the weight off is a priority, get rid of the pants (or get them tailored to fit). By keeping the pants, you’re giving yourself permission to gain the weight back.

(The exception would be pregnancy-related clothes.)

Likewise, if you want to stop gaining weight, stop buying bigger pants.

In both cases, when what you have starts to get snug, that’s a heads up that you need to get your habits back in check. If your habits have legitimately been in check, then it’s time to see a doctor.

No, they didn’t shrink in the wash.

Elastic-waisted pants will not help you with this. Which is not to say that there’s no place for them—they’re comfy and wonderful!—but pants that hold you accountable need to stay in the regular rotation.

A free tool, right there in your closet (or dresser). Use it!