keep striving

“excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.”

-pat riley

in a few weeks, i will begin my ninth year as a high school teacher and my 17th year working with kids (of some sort and in some kind of setting)…

i don’t know how it is with other people in other careers, but in teaching, there is (lurking in the shadows) that ever-present temptation to get complacent or to “phone it in”…i mean, after you’ve been teaching for a while, there are certain things you’ve got down, things you know, like the back of your hand…

but, going down that road is precarious…

at the same time, you can see how it can happen, how all of us can fall into that trap…for instance, when i first started this “herding cats work”, i made great strides right away and really “wowed ’em”…my achievements were shiny and could be seen (by myself and by others)…but, as time went by, day after day, going through the same routines–it made me weary (on occasion) and i’d think, “what more can i do?”…

well, as an answer, i was recently re-inspired by a little japanese man named jiro ono…jiro is the subject of a 2011 documentary film (by david gelb) called, “jiro dreams of sushi”…and the story, his story is completely captivating…

jiro is the owner and head chef of the three-michelin-starred* sushi restaurant called, “jiro sukiyabashi” in tokyo, japan…and there’s five important things you need to know about this guy:

  1. jiro is 89 years old.
  2. jiro works every day.
  3. jiro has been making sushi for more than 70 years.
  4. jiro is widely recognized as the best sushi chef in the world.
  5. jiro still believes his sushi can be better.

[*important detail: michelin is a french company that publishes an annual guide on fine dining and accommodations–and, a three star rating is the highest–in this case, it means “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”.]

the last fact is the most remarkable to me…that, after all this time, after all this work…

jiro still believes his sushi can be better.

think about that for a moment…talk about inspiring!  at 17 years into my profession, i’ve got nothing on this guy…absolutely nothing…yet, there is a silver lining–the strides i make, nowadays, might not be as big, bold, or bright as the one’s i’ve made before…but, they are still significant little steps…

so, along these lines, i’ve tried to challenge myself for the past couple of years…by asking myself one simple question (to stoke the fires)…

how can i better “my last year self”?

and if i had to give an answer to that question right now…it would be…

i don’t know, but i know i can…and then…maybe, just maybe…coming to my classroom will be worth a special journey…

jiro

“always strive to elevate your craft.”

-jiro ono

tradecraft: boundaries (part VI)

boundaries at home: the wisdom of…parenting with love and logic…

reading books is a luxury that disappears once you have children…when someone asks me, what’s the last book you read, d.???…my response often sounds something like this…uh, let me think about that now…hmmmmmthe first ‘harry potter’ book…no, not quite that far back–maybe the first ‘hunger games’ book…the movies may be fresh right now (don’t see those right away either), but the books have been around for a while and i’m not on top of what’s new, you know…these twins have me on the ropes;)

but, the good news is–there is light at the end of the tunnel…and as they get older, it starts to come back…little by little…

i started to see that happening this past summer, when i had the chance to pick up the book ‘parenting with love and logic’ by foster cline and jim fay (and several opportunities to actually read it or at least parts of it, unbelievable!)…it was a book that was recommended to my wife and i by our friends nate and emily youngblood…and i’m glad that they made the recommendation, because it is a really great book for parents (both the ‘newly minted moms and dads’ and seasoned veterans of ‘the parenting wars’)…

for me, one of the greatest take-aways from the book so far...is the importance of choice in everyday life…and that, even if your kids are as young as 2 years old you can give them choices, options in the midst of a resistant or contrary behavior…choices that will help them and you reach the desired outcome of a situation–without a power struggle, no less…now, i’m a teacher, so this stuff isn’t completely new to me–i’ve written about choices/options as it relates to navigating expectations and boundaries and consequences with the kids i’ve worked with before…kids who are teenagers, mostly…but, working with toddlers is different…and working with my own toddlers has its own pitfalls–in other words, when certain challenges have come up, i haven’t always known what course to take…it’s like starting from scratch…

importantly, when i talk about choices or options that you can give your kids…i’m not talking about letting them call the shots…they’re 2 years old, people…but, what i am talking about and what i have learned from this book is the fact that even a simple, little choice can give them some power in a situation; it allows them the opportunity to think or to start thinking about things, what they are doing and what choices they are making…it is an opportunity to start working on those life skills…

let me give you an example of the distinction between your children making choices vs. your children calling the shots — and one of the many reasons for why i love this book…

one of the key phrases i picked up from ‘parenting with love and logic’ is: would you like to go by air or by feet?

it’s funny, i read this section of the book right when our toddlers, jack and grace, were first showing signs of serious resistance to our requests to go somewhere…telling us ‘no’ or ‘i don’t wanna’…and staying put, right where they were–immovable human objects…

common times for resistance in our family were/are:

  1. getting in the car
  2. going to the dinner table
  3. going to get changed
  4. going to their rooms for bedtime

here’s a case in point: jack was becoming more and more resistant about getting into the car when we had somewhere to go…so, one day, not too long after i had read the ‘by air or by feet’ part, he was up to his old tricks…not wanting to go to the car, refusing our directives and being non-compliant…and, of course, we were going somewhere fun…like the zoo–so, go figure (this is the kind of behavior that drives parents absolutely nuts)…anyways, the family was dressed and ready to head out the door when jack said…

i’m not going.

so, i asked him,

you don’t want to go to the zoo?

and he said,

no, i don’t.

[an impasse–if we continued to go back and forth like this, the situation would’ve turned into a power struggle–and nobody wins a power struggle; at the same time, if we had let him stay back and have his way when this is what the family was doing–we’d have lost this battle and it could’ve easily set us up for problems in the future–where we might find ourselves handing over our authority to our children again and again–or what i like to call: letting them call the shots]…

so, i paused for a moment and said…

jack this what we’re doing today…you can either go to the car by air or by feet…you can either walk there on your own or be carried (i explained it completely because it was our first go round with this technique)…

i’m not going, he said again.

so, i said…

so, by air, then?! (and picked him up and carried him to the car)

it didn’t take him long after that to realize that he had some say in how he could get from ‘here to there’…that he had a choice in the matter (a little life matter)…and since that first time, he’s often chosen the ‘by feet’ option…

importantly, and this is oh so important–in cases like this, you (the parents) are still getting the results you want…just like we did…in our case, what wasn’t up for debate or argument was the fact that he was going to the car and all of us were going to the zoo together…those were non-negotiables…how he was going to get there was up to him and allowable by “us parents” 🙂

despite the fact that this is something that won’t work with/be appropriate with older/bigger kids, it’s been such an effective response in our home that i’ve often daydreamed about using the same technique on my high school students:  what?! don’t want to go on the field trip–well, you can either go ‘by air or by feet’…what?! don’t want to go to ISS–well, you can either go ‘by air or by feet’…

i can only imagine the puzzled looks on their faces at being presented with those options…

🙂

honestly, ‘by air or by feet’ has saved us from countless knock down, drag-out battles

so, thank you so very much…parenting with love and logic authors, you rule!

 

sponge blob

“when you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave” – master kan, kung fu

one of the worst things for a new teacher to do is to surround themselves with only other new teachers…and in doing so, thinking that it’s gonna make them the best teacher in the world…it’s kind of like teenagers who expect to become mature, amazing grown-up people by surrounding themselves with only other teenagers

the last time i checked, it takes about 3-6 years to go from an apprentice to a journeyman in the trades…

teaching is a trade, people…one of the toughest trades in the world…so, it’s gonna take some time to get it down, it’s gonna take some time to become skilled at it…

sure, there are old-timers who are “phoning it in” until retirement…to those types, to those guys and gals…i’ll say, time to clock out, buddy–get to steppin’, chica! but, what job doesn’t have people like that?!  all in all, those ‘hanger-on’s’ make up a small percentage of the larger teacher blob…

anyways, what new teachers need to do is to…spend time–lots of time–around seasoned instructors…ones who are tried and true...ones who are still creating, dreaming, and working hard…ones who are still committed and passionate about what they’re doing…

the last time i checked, it takes about 10 years to go from a padowan to a jedi knight…

i mean, any rookie can be fired up about this kind of work–for a minute…yeah, they’re good out of the gate…but, the best of the best do it year in and year out…so, my advice would be to…get next to those people, ask a lot of questions, learn from them–soak up as much as you can–be the sponge…embrace the teacher blob, for you and for your students!!! 🙂

[one of the current issues and challenges in teaching in america today is that…the average time that a new teacher spends in the profession of teaching, before leaving, is five years (walsh, 2014)…in my opinion, it takes about just that long, 4-5 years, to figure how to do the job well and get to a place where you’re on top of your work as an educator…so, if people are leaving at that moment in time…they are leaving just when some of the rewards can be reaped (i.e. when the hard work starts to pay off)–for them and for their students–and they are leaving just when they’ve become a skilled and valued member of the trade…if this trend continues, it does not bode well for the future of education in the u.s.]

“experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it” – steven wright

tradecraft…boundaries (part V)

fun with boundaries (in structured settings) exhibit B

nobody likes to have their authority tested and challenged…but, it can and will happen in this line of work…and sometimes, we can get bogged down in the muck of the job of setting boundaries for kids…let’s be honest–it can be challenging, upsetting, and downright exhausting…in fact, if you’re a loyal follower of this blog (thank you!:), i’m sure you can recall several stories that highlight those trials…however, like we saw in the last post…sometimes, when the the stars align just right and you sense a chance to do something beyond the routine…setting boundaries can be fun, too…

here’s another example of what i’m talking about from my classroom case files:

one day, a student (who we’ll call ‘bobby’) raised his hand and asked me a question…

bobby: can i step outside–to the hall–and call my work, it’s really important?

[i look at him for a moment, then nod my head…thinking, there’s only a couple of weeks left of school, what’s the harm?]

me: yep, make it quick

[so, bobby gets up and goes out into the hall…i continue on with the lesson for the day…]

10 minutes later, i walk out into the hall to call bobby back to class…i look one direction, then the other…i don’t see him anywhere…i think to myself, did he ‘dip out’ (skip out on class and leave school premises) or is he somewhere else in the building?!

so, i go back into my classroom and scan the crowd–looking for the most trustworthy male student in class…unfortunately, i don’t see him, so i settle on the next best thing…the most trustworthy male student runner-up

me: can you go down to the bathroom and see if bobby’s there?

[he gives me ‘a nod’ and heads out of the room…]

after a few minutes, ‘runner-up’ comes back to the room and shakes his head–the message is clear–no, he’s not there…

i frown, thinking to myself…damn, i just ‘got played’ (like a fiddle)press play on the charlie daniel’s band devil went down to georgia…

another student remarks that there was some kind of ‘end of year celebration’ going on at a class back at his home school and that he might’ve been on the way to that…

[we teach kids from surrounding district schools, they self-select (mostly) our courses as electives, get bussed to our location (a few kids drive themselves), then go back to their home schools for the rest of the day…i say “mostly self select” because, in some cases, counselors and administrators from the students’ home school have “highly encouraged” them to come take classes with us…often enough, they’ve “highly encouraged” the kids who are “a handful” at their schools and they want the troublemakers out-of-the-way for a couple of hours (sad but true)…in a few specific cases, i’ve imagined these same administrators and counselors sitting at their desks, laughing–muhahaha, muhahaha…as they look at the names of some of the “select few” they’ve dealt me]…

so, i tuck that piece of information away and finish off the last 15 minutes of class…

at this point, i’m paying really close attention to the time on the clock–and trying to reconstruct the ‘timing of things’..what time did i go out and check on him? what time did he leave my room? how much class time did he miss?

i calculate that he missed 25 minutes of class…in other words, he owes me 25 minutes for dippin’ out…

but there’s something else…he lied to my facewhen i was trying to help him out, no less?!

i mean, i’m pretty much like any other teacher around–i can’t stand it when kids lie to me…so, i’m thinking that he owes me “something more” than the 25 minutes because “lying” is an aggravating factor (making the boundary violation/offense more serious)…what “more” looks like at this point…i’m not sure…

i need to think…

as i reflect on the event, i remember that tomorrow is the day when we host our own “end of year bbq”–for the kids at our school–to show them how much we appreciate them…so, right away, i know he’s going to miss out on 25 minutes of that end of year fun–that thought makes me happy 🙂

we’re getting therethe ledger is just about balanced

but, i’m still feeling like i want to tack on a little “something special”…

as i go through my day, his case continues taking up space in the back of my mind…should i do this? should i do that?  then, i remember something about bobby…the memory leads me to my answer…for the entire semester, bobby has been talking up his post-secondary career…almost every day, for more than four months, he’s made mention of it to his classmates and i…for four months and counting, bobby hasn’t stopped talking about the navy and his plans to enlist…

it’s right at that moment, at the inception of that thought…that i know exactly what the “something special” is going to be…

and it makes me smile 🙂

[the next day]

the students file in and take their seats…

one student remarks that he heard bobby saying, mr. d.’s gonna be pissed at me for taking off like that…

i smile slightly and wait…

i see bobby come in and head towards his seat…wasting no time, i call him up to my desk…

[he walks up sheepishly]

me: so, yesterday…wanted some free time, eh?

bobby: yeah, i’m sorry…

me: so,  you owe me some time in the clas program–25 minutes–the time you skipped out on…then, you can join us in the courtyard for the barbecue…

bobby: ok

immediately, he turns and steps toward the door…

me: hold on…there’s one more thing…

[he stops and faces me again]

me: i was helping you out, letting you call your work in the hall…but you lied to me and took off…not o.k….i want you to copy down this page and return it to me at the end of your 25 minutes in the clas program…got it?!

he takes the sheet without looking at it and says…

ok, will do [and leaves the room]

[25 minutes later]

bobby comes up to me with the sheet in hand, complete…i smile and process the incident with him briefly–i.e. what are you gonna do next time talk? after 2 minutes, i tell him…

we’re good…now, why don’t you grab a hotdog and a bag of chips…

as he walks away, i look down at the assignment i gave him and smile to myself…

it reads:

Navy Code of Ethics
10 November 2005

DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY CODE OF ETHICS

Key References: Title 5–Administrative Personnel Chapter XVI–Office Of Government Ethics Part 2635–Standards Of Ethical Conduct For Employees Of The Executive Branch–Table of Contents Subpart A–General Provisions Sec. 2635.101; Employees’ Responsibilities under Executive Order 12674 (as amended).

DO
Place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws, and ethical principles above private gain.

Act impartially to all groups, persons, and organizations.

Give an honest effort in the performance of your duties.

Protect and conserve Federal property.

Disclose fraud, waste, and abuse, and corruption to appropriate authorities.

Fulfill in good faith your obligations as citizens, and pay your Federal, State, and local taxes.

Comply with all laws providing equal opportunity to all persons, regardless of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or handicap.

DO NOT
Use nonpublic information to benefit yourself or anyone else.

Solicit or accept gifts from persons or parties that do business with or seek official action from DOD (unless permitted by an exception).

Make unauthorized commitments or promises that bind the government.

Use Federal property for unauthorized purposes.

Take jobs or hold financial interests that conflict with your government responsibilities.

Take actions that give the appearance that they are illegal or unethical.

[for the last week-and-a-half, he was like, ‘yes, sir…no, sir’]

footnote: the topic of boundaries is one we’ll come back to again…at a later time…because there’s more–much more to say…

 

 

tradecraft…boundaries (part IV)

fun with boundaries (in structured settings) exhibit A

o.k., so we’ve covered a lot of ground…and more recently, we’ve covered a lot of the serious stuff surrounding boundaries (in structured settings)–but at the end of the day, one of the best things you can do is give yourself some grace with this kind of thing…holding kids accountable; setting and enforcing boundaries is not easy…but, you can get better at it–with time and practice (lots and lots of practice)…

while you know how important boundaries can be for an individual, group and/or community…it’s also really important to note that boundaries and boundary setting can be a lot of fun, too!!!

to illustrate that point, here’s a story from my classroom case files:

one day i was giving a presentation to my class (fyi-it was the last hour of the day, with two weeks left before summer vacation) when another group of students from our school (cosmetology class) came out into the courtyard near my room (my classroom has a row of windows that runs down one wall…it’s the wall that faces the courtyard)…

things were going along fine, when suddenly, a student started ‘making a racket’ right outside one of my windows (we, of course, had the classroom windows open–it was almost summer-time, after all!)…the student got ‘loud and obnoxious’…

so, i glanced outside (and so did my students)…to see what all the fuss was about…i stood there for a minute, watching and listening, as this one girl carried on about some boy…i had seen this kind of frenetic behavior before, it’s what i call: the typical cosmetology drama…think: 90210 on speed

i watched, thinking–God bless the teachers in that program…mercy!

anyways…i looked around the courtyard and didn’t see her teachers anywhere…must be on the way….but, she was still carrying on…she continued to distract and disrupt my students…so, i went over to an open window (near the front of the class) and called her over…as she walked to the window, i glanced back at my students…and at that moment, i saw them… simultaneously and as a whole…lean forward in their chairs…like they had practiced that synchronized move all year-long…

so, i turned back to the window and talked to the girl (library-quiet style) who was making mischief…she on one side of the open window (screen-less), me on the other…

me: hey, nice day, isn’t it?!  hey, i can understand why you’d be so pumped up to be outside, but would you mind toning it down a little…we’ve got class going on in here?

student: sure, no problem

me: thanks

after our exchange, i turned away from the window and faced my class…and immediately, my students made their next collective move…

in unison, they were up and out of their chairs, pointing and shouting:

mr. d!!!, mr. d!!! she just gave you ‘the finger’!!!

i looked at my class as if to say, “really?!”…they continued shouting and pointing towards the windows…

so, i glanced outside and saw the girl i had just visited with…she was talking and laughing with her friend on the other side of the courtyard (the other 20 girls in the group continued working on their assignments–they seemed to be unaware of what was going on)…

i still didn’t see the cosmetology instructors…

i turned back to my students…and calmed them all down…then, i zeroed in on one particular student (the most honest one in the class) and asked her quietly:

did she really do that?! (just to confirm what had ‘gone down’)

she nodded back to me and said:

yes

momentarily, i drifted off to dreamland and imagined myself running back and forth along the bank of windows with my arms outstretched, my fists clenched–save for my middle fingers (which i’d locked in the upright position)–pumping my hands up and down like pistols…all the while, shouting p-pow, pow–p-pow, pow–p-pow, powwhat’s up now?!  (press play on bon jovi’s, ‘blaze of glory’)…

but, eventually, i “came to”, snapped out of it, and shook off the daydream…

now, normally…99.9% of the time, i would’ve just talked about the behavior with one of her instructors (after school) and left it to them to ‘consequence her’…and they would’ve (most certainly) clamped down on her the next day (we’ve ‘got each other’s backs’ when it comes to student discipline, no doubt–which is awesome!)…and i would’ve been done with it…

but, this time, i decided to handle it myself (for the fun of it)…

so, i went over to my desk and spent a little time at work…my class was stone silent, of course…waiting, wondering…what’s going to happen next?!

after a moment, i got up, walked to the window, and called the girl over (once again)…behind me, i heard movement…and i knew my class was, once again, ‘leaning in’…

she came over and we started talking…

me (library-quiet once more): so, you know…you owe me something

student: what do you mean?!

me: you know, for your hand gesture…for the ‘disrespect’

student: really, ‘the finger’?!  that was nothing! (admission)

me: hmmmm…

[i handed her a sheet of paper…at the top, it read: 20 things you could’ve done–instead of flippin’ a teacher off*…]

[she looked at it, was quiet for a beat, then looked up at me…and stared me down]

student: no way, not doing it

me: ok, you can do “20” for me today, or “40” for your teachers tomorrow

[she thought about it for a moment, frowned, and slowly walked toward the other side of the courtyard…then, she sat down at a bench, took out a pen, and started writing…i smiled to myself 🙂 ]

at this point, trying to teach anything was completely futile…so, i told my class about the consequence i gave her…and waited…perched on the edge of my desk…

after a little while, i saw one of her teachers come out to the courtyard and talk to some of the students about an assignment…then quickly, she headed back into the school (before i got a chance to ‘wave her over’)…

anyways, not long after that, the girl got up and came toward the window again…

at the window, she handed me her list of “20 things”…

it read:

  1. smiled
  2. waved
  3. walk away
  4. thumbs up
  5. yelled
  6. talked about it
  7. stayed calm
  8. wait until you weren’t there
  9. laughed
  10. ignore it
  11. screamed
  12. gone back inside
  13. listened
  14. been upset to myself
  15. wrote a note
  16. flicked off someone else say hi
  17. punched my hand
  18. not gone outside
  19. stayed at home
  20. ran away

as i read it over, i thought it was spectacular (and funny, too)…and in our exchange, i had her change #16 (for obvious reasons)…when she did, i thanked her politely and we went our separate ways…

at that point, i turned back to the class, held up the list, and said (with a smile):

“20 things”–no one messes with criminal justice, peeps!

[they clapped and cheered as i pinned it to my bulletin board…then, we moved on with what was left of the day]

later, i talked to my friends (the cosmetology teachers) about what ‘had gone down’ in the courtyard…they were ‘cool with my response’ for their student and appreciated me holding her accountable…

proposition: boundary setting is no ‘piece of cake’…but, sometimes, it sure can be fun! cheers!

*the “20 things” is something i got from my wife, who happens to be a stellar middle-school teacher!!!

note: the consequence(s) imposed should be reasonable-meaning, it should fit the offense…getting ‘the finger’ is a really minor offense in my world (then again, i’ve been punched, kicked, spit at, grabbed, pushed, slapped, poked, (vehemently) ‘swore at’ and had objects thrown at me over the course of my career…so, my perspective is skewed off of that…heh, heh)…so, giving/recommending the ‘clas program’ or an ‘in-school suspension (ISS)’ for this particular offense would’ve been over-the-top, in my opinion…but, again, my response was based on my specific work situation/experience/prior history with the ‘youth in question’–and ultimately, my discretion…your situation/setting and (to some degree) your perspective will dictate your boundaries and how you respond to certain behaviors…

tradecraft…boundaries (part III)

boundaries in structured settings — an example (for professional youth workers):

in settings like schools, juvenile rehabilitation centers, faith-based organizations, summer camps, etc…professionals have the luxury of being guided by state laws and organizational policies in boundary setting…at the same time, depending on the individual group plan within a structured system, the boundaries may look very different:

different programs = different expectations & consequences

student/teacher classroom scenario:

expectation: no talking in class (when the instructor is presenting–unless we’re in a discussion, of course)

consequence: if you disrupt the class by constant talking you can a) be moved to another seat; b) be moved to the clas program; c) be given ISS

note: the clas program is an option at our school; it is a ‘intermediate removal action’ — where the student is removed from the classroom and sent to the clas program room (near the front office)…typically, for only an hour or two – it’s the step we use before ISS (ISS stands for ‘in-school suspension’ which is an entire day stay) –“b” and “c” can be implemented if “consequence a” doesn’t make a dent in the behavior…and the student continues to exhibit disruptive behavior that interferes with the learning process…

here’s a pattern/pathway i’ve followed before…

john commits a boundary violation: john talks loudly about the great time he had at a party over the weekend and disrupts a lesson; his talking distracts other students and pulls them into his story… 

me (response = a choice is offered):  john, would you rather stop talking and continue to sit by your friends or continue talking and move to this seat (near the front of the class)???*

john: stop talking, i guess…

me: ok, let’s move on then…

[a few minutes later…]

john repeats the same boundary violation: talks in class and disrupts a lesson

me (response/action = consequence): i say, “john, your talking is interrupting my teaching–please move to this seat”**

note: i didn’t say, “who do you think you are? you never learn, do you, john?! i can’t stand you–move over here”

*importantly…offering choices can be an extremely valuable thing to do within the “expectation-consequence” scheme…doing so, puts the ball back in their court, where they have some power over ‘the outcome’ & can decide on a course of action–though, all choices/options are ones that you are alright with (as the authority figure) — in other words, the only options on the table are the ones that can get what you want, what you expect…as far as boundaries go…offering choices also keeps things from “getting heated” or “escalating” — nobody likes a tyrant 🙂

**the response that i gave here was the right one…because it focuses on the behavior–what the student did, not who the student is …the response that “i didn’t say”, on the other hand, would’ve been wrong…because it makes the issue personal, confrontational, and (often) an “instant battle”…in fact, taking that tact may very well escalate the situation…by making it about who john is as a person and not about john’s behavior-his talking in class…not what we want to be doing as professionals…

anyways, let’s say that…john ‘behaves’ for the rest of the class period

the next day i might allow him to go back to his original seat (i might even give him “a carrot” in the middle of a consequence …or thereafter…and let him know that he may be able to return to his original seat tomorrow if he can handle his new location for the rest of the day)~

note: in this scenario, i didn’t keep giving the student choices and choices and choices and choices and choices or keep doing the ask, ask, ask, ask, ask thing–which, honestly–doesn’t do a damn bit of good–but, some people go that route in these situations…usually, they are new and inexperienced…and often…they are unsure, afraid or lacking confidence in their authority (or, they want to be seen as ‘cool’ or they want to be ‘friends’ with the kids–one of my least favorite incarnations of a ‘professional youth worker’)…so, if you give an expectation for behavior…it’s really important to follow through (consistently) with the known/stated consequence–pull the trigger, people!–in doing so, you will gain the respect of the kids in your charge and there will be no limits on what you can accomplish together; if you, on the other hand, give an expectation for behavior and don’t follow through with a known/stated consequence–then, not only will you lose the respect of the kids…but, it will become increasingly difficult to manage their behaviors…therefore, making anything you try to accomplish with them much more difficult, if not impossible–

consistent follow through is key in ‘boundaries work’ in structured settings–it shows them (the kid who is ‘acting out’ and the rest of the group) that you’re “not playin'” and “mean business”… 

tradecraft…boundaries (part II)

definition, purpose & implementation

  • what do we mean we talk about “boundaries”???

“boundaries” is a euphemism for rules…so, a good working definition is: boundaries = rules for appropriate behavior

  • why do we set boundaries???

to keep an individual and others safe; to teach and instill character and pro-social skills…

  • how do “boundaries” work??? how do we implement them???

in the most basic sense, boundaries work best when you give kids expectations (what you expect from them, what their behavior should look like according to the rules of  a specific setting or situation) and consequences (disciplinary actions for violating a boundary or don’t meet an expectation)…this approach works best in structured settings when you are working with kids and you want to be “clear and upfront with them from the get-go” (about what you expect) and provide consistent follow through with consequences when it doesn’t happen…

it can be a bit different ‘at home’ or in parenting…where boundaries may be (especially in early childhood) more nuanced, organic, on the spot, in the moment, etc–that’s not to say they are any less important in this setting…in fact, i would argue that boundary setting at home is one of the most important things parents can do for their children…anyways…when we move from early childhood to elementary-age to teenage years…imposing specific ‘expectation-consequence ground rules’–with regard to certain behaviors–will need to happen more often…

  • what are some examples of boundaries (from real-life)???

this blog is loaded with examples of boundaries, boundary violations/challenging behaviors, appropriate responses and consequences…in the next few posts, we’ll take a look at some more examples of boundaries–from both the “work-job” and the “home front”…

but, before we do…it’s important to note that, like the other posts on tradecraft, setting and enforcing boundaries is a skill…you don’t just wake up one day and know how to navigate this kind of thing…along with that, this is not something that should be done in a ‘fly by night’ kind of manner–good boundary setting (and enforcing) is something that requires thought, practice, reflection and adaptation…additionally, this skill is one that is very much connected to the tradecraft we’ve covered already…in fact, it is closely tied to the skills voice and non-verbals–which included, ‘how to talk to kids’, ‘deflectors’, tone, word choice, volume, body language, body positioning, gestures and facial experessions…all of these things matter–big time–when we’re giving expectations and (especially) when we’re giving consequences to kids…what kind of verbal and non-verbal messages are we transmitting?! are we saying what we want to say?!

the big question is: when we are setting boundariesare we doing so with basic human dignity and respect?!

like the other skills we’ve acquired for herding cats, boundary setting skills can develop and sharpen over time…with practice…luckily, there’s no shortage of opportunities to fine-tune these skills 🙂

 

 

tradecraft…boundaries (part I)

boundaries: preface

one of the best things that an adult…who is working with kids (and especially, an adult who is raising kids)…can do–to bring up responsible young people–is to give their toddlers, children, and teens boundaries…even their ‘tweens’ in a lot cases–especially, when you consider that the pre-frontal cortex isn’t fully developed until people are on their way past ‘legal adulthood’ as defined by state laws…you know the part of the brain i’m talking about…the part that controls impulsive behavior and the ability to make good decisions 🙂

in my opinon, all kids need boundaries…expecting a kid to function positively and responsibly in the world without good boundaries is like expecting a house to stand without a solid foundation…it’s just not gonna happen, folks…

one of my favorite gems on this topic comes from child and family expert, dr. david walsh:

“it’s a kid’s job to test limits, it’s our job (responsible parents and other adults) to set limits–in saying ‘no’ to our kids…we are (hopefully) teaching them to say ‘no’ to themselves (some day)” (walsh, 2014)…

importantly, one of the single most important ‘trade skills’ in working effectively with young people is establishing good and reasonable boundaries for kids to know and follow…i mean, how can any teacher, counselor, para, social worker, coach, youth leader, juvenile justice worker, or parent instruct a young person if that young person is doing what they want to do when they want to do it…with no regard for anyone else around them?!

this is a part of instructing our youth that we need to return to wholeheartedly and fearlessly in our society, in america…i would argue that there’s never been a more important time for us to get back to the ‘world of boundaries’ than right now…because it’s something we’ve strayed away from…and we can see the results reflected in how young people see themselves and act in the world today…it’s not a pretty sight

so, with that…we begin a new series on boundaries…

stay tuned…

[i would like give a special ‘shout out’ to family friend and proud parent of two, rachel s.–who called for some special attention to this subject back when i wrote the post titled, ‘know your role’–so, while it’s a bit late in coming…this series is for you, sister! cheers!]

beyond tradecraft

“you do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going…what you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”
― thomas merton

one of the toughest kids i ever worked with (he’s on my top 25 list of all-time toughies-coming in at #25) was a high school student i encountered at summer camp…the place was the outdoor lutheran camp called luther heights bible camp (mentioned in several previous posts) and the summer was 1995…

note: just because you’re working at a bible camp doesn’t mean all the kids you meet are angels 🙂

anyways, up until this point, my experiences working with kids included working one-on-one with an at-risk, elementary school student in an after school mentoring program (for two semesters in college) and coaching soccer at sports camps (for four summers)…i had not yet delved into the world of juvenile justice, church youth work, or teaching…

i was an apprentice…

at herding cats

and he was a master…

at defiance 

and he was in my cabin group for the week…meaning, i was his counselor for the week…so, i was responsible for leading him and about 12 other high school boys through each day at camp (at the same time, there were about seven or eight other on-site cabins filled with the same number of high school students and a counselor)…the days would include games, challenge activities, morning/evening worship (a super-scaled down version of what you might encounter at an elca lutheran church on a sunday morning–to this day, i still prefer it to the formal sunday church stuff;), hikes, an overnight, special interest activities, talent show, bible study, etc…

usually, high school week is one of the best weeks of the summer…i mean, you’ve got kids who you can reason with and have relatively serious conversations with…ones who get your jokes…and often, ones who are really engaging and give you hope for the future of the world at large;) …but, this week was a tough one for me…because of carl (his name has been changed for this story)…

and no one could predict or foresee what was to transpire…at the end of our week together (and beyond)…it was unimaginable…it was unbelievable…or, so i thought…

anyways…

right away, when he got to camp, he had a major attitude–especially with anyone in authority–which revealed itself in an edgy tone and (sometimes) harsh language…i got the feeling that he had come through some hard knocks…given this, carl took up most of my time and energy that week…it began on sunday afternoon (that’s when the kids arrived–the typical week went from sunday – friday)…and each day his demeanor seemed to get progressively worse…no matter what we were doing–he opposed it, was non-compliant…and worse, tried to get the other guys in the cabin to follow his lead and join his rebellion against me…interestingly, he was quite charismatic and had a bit of charm–(his face reminded me of a young leonardo dicaprio–i didn’t care for the young dicaprio much either;)…so, he had some influence among the other guys…which doubled-down on the challenges for the week…

funny thing–this was summer camp…about as far as you can get from the responsibilities of work or school or home…so much of what we did every day was really fun…and it was that fact that made the whole week together so much more exhausting…in retrospect, carl’s behavior was a lot like that of my 2 year-old son…who says ‘no’ to just about everything i tell him to do…even if it’s the most fun thing in the world…that’s exactly what carl said to me…’no, no, no, no, no’…for 16 waking hours a day for an entire week…

by mid-week, the rest of the staff knew what i was up against…there were a couple of instances when the program director (kt) met with him and he received consequences for his behaviors…but, he was undeterred…he kept coming…

and all i could think about was friday…when the week would be over…for me, it couldn’t come soon enough…

over the course of the week, my fellow counselors supported me the best they could and i tried to keep a positive attitude…and hang in there with him…but my resolve was fading…

he seemed unreachable…

then, thursday night arrived…

we came to the final evening worship of the week…the one that usually carries a little more weight, because it’s the last one of the week and the kids will leave the next morning…and go back home…

honestly, i don’t remember worship being anything special that night…that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was lacking in any major way–more likely, it was because i was lacking…i was fried-stick a fork in me, i’m done! 

so, worship came and went…and we were dismissed to our cabins…

as i was herding my group towards the trail that led to our cabin, i realized that carl was not with us…so, i looked back to the fire ring where we had been seated for worship…and i could see him in the firelight, sitting there, like a statue…my first thoughts were, what now?! are you serious?!  so, you’re gonna take it to the limit?!

quickly, i caught the attention of one of my fellow counselors (one who was on support staff and didn’t have a cabin that week–all of the counseling staff had to serve a rotation on support staff…where they would help with cleaning dishes, maintenance, meals, leading random games and activities, preparing campfires, etc) and asked him to take my guys back to our cabin…

i watched my guys head back up the trail for a moment, then i turned back to the fire ring…i took a deep breath and walked back to where carl was sitting…and sat down right next to him…

i asked him…

so, what’s going on?

there was a moment of silence…then, i heard him…

carl started crying…it was the full-on, shoulder-shaking kind…

so, i sat there…waiting…

after a while, he said…

i’m so sorry, i’m so sorry for the way i’ve been acting–for the way i treated you…all week…

[i couldn’t believe what i was hearing, i was floored]

after a moment, i said…

it’s alright, don’t worry about it…

we talked for a little while longer…and he gathered himself together…after a while, we headed back to the cabin…the next day, it was like he was a whole new kid…no attitude…we were good…except for the fact that i was in complete and total shock at what had happened…

later that morning…his ride came, we said ‘our goodbyes’ and he headed home…

i thought that was the end of the story…but, it wasn’t…

one year later…

i was walking through camp (i went back again, in the summer of 1996, for tour #2) when i heard someone call out my name…

hey, dett!

[since there was another dave working at camp they called me ‘dett’–short for my last name: dettmann]

in response, i turned around and was surprised to see a face i would never forget–it was carl…so, i spoke up in earnest…

hey, carl, how’s it going?!

we talked for several minutes, he was enthusiastic and positive…then, he said…

good to see you, dett…hey, i’ve got to go…got to get back to my campers…

i was confused by what he said, so i asked…

campers?! 

he responded with a smile and said…

yeah, i’m one of the counselors for my church group that’s up here this weekend…look, i gotta get back (some churches utilized the camp for their own programs at times during the summer-usually when we were running a smaller camp on-site–as was the case this weekend)…

immediately, he took off after his campers…and i stood there in the middle of the trail, dumbstruck…

to this day, i am still struck by what happened all those years ago…by the realization that while we can do great things in the world…sometimes, what happens is beyond anything we can do ourselves…or, beyond any special talent or skill we might have…sometimes, what happens is truly extraordinary…

so, in closing, i would like to share this poem with you…forwarded to me by my friend/pastor katie sanders…i think it comes the closest to capturing what this experience means to me…

a future not our own

[by ken untener]

it helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
the Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

we accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
nothing we do is complete, which is another way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
no statement says all that could be said.
no prayer fully expresses our faith. no confession
brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
no program accomplishes the church’s mission.
no set of goals and objectives include everything.

this is what we are about. we plant the seeds that one
day will grow. we water the seeds already planted
knowing that they hold future promise.
we lay foundations that will need further development.
we provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.

we cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
this enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
it may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s
grace to enter and do the rest.
we may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.

we are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs.

we are prophets of a future not our own.

tradecraft…the “ten attitude” part II

in the weeks before summer comes, i get that old feeling again…

wouldn’t it be great to work at camp again?!

it’s a thought that bursts into my head every single time, as i drive out to work, during the ‘pre-summer days’…because the road i take to work goes west and west is where camp is…in the sawtooth wilderness of idaho (one of the most beautiful outdoor areas in the united states)…and when i’m ‘aimed in that direction’ i think, i could just drive a little further, a few more miles–out to camp…then, i remember that i have a wife and twins…

🙂

the camp i’m talking about is luther heights bible camp…and i worked there for six summers (to the chagrin of my parents:)…i remember my thoughts going into my first summer there…i’ll just work here for one summer–yeah, right…

in my summers there, i worked as a counselor, travel staff director (for day camps), and finally as an assistant program director…and–in addition to working at skyhawk’s sports academy (summer soccer camps), my time at luther heights was instrumental for me…in developing my skills and abilities herding cats

this was especially true when we had kids attend our on-site programs…where we would be with them for 24 hours a day/six days a week…during these intense on-site weeks, it was impossible not to learn a lot about talking to, relating to, and engaging with kids (from the elementary level to high school kids)…

the days would include a morning/evening worship, games, crafts, bible study, nature activities, singing, skits, campfires, storytelling, hikes, challenge course activities, etc…

during these summers, i had the pleasure of working with such amazing and fun people…living and working in community together…kt, adam, chris & chris, e.j., beth, kari, kate h., hilary, nathan, matt, mary, debbie, nat, megan, holly, aaron, mark, jp, eric, jeff, jordan, brian, steve, heather, jon, maren, chelsea, laura, carol, and–of course–big e [see post titled, big e]

working at luther heights doubled-down on the importance of the ten attitude…i realized pretty quickly that my attitude could make or break the week, it was a counselor’s most important tool–especially, during those weeks when the kids didn’t go home at the end of the day…

because…

why should the kids care about what we’re doing, if we don’t?!

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