Archive for the ‘Teamwork’ category

Seventh Grade Test Personalities

December 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 December 21, 2018

                                 

I’m substitute teaching today in a seventh grade social studies class. It’s test day, an unfair educational challenge in the opinion of most of the students, since it’s the last day before Christmas break. 

I’ve observed the different “test personalities” emerging as the day has gone on. They’ve been covered up by various facial distortions and deer-in-headlights looks.

There’s the “clueless wonder”, the kid who thinks he’s all that but can’t remember his middle initial. Taking a test is his worst nightmare. He would rather gargle vinegar. Some of his classmates think he’s cool, but his intellectual stimulation is restricted to the depth of the latest  SnapChat.

“The questioner” arises in the midst of my test information questions. When I say that each student is to complete the whole test and turn it in to the class basket, the questioner raises her hand and asks, “Do we have to complete the whole test?” A nod to answer. “And then what are we to do with the test when we complete it?” I point to the class basket. “Is that where we are to put the test when we’re done with the whole thing?” 

I just stare as an answer. She gets the idea! The questioner may someday be on a Senate review panel asking 800 pages of questions to someone who will plead the fifth!

“The annoyer” makes sounds to distract people from the mission. He will drop his books, intentionally choose candy that involves loud noise-making wrappers, and disturb any sense of quiet and calm. It’s his purpose in life, or at least in seventh grade. As other students are trying to remember what the capital of Pennsylvania is he’s making squirrel sounds in his corner of the room. 

“The Ivy Leaguer” focuses on every question and quickly remembers the correct answer from the twenty pages of notes that she has studied in preparation. Seventh grade is not a challenge for her. Her challenge is spending time with seventh graders.

“The nose picker” absentmindedly inserts his finger into his nostril and digs for treasure, which he then wipes on whatever is closest to him…pants, shirt, desk bottom, or flicking off onto the floor. His classmates rarely offer him a high-five!

“Miss Probation” is not adverse to being sent to the office. In fact, the office has a chair with her name on it. She knows everyone there on a first name basis. Next year in eighth grade her locker is likely to contain some forms off contraband.

“Mr. Bored” thinks it’s important to communicate his lack of enthusiasm about whatever it is he is studying. In his opinion, if it is studied at school it must be unimportant. If a cure for cancer was discovered and then studied in science class he would label it as boring. But have someone send him a 30 second video of a snowboarder wiping out on a 360…that is crucial entertainment for him!

“Miss Awkward” is at that age where nothing seems coordinated in life. She’s unsure of herself, and some of her classmates make her nervous. She’s afraid of being the butt of their jokes and the attention of their discussions. If she could disappear into the carpet she’d feel better. She kinda’ likes tests because each classmate is focused for a few minutes on their own work, not somebody else’s business.

“The Organizer” guides the class in doing a get well card for its teacher. She makes sure the chairs are stacked at the end of the day and helps the class get over the hurdles caused by the annoyer and Miss Probation. If the classroom was filled with students like her they might be able to cure world malnutrition. BUT there’s only one of her and the teacher is bummed out by that. The hope is that some of her classmates might see the purpose and passion in how she lives, but most of them can’t see past their cell phone screen.

BUT no one cheated, and that’s different from when I was in high school! Seventh grade test personalities are as diverse as the jelly belly’s in the teachers candy jar. It makes it…very interesting for the substitute!

A Good Rejection

December 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                December 19, 2018

                                  

Thursday afternoon one of the seventh grade teachers at the middle school I substitute teach and coach at exclaimed to me, “We love your book!” I sent her the book draft in a Word Document and she had been reading a chapter each night with her two kids, a fifth grader and a sixth grader.

I replied, “That’s great to hear, because I got the rejection letter from the publishing company two days ago.” Her face announced her surprise.

That afternoon the seventh grade counselor, who I had given the first seven hard copy  chapters to came to me and said, “I really like it!”

“That’s great to hear since I got the rejection letter two days ago.”

She frowned in disappointment.

The letter came from the managing editor who had given me his business card at the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference last May and told me to send the book. It had taken them this long to get it to the top of the pile. (Publishing companies are piled high with submissions and only a trickle ever being published.)

I showed my rejection letter to my Starbucks friend, who is one of the writers and producers of Adventures In Odyssey. She read it and, in a matter of fact way, said, “As rejection letters go…this is a good rejection letter!”

“Huh???”

“It shows that they actually read it and he’s giving you three suggestions as to what to do to improve it and bring it to a point where it’s ready to be published.”

“Ohhh!” My self-esteem came back up from the basement. “Have you ever gotten a rejection letter?”

“Sure!” This writer/creator of the series, that my grandkids love to listen to, had also been rejected. Several other people have told me about J.K. Rowling, who got numerous turndowns before Harry Potter became a household name. 

Rejections are stings that can make us strive for something better. After I had submitted my book draft to the publisher I went back through and revised it again. Since the rejection letter I’ve gone through and done another revision. My dear friends, Ed and Diana Stucky, are going through it again…for the third time helping with the editing and their ideas. Ed has reached out to a couple of friends in the publishing world for advice and suggestions.

Rejections can sometimes show us who will be there to help us keep moving forward. They can make us stronger, more determined, and more focused. 

One of the suggestions from the managing editor of the publisher was to cut it down to between 80,000 and 100,000 words. I was at 114,000. After going through it again I’m down to 101,000 and figuring out what the next cut might be that will not effect the quality or flow of the story.

If nothing else comes from this writing I will always remember getting a phone call one night from my ten year old grandson.

“Granddad!”

“Yes, Jesse.”

“We like it! We like your book. Mommy just read the last chapter to us tonight, and we really like it!”

“Thank you, Jesse!” 

Three months later I got another call. 

“Granddad!”

“Yes, Jesse.”

“We finished your second book tonight and…we really liked it!”

And now they are waiting to read the third book, which I’m 20,000 words into, as I also continue to revise Book 1 and Book 2.

I may never get a letter from a publisher saying “We’d like to pursue this with you!”, but two late night phone calls are all the acceptance I really need!

Sixth Grade Motivation and Just Getting By

December 2, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 2, 2018

                          

I was amazed and perplexed numerous times this past week, two opposite reactions in the same classroom. I taught 6th Grade Social Studies the whole week, a journey that began in the Inca Empire and ended in a Friday discovery of Canada.

Numerous students amazed me at their quest for excellence. After giving guidelines about a project related to the Incas, these students sought to raise the bar in terms of quality. They took seriously my statement: “If Mr. Smith (the school principal) came in and looked at your project would be say ‘This is awesome!’ or ‘What is this?’”

And then there were the students who sought to just get by. One of the directions said to use colored pencils or markers in the completing of images. One student asked, “Do we HAVE to use colored pencils?” He said it as if he was being asked to do a 24 hour work shift. I looked at him and replied, “So, what you’re really asking is ‘what is the minimum I have to do?’”

“Well….ah, no!”

At the end of the second day on the project some of the work was ready to be framed and sent to an art museum, and other ‘attempts’ at work made me shudder!

To one boy I said, “I can’t even read what you’ve written here. You need a class on penmanship.”

“What’s that?” he asked, puzzled.

“Exactly!”

It made me wonder about how some kids become so motivated to excel and others become so unmotivated and seek to just get by. One of my students this past week was a girl who ran cross-country for me this past fall. She’s about as tall as a grasshopper and about that wide, also! In each race she finished no worse than 3rd and always just a few steps behind the winner. She is a competitor who would be disappointed in herself if she did not give her best effort. Her Inca project was…you guessed it!…top notch!

On the other end of the spectrum was a project that was as barren as an Oklahoma corn field during the Dust Bowl years. I looked at the boy and with disappointed dismay in my voice said, “That’s it???” He looked upon at me as he finished his last chocolate do-nette and smiled. That WAS it!

How do some students become so self-motivated and others seem to think motivation is a sign of illness?

It is an intriguing subject to ponder. I talked to one of my Starbucks coffee friends yesterday about it. She has five children and they are all different. A couple are so self-motivated it’s scary, another couple are selectively motivated, and then another one wouldn’t be motivated to even get out of bed…ever! 

I’m motivated to write some days and have no motivation to write on other days. Some days I’m highly motivated to exercise and on others I am so unmotivated that I’d even rather watch a Hallmark Christmas movie…okay, not that unmotivated!

I realize that some motivation comes from within, intrinsic in nature; and other motivation is extrinsic, coming from an outside force or person. But why is that intrinsic motivation so different for each person? Why are so many students willing to just get by?

Every Blessing Leads To A New Problem/Challenge

November 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        November 15, 2018

                            

Recently I was worshiping at a church my daughter attends. The pastor talked about blessings, being blessed and the gratitude of experiencing the blessings of God. In the midst of his message he made a profound point that struck me so much I wrote it down!

He said every blessing leads to a new problem! 

I’m sure we could substitute the word ”challenge” for blessing if need be, but I’ll stay with problem just to press the point.

The first gathering of Christ-followers, who became the first church, prove it. Acts 6 begins with these words:

“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews[a] among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts 6:1)

To break it down it would read like this: The number of disciples increased, and the number of problems increased as well!

At stake was the very reputation of the first church. Like a restaurant getting a bad Yelp review they were at risk of being labeled as uncaring, “all words but no action”, fake, a flash in the pants. Their blessing led to a new problem.

I wonder if there were some “who wished for the old days” when you didn’t have to stand in line and there was room in the meeting room? Kind of a New Testament version of the Hebrews longing to return to bondage in Egypt!

Going back to when Jesus traveled from place to place healing people and speaking truth, he kept drawing larger and larger crowds. The blessing of a healed life was accompanied by twenty more people following Jesus looking to be healed. Jesus didn’t see it as a problem, but his disciples sometimes gave the impression that they were at their wit’s end because of it. Like the employee of a major retail store on Black Friday…a sense of dread about the next twelve hours or so!

Every blessing leads to a new problem. In Colorado Springs the blessing of having a mission that is concerned about the homeless and impoverished, called the Springs Rescue Mission, has led to new problems. Perhaps this is where the word “challenge” would fit better! The mission has almost always been at capacity in the housing of the homeless in its shelter. They’ve expanded the number of beds with a new facility. It still can not accommodate all of those who need shelter, but it’s a blessing to the city. The blessing has come with new challenges, like opposition from those who are concerned about public safety and having a large number of homeless people in a certain area of the city, increased health issues that the homeless population brings, and the increased challenges of leading homeless people back to a more settled life.

On one hand Colorado Springs thanks God for the Rescue Mission, but on the other the effectiveness and caring of their ministry and mission has resulted in more challenges for them and the city.

Blessings do not lead to an eased existence and a comfortable life. Blessings are simply a step on the road that stays obedient and faithful as it follows the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

It’s like our family gathering last night! We had dinner at our house, all ten of us- our three children, two son-in-laws, three grandkids, Carol, and I. What a blessing to have family tonight! Carol fixed an amazing dinner, that culminated a couple of days of anxiety and worry 

about whether it was going to be okay; the grandkids ran around like they were on sugar-highs; the noise level was sometimes deafening and the number of conversations going on at the same time were plentiful. We had to put up another table alongside the dinner table to fit everyone. The dishes were piled up afterwards, and Grammy and Granddad’s energy had been consumed!

And we knew we were blessed! 

We wouldn’t want it any other way! Blessings bring problems and challenges, and we’re smiling in the midst of our exhaustion!

In Appreciation of Great Parents of Young Athletes

November 12, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           November 12, 2018

                              

One of the main reasons I decided to stop officiating basketball after the 2017 season and 16 years of wearing the stripes was out-of-control parents. Many of them have added to their resume’ and are now not just “helicopter parents”, but also “helicopter fans”!

Irrational and belligerent, abusive and hostile, they bring a dark side to youth athletics. When their son or daughter has an official make a marginal call that goes against their child you would think that the kid just got a reject letter from Harvard!

BUT there are “the others”! That is, there are the parents who are awesome and supportive; the parents who understand that the world does not turn on the basis of a roundball’s rotation; the parents who allow their son or daughter to experience failure and also success and don’t feel like they need to pave the path that only leads to victory.

Parental guidance and encouragement are the vital elements for a kid growing up and trying to figure out life, but they are elements that are too often missing. They are elements that many parents have pushed to the side in favor of outraged entitlement and having a messed-up view of what is really important in life.

The parents of my 8th Grade boys basketball team this year were awesome, and here’s why!

They let the coach coach! Their analysis and evaluation of the game and their son’s play didn’t happen until after the game, if at all! Never once did I have a parent shout instructions to their son from the bleachers. They applauded and encouraged, grimaced and smiled. I’ve heard too many horror stories of coaches being hounded and ridiculed by parents. My parents modeled how things should be!

They understood that we coach student athletes, not athletes who also happen to be students! None of my players had to sit out a week of games because they were academically in trouble. Their son’s grade point average is much more important than his scoring average or how many rebounds he gets in a game.

They modeled maturity! I’ve seen my share of parents who have been asked to leave gymnasiums because of their behavior. Last year the mom of a player from the team we were playing that day sat in the row behind our team bench…in our gym! Her voice was the loudest voice in the gym. If it was Cameron Indoor at Duke and the Blue Demons were playing North Carolina I could understand it, but this was a 7th Grade boys game. I had our security person ask her to move at halftime. She was not pleased! There were plenty of seats behind her team’s bench. The coach, a friend of mine, said to me after the game, “Great! You moved her down behind my bench and then I had to hear her!”

Some parents just don’t get it! And then you see their son or daughter turning into mom or dad!

Here’s the harsh truth! Officials and referees are hanging up their whistles because of parents! And coaches are calling it quits because of parents! 

My parents this year were awesome and that’s why I’ll be back for my 19th season next year…and consider myself blessed to be able to do it!

Coaching Moments and Conversations

November 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 November 11, 2018

                                

I love coaching kids and adolescents! Just love it! Yesterday I finished my 18th year as boy’s basketball coach at Timberview Middle School in Colorado Springs. With a new league this year our season got bumped forward to October and November. (Now I begin high school tryouts tomorrow where I’ll be coaching JV Boys)

I enjoy coaching moments and conversations that leave my players smiling and chuckling. They are spontaneous and sometimes non-sensical! 

Like yesterday! I kneeled in front of one of my players who was sitting in the midst of the bench personnel. We were getting beat by about 15 points by the team that had gone undefeated as 7th graders and now as 8th graders. It was our fifth game of the day, after losing to them in the winner’s bracket final, coming back and winning the loser’s bracket, and now having to play them again in the final game. 

The player I kneeled in front of is a bespectacled 4’10” 8th Grader. I said, “I need you to grow 6 inches…right now!” He stared back at me slightly smiling. “Okay! I guess that’s not going to happen, so just go on in for Josh!” He went to the scorer’s table and I moved to the next player on the bench, a boy about 5’10”. 

“I need you to grow 6 inches…right now!” His eyes darted from side to side considering the possibilities as I paused. “Okay! Guess that’s not going to happen, so go on in for Tyler.”

I moved on to the third player. Kneeling in front of him and looking him in the eye, “I need you to grow six inches right now…okay, just kidding!”

A little later. “You need to be close to him on defense! Pretend it’s your girlfriend!”

“Coach, I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“No wonder! You keep your distance from her! She thinks you don’t like her!”

Confused look!

I channel Coach Don Fackler from time to time. Don mentored me in coaching back…like 25 years ago. I loved that guy! He passed away suddenly about 15 years ago and it’s the one funeral that I flew from Colorado back to Michigan to attend. 

As Don would say I now find myself saying, “You’re all discombobulated! Get organized! I need my point guard to figure out when we’re all discombobulated and pull it back together.”

Here I come again! “There is nothing in that right corner of the court that is worth dribbling towards. You planning on going somewhere?”

“No, Coach!”
“Cause you keep heading for the Exit sign, son!”

Bad shot selection comment! “Hey! Have you hit a three-pointer yet?”

“No, Coach!”

“That’s right! You’re 0 for November! So let’s consider a better shot!”

“Sorry, Coach!”

Left-hand gone missing!

“What’s that thing attached to the left side of your shoulder?”

“My arm?” replies a confused looking player.

“Why not discover that it has a purpose, okay?”

“Yes, Coach!”
“I would rather you miss a left-handed layup than make a right-handed layup that announces to everyone that you don’t have a lefthand!”

And then yesterday I subbed for a player who made a couple of mistakes. I kneeled in front of him and said, “You made some mistakes, okay! But that’s not why I subbed for you! Your body language is spelling defeat. Everyone makes mistakes, but when you start moping on the court…you might as well be sitting here!” I talked to the player’s parents after the game and they thanked me for letting him know that. 

I love these kids! I love coaching them, guiding them, helping them to figure things out not just on the court, but in the situations of life. 

At the end of our tournament yesterday we gathered together with our runner-up trophy and had our team picture taken by parents and our school administrator. I noticed that the 4’10” player was holding the trophy in the midst of the front row. He was smiling from ear-to-ear, but the trophy was hiding his face.

“Paul, would you grow that six inches I asked for so we can see your face over the top of the trophy?”

Eleven players and three managers couldn’t keep from smiling on that one!

Love that kid!

Speed Fasting

November 4, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     November 4, 2018

                                     

It has been a deadly year in Colorado Springs on the roadways. Last week the 45th fatality this year occurred. It is the most since 1986 and we still have two months to go.

In the majority of the deaths, whether it be of a pedestrian or cyclist hit by a car, a vehicle losing control and crashing, a two vehicle collision, or a motorcyclist dying, speed and/or alcohol has been involved.

The roadways have become so treacherous that one of the head police officers has made several appeals on local newscasts pleading with drivers to slow down. 

I now think about the dangers of driving on two of the main roads close to our house, Powers Boulevard and Research Parkway, every time I get behind the steering wheel. Last May a man in his testosterone-laced pick-up truck decided he wanted to quickly cut over two lanes and he clipped the back driver’s side panel of my CRV. 

“I didn’t see you!”   

My CRV is midnight blue…and it wasn’t midnight! Thankfully, a lady saw what had happened and she stopped to let me know it. He was found at fault and, hopefully, is now paying as much each month to his insurance company as he is for his truck super-payment! I’m not bitter!

We need a “speed fast”! Kinda’ like fasting from chocolate during the Season of Lent, we need a fast from going fast. We need to take the pedal off the metal.

Speed has become ingrained in our culture. We’re like sugar-hyped elementary students the day after trick-or-treat. For example, there’s a growing movement to speed up the game of baseball. People say it’s too slow, as if that’s a bad thing! Most teams in football now have the “hurry-up” offense. 

I tell the basketball teams I coach to slow it down and players look at me like I’m looney!

Stores start trying to rush us to Christmas long before the aisles of Halloween decorations are gone. 

We tell our grandkids that they are growing up too fast! TV commercials are now 15 or 30 seconds long so the business has to QUICKLY sell their product! We’re told that we have too much to do and too little time!

It’s an addiction! We can’t slow down! I’m going to suggest that Starbucks serve Decaf one day a week, but not tell anybody! 

A speed fast…yes, that’s what we need! Like when I was growing up and we had phonograph records. We’d play the record at a slower speed and be amazed and amused by how we could make the Beatles sound as they sang “Lucy In The Sky”…slower!

In the Bible a fast usually refocused a person on the mission ahead, the source of life, and separated the important from the unimportant. It was kind of a cleansing event, like a reset button. Things that we thought were essential for life suddenly were seen with new eyes, and other parts of life that were thought to be excess baggage were seen for how utterly essential they were. 

A speed fast. I’m slowly inhaling and exhaling as I say it. 

I think I’ll take a long, slow walk today.

I think I’ll sit and read the newspaper, put my feet up, and read a book.

Maybe Carol and I will go and see the movie “First Man” about Neil Armstrong’s slow first walk on the moon and watch a story about a time past where things seemed to be slower.

I think I’ll take a nap and listen to Classical music!

I think I’ll type with one finger! Oh, wait! That’s how I type anyway!

I think I will stay off of Powers Boulevard and Research Parkway!