Archive for the ‘Teamwork’ category

The Specialness of Special Needs Students

September 28, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   September 28, 2019

                         

I’ve been looking forward to bedtime these past few days. By 7:30 I’m being challenged to stay upright until 9:00. I’ve been teaching special needs students at Timberview Middle School. Let’s just say that I’m getting my steps in during the school day.

It’s a three week assignment that they asked to take on while the teacher is away. One week is done and I’m down three pounds!

It’s been amazing, amusing, intriguing, and educational. Each of the students has their challenges and their awesome characteristics. Each is unique in some way and just like any other middle school kid in other ways.

For example, yesterday I was teaching a lesson to a group of 8th graders about the American Revolution. I mentioned the Declaration of Independence that was signed on July 4, 1776, and then strayed off with the question about whether any of them have watched fireworks. One girl shook her head yes and then said “Katy Perry, Fireworks.”

Being the old guy who is immersed in the middle school culture and yet totally clueless, I asked what “Katy Perry, Fireworks” meant. That led to us pulling up the song on a cell phone and singing it together. The young lady wants me to work on it and sing it solo-style on Monday. 

And then there’s the 7th grade boy who I do math work sheets with. Each time he gets a problem correct he becomes a drummer with his pencil and the edge of the table. His pencils literally take a beating each day. One 6th grade boy calls everyone “Dude”, even the school principal, but has added “Mr. Wolfe” to his vocabulary now. 

The para professionals who work with the students, go to the regular classrooms with them, help them to the bathroom, and do special feeding for the ones who require it…are incredible! I’m like a fish out of water that is being saved numerous times each day. They appreciate the consistency of my presence and my willingness to help, my conversation with the students and communication with classroom teachers about assignments and daily topics, but they know I’m a green rookie. 

It’s a new kind of education. I’ve discovered the specialness of their personalities, the challenges of keeping their attention, the variety of “paces”…from the young lady that required 28 minutes just to get to the physical education class outside, to the 8th grade boy who I can’t keep up with as he runs to give his mom a hug at the end of the school day.

I see the strain on the paras, who must constantly be alert to the sudden changes in their students’ movements and decisions- the chance of a sudden fall, shift in direction, changes in mood, and need to go to the restroom. There is no down time. A couple of them are often bruised by the unintentional blows that they receive.

And yet the work is rewarding. It is a reminder that the most rewarding moments of life are usually uncomplicated expressions of delight and discovery. Understanding algebra is one thing, but having a challenged student consistently being able to correctly add another number to an “8” is another. 

I see other students trudging through their school days uninspired and uninterested. Most of the special needs students look forward to their school days. It is their daily adventure into a place of discovery and relationships. They walk to class with their peer partners and engage in conversations about life. It’s the place where they are challenged, but also cheered.

For the adults that walk along beside them, it’s an opportunity to see life from a totally different perspective. 

And for me? Well…come Monday I’d better be ready with “Fireworks”!

The Guidance and Misguidance of Coaches

September 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               September 15, 2019

                            

I think the first team I ever coached was the Arlington Heights, Illinois First Presbyterian Church boy’s basketball team that played in the community church league. We were mediocre at best, and probably the last basketball team experience for most of the players. But they had fun lacing up their sneakers and trying their hardest.

That was in 1979. Forty years later I’m still coaching. This year will see me coach cross-country, boy’s and girl’s basketball, and track at Timberview Middle School in Colorado Springs. It will be the first year in the last eleven that I won’t be on a high school bench for the basketball season, but the middle school teams will suit me just fine.

What I’ve learned over the years is that a coach can guide, motivate, counsel, and influence for a lifetime. The words we say and the message that our lives speak lead our athletes towards not only success, but also to what are the most important things in life.

On the other hand, coaches can misguide, destroy, and instill the wrong set of values in their athletes. The sports world is littered with stories of athletes who were abused in some way by their coaches. The sexual abuse situations make the headlines, but the verbal abusiveness rarely is heard about. 

Coaches have the opportunity to fan the flames in their athletes to become passionate about their sport of leisure, or to douse the desire with showers of destructive communication. 

Just as there are stories of helicopter parents who make life miserable for the coaches of their kids, there are tyrant coaches who bring misery into the lives of young athletes. How sad is it for a kid who puts in years and years of practice, looking forward to the time he or she can represent their school and wear the school colors, only to encounter a coach, or coaching staff, who operate from a completely different set of values. How tragic and confusing to have an adolescent from a solid well-grounded family experience a coach whose life priorities are on the other end of the spectrum!

I’ve had the opportunity to know some great coaches who are also great human beings. You can see them teach the game to their players, but also teach their players about life. And I’ve also known some coaches who are, quite simply, scoundrels. My kids were fortunate to have a number of coaches through the years who were also great human beings, the kind of coaches that your kids run up to years later and want to embrace, the kind of coaches your kids want to introduce their kids to!

Coaches whose personal lives and life values are a mess, more often than not, make a mess of things with their athletes and teams. 

The Coach Makes Us Run 8 Miles

August 22, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      August 22, 2019

                              

We’re a week and a half into middle school cross country season. Eight days, so far, of practice and popsicles. 

Our athletic office secretary received an email from a parent after the first four days. 

“Is it true that the coach is having them run 8 miles a day?” 

No! To this particular mom I could have replied that we’re having a hard time getting her child to run an eighth of a mile! He’s comfortable walking…everywhere and at any time!

In fact, he was one of three who were walking downhill! And it was only a quarter mile into a 1.5 mile loop we were doing. 

The tragically humorous elements of middle school runners are contained on a long list that stretches the course.

One of our other downhill walkers was bemoaning the belief that he had pulled a muscle…during warm-up stretching! He walked most of the way downhill to a park where our workout would consist of a special Swedish type of running called “Fartlek.”

Fartlek means “speed play”, but to middle schoolers it means something that causes tittering through the ranks. “Pulled Muscle Boy” walked and limped his way through the workout. When we finished I told our 70 runners that we’d be running the half-mile back to the school and we’d have popsicles if everyone got there in time…no walking! “Pulled Muscle Boy” was one of the first 15 back, even though he had to run UPHILL! I’m trying to figure out if we can dangle a popsicle in front of him for each run, kind of like the rabbit for a greyhound race. 

And then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Yesterday I challenged the top group of runners to run a four miler with one of our coaches. I left the invitation open for any runner in our second group to try it also. (We have four groups, dependent upon experience and capability.) Other runners in the second and third groups did three miles. Group 4 did 2 miles.

I was delighted to see that about 40% of the kids did the four miler, another 40% did the three miler, and most of the remaining 20% did the two miles. 

It wasn’t 8 miles, but half of it, and considering we have an hour and twenty minutes to meet, talk, stretch, run, and warm down, it felt like an achievement.

There are those in our number who are wondering what their parents signed them up for! A few were maybe under the impression that cross-country was some kind of travel club that would take them to see some places they haven’t seen before. They were partially correct. There are a couple of places where we’ve been running that they probably had not set foot on before the last week and a half. However, none of our places are in any travel brochure!

A couple of our kids seem to have digestive issues at a certain time each day, right after we get stretched out and are about to begin our run. Funny how they have to “run” to the bathroom about that time. 

But then I have a few kids who yesterday ran the three miles and then asked permission to run another half mile. Absolutely, I said! 

I’m hoping for the same enthusiasm today when we go through an interval workout that will test their desire and require determination and perseverance when whining will be the normal middle school go to.

And the promise of popsicles will be dangled in front of them!

Taking Personal Irresponsibility

August 17, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       August 17, 2019

 

Once in a while you’ll hear the words, although they are often uttered by the designated scapegoat. 

“I take full responsibility!”

Responsibility. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot with middle school students. We tell them that they’re responsible for making sure they have all of their supplies, that their valuables are locked up, and that their classwork needs to be completed. It’s a big word for them, and they hear it so much that they begin to believe it’s part of our country’s DNA.

But then what gets emphasized actually comes into play. Something happens that the word goes from an emphasized principle to an actual life experience. As fast as someone can say “Not my fault!”, responsibility gets trumped by excuses.

I’m sure it’s been going on for a long, long time, but I remember a situation in 1997 when a young man killed several people and the defense set forward for it was that he had been influenced by video games. In other words, he did not bear responsibility for his actions. He was found guilty, but it put a seed of thought into people’s minds. That is, we are responsible for our actions and decisions, until they affect us adversely…and then it becomes someone else’s fault- a game company, a dog who munched on our homework, the alarm clock that didn’t work properly, or a certain coach who is so stupid he didn’t recognize talent when it was staring at him right in the face.

“Taking personal irresponsibility” is the mantra for a new generation of teflon excuse-makers who believe blame can never stop with them.

It comes at all levels. It’s the new math! The equation is no longer relevant for a lot of people. “Because of A and B, C happened” is not what the excuse-makers believe is true. “A and B” are disqualified from even coming before C!

For example, since Little Johnny didn’t lock up his $150 pair of sneakers in his assigned locker and left them sitting in the hallway, they were taken. Today’s culture abbreviates that statement to “Little Johnny’s sneakers were taken.”

When responsibility becomes simply a word we talk about, but not practiced we lose our voice. It’s like a person of faith emphasizing his belief in God until he has to live out that faith in a life situation. Then the shallowness of his faith becomes evident.

I’m amazed at the news stories that fill the daily paper or on the nightly news. There are only hints of responsibility, mostly when it’s advantageous to do so. More often than not, sparring matches take place of two or more combatants dodging punches as they throw one back in the other direction.

With that in mind, I take full responsibility for my cholesterol level (Although I could blame it on my taste buds’ infatuation with fried foods). 

I take full responsibility for my lack of academic success when I started college back in 1972 (Although 8:00 classes should be banned…as well as 9:00 classes! Was I REALLY expected to get out of bed in time to attend them? ).

I take full responsibility for walking through an airport unzipped one time (Although I think their should be a warning light attached in some way to warn me of my openness, maybe even a buzzer in my pants!).

I take full responsibility for my lack of video game knowledge (Although the blame should be on my thumbs…all ten of them!).

I take full responsibility for the bad financial decisions I’ve made (Although the advertisements have drawn me into making rash decisions. Consumerism is a temptation of the Deceiver!).

There…I feel much better about taking responsibility…unless most people!

Grandkids Negotiations

August 3, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    August 3, 2019

                                   

It has been “Grandkid Week” for Carol and me. Their mom, and our oldest daughter, went back to school for several days of teacher’s meetings. That, plus she and our son-in-law are participating in a race this weekend called “The Beast”, so we’ve got the three “grands” until Sunday afternoon. By then I may be the beast!

For reference, they are ages 4, 8, and 11…close in age if you fast forwarded about 30 years, but worlds apart this weekend.

If I was updating my resume I could add the experience of “grandchildren negotiator”, for you see getting these three to agree on what activity they want to do, movie they want to watch, dinner entree they want to eat, and bed they want to sleep in is on par with getting China and the U.S.A. to shake hands on a trade agreement.

Dissension surfaces in the form of whining and stomping away from the bargaining table.

“No, Jesse!” directs the four year old. “You’re the bad man. Reagan and I are the good guys!”

“I don’t want to be the bad man.”

The four year old starts to whine. It’s her “go to” to get her way. “You have to.”

“How about,” offers the 8 year old, who often tries to find a way to compromise, “Jesse begins as the bad guy and then we’ll switch places after five minutes? And then, Corin, you’ll be the bad guy.”

The four year old digs in deeper. “No, I don’t want to be the bad guy.” She folds her arms in front of her to reinforce her position of no compromise. It is a picture of conflict between differing personalities and ages. 

They can not come to agreement. The compromiser looks for common ground, but the ground is loose sand that is constantly shifting. 

Time for Granddad to offer arbitration to settle the differences. Reagan will be in agreement, Jesse will consider it, and Corin will frown about any solution that differs from her way. She is the strong-willed child who will someday be either a corporate CEO, the owner of a professional baseball team, or entrepreneur with a defined vision. 

“How about if all of you are the good guys doing battle with an invisible bad guy?”

Jesse agrees and starts play-acting as if he has a light saber. Corin frowns. Reagan says to her sister, “And Corin, we can pretend that we’re protecting the newborn baby from the bad guys.” It has the feel of a similar storyline from the first two chapters of Matthew. It’s her Sunday School lessons emerging in her play. She reasons with her sister and puts her arm around her shoulders to help her understand the value of the scenario. 

The added touch brings the four year old back to agreement and for the next 15 minutes they work together on the mission. The 11 year old then decides he doesn’t want to play any more…and the whole series of negotiations starts over again.

Meanwhile, Carol and I are envisioning a different storyline, one that involves naps…long naps!

Yelping The Church

July 1, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    June 30, 2019

 

My wife is a “yelpster”! She uses Yelp to see what people have said about restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions, and businesses. On vacation we choose the eating establishment on the basis of what the Yelp reviews tell us. Sometimes we’ve been thankful for what the review has said and we’ve experienced. Other times we’ve wondered if the reviewer was at a different restaurant than the one we went to.

It’s amazing how one customer can talk about a restaurant in such glowing terms and another person can give a review that makes it less appealing than the school cafeteria. One gives it five stars and the other one star. Amazing the difference!

I noticed that people can now give church reviews on Yelp. The Bible refers to the followers of Jesus being “the salt of the earth”, but a person needs to take the Yelp church reviews with a grain of salt. One review talks about how friendly and welcoming a church is and that they have coffee and snacks available. Another talks about the biblical application to everyday living that the sermon emphasized. Still another talked about how great the music was, almost like being at a concert.

OR there were reviews that criticized the music, trashed the sermon, made fun of the pastor, lambasted the greeters for not greeting. And these were reviews of the same churches where reviewers had experienced almost divine encounters. 

Yelp is the new proclaimer! So when you invite your new neighbors to come to Sunday worship with you they may very well say that they will talk it over and get back to you…and then bring your church up on Yelp for the decision. (Church strategy: Have its members flood Yelp with great reviews!)

Here’s the thing! Yelp is all about the customer…where she can get the best service, where the best steak is served, where a trustworthy mechanic is located…it’s all about the buyer, the customer. How many times can I write that word…customer?

The church is all about the Christ. For many of us our “custom” has been to worship on Sunday morning as a part of a congregation where the name of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and worshiped. That’s our custom, but we aren’t customers.

It’s a sign of how the proclamation of the gospel has been altered when we get the idea that we’re looking for the best deal, the best music, the greatest preacher.

I get murmurings and open admissions from so many people- followers of Jesus, mind you- who talk about swapping churches, changing churches, trying a different church, as if they are changing their bed linens. There’s no connecting commitment, no sense of being a part of a spiritual community. In fact, “community” is seen more and more as existing in other places and other groups- the school they teach at, their softball team, the Starbucks they hang out at, the folks they watch the football game with. 

Perhaps Yelp is just another analyzing method for showing what the church no longer is. 

Crazy Youth Sports Parents

June 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     June 20, 2019

                              

They just don’t get it!

Parents of kids and youth who are playing sports, they just don’t quite understand the purpose of and their role in it.

When I say “they”, it’s like saying that one bad apple destroys the barrel. Most parents sit in the bleachers and offer appropriate applaud and encouragement. Others focus on their cell phones as the games go on. 

But…there’s the few who are like a bad case of flatulence. They smell up the whole area.

A few days ago a fight broke out at a baseball game played by 7 year olds in Lakewood, Colorado. The fight was between the adults, not the kids. The fracas erupted when there was disagreement about a few of the umpire’s calls. The umpire happened to be 13! He was umpiring because no one else wanted to do it. Like a lamb foolishly wandering into a den of wolves, he did it! 

I have experience with out-of-control parents. I officiated basketball for 16 years. Most of my games were at the high school level. The last few years before I hung up the whistle I also did small college games. 

But I also did my share of youth games on Saturday and Sunday afternoons involving teams as young as 3rd grade. It’s part of the journey of an official, doing games at different levels to get more experience. 

I can tell you this! I despised doing youth games because…because of the parents…and a few coaches. Sometimes the coach happened to be a former belligerent parent who decided he could do better, and get more of a hearing, if he was on the bench. 

I remember a 6th grade boys game I was refereeing where a mom was shouting to her son, “Kill him! Kill him!” She sat underneath one of the baskets within a couple of feet of where her son was doing battle on the low post. I stopped the game and told her that she would need to move to the side of the court where chairs were situated. She was adamant that she had paid her admission fee and that she could sit there. I let her know that the game would not resume until she moved, and we waited. After a couple of minutes she huffed and puffed her way to the side. 

And I swore I would never officiate another youth basketball game for the organization that ran that tournament! They were negligent in making sure there was adequate site management people that could be called upon to handle situations such as that one. My pay for doing that game? $18! Most high school officials don’t do youth games for the compensation. They do it for the game experience and to practice the mechanics of officiating. 

They also do it because there’s a shortage of officials and they want to help out. And guess why there’s a shortage of officials? Because of crazy out-of-control parents who think a baseball game between 7 year old boys is a life and death situation. 

I don’t remember it being that way when I was growing up. I don’t even remember parents being there. What I remember is running for a 60 yard touchdown for the Williamstown, West Virginia Little Travelers “B” football team when I was 12 against Vienna, West Virginia. I can remember when I was 11 lacing a pitch for a line drive headed for the third baseline, seeing Mick Mullinix leap, and snatch it out of the air. I remember winning the Wood County 50 yard dash for 8 year olds. I remember, as a ten year old, stealing the basketball from Mike Flowers, who was about two feet taller than me, and making a layup…my only basket the whole season in the Williamstown Saturday morning league at the high school. 

Funny, how I can remember the details of each of those happenings, but I can’t remember any of those memories involving yelling parents who were still trying to relive their childhoods!

I wonder what some 7 year olds in Lakewood will remember about their growing up days in a few years?