Yeah, I know, I’m sharing a lot lately.  It’s still partly the hangover from the Lilly-South conference on collegiate teaching, as well as the occurrence of another strange, you-just-don’t-ask confluence.  This time it was a rich conversation about attitudes towards students happening at the same time I received an unexpected message couple of days ago from an ex-student who contacted me from out of the blue after 39 years.  His words hit me like a proverbial bolt of lightning.  I must admit, I don’t remember the student, the situation, or my words.  I’ve read his message over and over again, pondered it over and over again, eyes tearing up over and over again, breathing heavy over and over again:

         I just finished reading some of your Random Thoughts and wanted to pass along my thanks for your thoughts and for a discussion with me in 1971. I began VSU in the fall of 1970 just after returning home from a tour in Vietnam with the Navy-a very confusing time. I had absolutely no idea of what I wanted or where I was going.

        During a very lackluster 2 semesters at VSC, you pulled me aside and confronted me about a very poor-quality paper I had turned in. That has always stuck with me and always motivated me.

        I finally joined the Air Force in 1972, determined to chart a course and achieve something. Over the years I became an AF Master Instructor, finished my BS degree in 1978, and retired as a senior master sergeant. After retirement in 1995, I became a Director of a Discipline Alternative School here in Texas, completed my M. Ed., and earned principal and superintendent certifications. I am now the principal at the Gainesville State School–Texas Youth Commission. We work with the most challenging students in Texas. (I will read more of your thoughts and welcome any suggestions to reach these kids).

         Your discussion with me is a deep part of what I have done to excel in the Air Force and in education.

             Now, I’m not tooting my horn.  It’s just that his words should remind us that without a deep sense of awareness and otherness–and perhaps not even then–we sometimes just don’t know the impact–therapeutic or pathological, curative or toxic–we have, or don’t learn of it until decades later.  The point is that we should never forget that “you just don’t know,” and how do we assess that with whatever instrument.  Think about it.  All these years, I was within him and whatever I said he kept as an encouraging whisper in his ears.  It’s also that his words reinforce what I had told some colleagues a few days ago as part of that rich exchange.  This is what I said to them:

             I have said over and over and over again that we educators are in the people business.  That means education is a human issue.  It’s about human life, human hopes, human dreams, human futures.  At least, for me, there is nothing impersonal, detached, abstract, theoretical, or cold about issues dealing with real people.  We can fool ourselves into believing that our job is just to teach a subject, to transmit information, and to develop critical thinking skills.  But, if we use those thinking skills we’d realize that no action by a teacher is impersonal and no attitude is detached.  Our teaching is determined largely by the attitude we bring into the classroom to each student, that is, by the way our hearts and minds look at each of those human beings in the class with us.  Like it or not, by gesture or word or glance, by display of concern or disinterest or disdain, by inclusion or exclusion, we touch students’ lives.  We open or close minds and hearts and souls to what’s out there by whether we’re in the “ugh zone” or the “ho-hum zone” or the “wow zone.”  We foster or shatter dreams.  I am not loyal to any educational structure that puts labels on students or places them into a box.  I have reservations about an educational structure that excludes or culls out.  I have a deep, emotional, unswerving commitment to an educational structure that affirms and respects the dignity of each student, to an institution of acceptance and inclusion, that is dedicated to the principle of individual cultivation and even reclamation, and that has an educational approach that provides standards of opportunity to develop each student’s unique potential to achieve no less than academic standards.  

             You know, I read student daily journal entries, about 180 every weekday.  I have been doing this since I first instituted journaling in the fall term, 1996.  In a very unscientific way, I’ve learned a lot about students.  In this case, it’s been brought to home over and over again that students are far more likely to perform best in respectful environments, in situations where they are respected as individuals.  After reading thousands of daily journal entries, I’ve concluded that students don’t want to be respected as a ploy just so they can get better grades.  They don’t want to be respected just because of their grades and GPAs.  They want to be just respected; they want unconditional and positive regard just because of who they are as individual human beings.   Respect is the most powerful route any of us can take to reach out and touch each of them.  So it is around respect for each student that I have fashioned my vision, my philosophy of education, and the structure of my classes.  It is around unconditional respect, faith in, belief in, hope for, and love of each student as an individual that I have structured working, living principles governing what takes place in my heart and soul, in my emotions, and in my attitude.  They determine the depth of my awareness of each individual, the intensity of my sense of otherness, the extent of my sense of service, and simply how I behave and why and what I pedagogically do in class.  Why not.  The three most powerful tools in our pedagogical kit are not technique or technology.  They are attitude, attitude, attitude:  our attitude towards ourselves, our attitude about our purpose, and our attitude towards the students.  So, I on the plane back from the Lilly conference in Greensboro on Super bowl Sunday, I wrote my academic version of the Hippocratic Oath of dong no harm.  I’m going to call it, “A TEACHER’S OATH.”  “Oath” has a weightier feel of commitment while “rules” has a feel of mere compliance.  Here’s my newly fashioned oath that’s already taped above my computer and is going into my syllabi beginning this Fall semester.  Place your right hand on your textbook, raise your left hand and repeat after me:       

 I swear by Athena, Goddess of Learning, Métis, Goddess of Wisdom and Thought, St. Gregory the Great, Patron Saint of Teachers, and St. Thomas Aquinas, Patron Saint of Students, and all the wise rabbis of the Talmud I will fulfill this oath and covenant:  

I will give a damn about each person in the class!  I will care! I will support! I will encourage! I won’t just mouth it, I will live it!  Each day, unconditionally!                       

I will teach to nurture, not to weed out.  I will greet and embrace and accept each student.  I will not greet anyone with the expectation that he or she will fail.  I will not treat anyone as dumb and unwanted.  I will treat everyone as capable and belonging here.  I will greet each person knowing she or he has a unique potential to be cultivated.  I will greet each person knowing that she or he can learn, achieve, and succeed.  I will have faith in, belief in, hope for, and love of each person.   Each day, unconditionally!                        

I will treat each class as a “gathering of sacred ones,” of diverse, individual, noble, and very special human beings.  I will treat each person with equal dignity and unqualified respect. I will not let anyone go unnoticed; I will not allow anyone’s face to get erased; 

I will not let anyone go nameless; I will not place anyone in the background; I will not place anyone in the shadows of the corners;  I will not shun; I will not ignore; I will not belittle; I will not demean.  Everyone will start with a clean slate; I will not judge anyone by the ring in her belly button or the tattoo on his arm or the clothes she wears or the whispers of other people or a GPA or the accent of their speech or the color of their his or her ethnicity or his religion or her gender or his sexual preference or whatever else;                       

I will never be negative.  I will be upbeat, offering nothing less than praise and/or positive, constructive critique. I will focus on each student and her or his learning, and worry about my teaching later. 

I will be there to help each student help herself or himself  become the person she or he is capable of becoming.

 And, nothing will mean a thing if I don’t help each student help herself or himself become a better person and live the good life.                       

I make these promises solemnly, freely, and upon my honor.  And if I keep this oath faithfully each day, may I enjoy a life   overflowing with fulfillment, meaning, purpose, accomplishment, and satisfaction, respected by all in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.




Well, three academic streams are confluencing in class this week. First, the students are working on “The Song Thing” project; second, I have due what I angrily call “grrrrrrrrrrrrrr,” very unproductive, stress-imposing, mid-term “in progress grades;” and, third, students are journaling to me their answers to my own mid-term “How are we doing so far?” evaluations of their and my performance. Since I am struggling to wean students off of being grade conscious and nurturing a learning consciousness, I am sure that the administrative “powers to be” will not be happy with me since I chose the “none” option for my 180 in-progress grade reports instead of the usual A-F gamut of possibilities. At the same time, you should read the students evaluations. They blew me out of the water. The students had to answer with a word or a short phrase five simple questions:

1. What are three most important things to you that you have learned so far?

2. What are three aspects of the class that have been of the most help to you so far?

3. What are three things you like most about the class?

4. What are three things you wish were different?

5. Have you kept the “A” I gave you on the first day of class? If not, in one or two words or a short phrase, why not.

I’ve been tabulating in a very unscientific way, the student responses. They fall into six positive categories and one negative one. The six positive ones are: (1) they feel that they belong and are connected, and it reduces their debilitating fear and stress levels; (2) they feel a competency they seldom felt before and which surprises them; (3) they feel an autonomy that makes them nervous since they’ve seldom had it in a class before; (4) they enjoy the ownership of their decisions and control over themselves, which feeds a self-confidence and self-esteem; (5) they understand and accept and appreciate “the why” of the stuff they doing and manner in which they’re doing it; (6) and, they’re learning some history and experiencing its relevance to their lives. The one negative category of their response reveals the nature of their grade addiction, that is, they wish they didn’t have to work so much and so hard to keep their “A.”

These evaluations give me confidence and reinforce my commitment and determination in my struggle to swim against the current academic reward and punishment, carrot and stick, grading currents by (1) engaging in semester beginning “Getting To Know Ya” exercises that connect students with each other, with me, and me with them; (2) setting up daily, semester-long “stuff” such as journaling and mutual communicating to keep us connected to each other; (3) dividing the class into “communities of mutual support and encouragement” of three and four students that are gender and racially mixed; (4) engaging in semester beginning “Why We’re Doing What We’re Doing” exercises that explicitly give a purpose and relevance to everything we’ll do in class for the entire semester; (5) engaging in crucial exercises that will give the students autonomy and ownership of everything they do; (6) and, implementing my “Academic Oath” by which we–each student and me–work to be aware of, notice, and respect ourselves and others. They, and other elements, are all components of my intention of “Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges, Creating Community.”

These mid-term evaluations demonstrate that we, students, everyone, all have, as the science is telling us, five needs: first, the need to belong or feel connected; second, the need to feel competent; third, the need for autonomy or self-determination or ownership; fourth, a sense of purpose or meaning in what they, we, do; and finally, the relevant and personal “why” of what we do. When these needs are satisfied, we and they are more motivated, productive, at peace, and happy. When these needs are thwarted, our stress level shoots up, and their and our motivation, productivity, and happiness shoot down. Points, grades, tenure, promotion, salary increases and other academic tangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation. When we focus on the short-term goal of a grade or GPA, on tenure or promotion or salary increase, and opt for controlling student’s behavior or allowing our behavior to be controlled, we do considerable long-term damage to students and allow others to do considerable long-term damage to us. Think about it. My colleagues don’t have the highest morale in these hard time because they’ve so bought into the carrot and stick syndrome that when we’re being furloughed and not getting salary increases, we feel a “what’s the use” unappreciated, unnoticed, and an almost “whipping boy” punishment. And, let’s not get into the issue of the extent we do sell our souls in a Faustian manner in our quest for tenure and promotion.

When we aren’t producing, when students aren’t producing, they and we typically resort to the carrot and stick of rewards or punishment. We call it grades when it comes to students; we call it assessment or annual review or post-tenure review for tenure, promotion, and salary raises when it comes to us. What few people have done is the boots on the ground, hard work of diagnosing what the real problem is. Thanks to our century long acceptance, implementation, and submission to Frederick Winslow Taylor, we’re created creaky, rusty academic factories. But, academic institutions are not factories; we don’t have a production line driven by monotonous, mind-dulling, repetitive steps. Yet, we ask the factory question: How can we motivate them? And, we run over the problem with the smoke stack factory answer, “with the reward of a carrot or the punishment of a stick.” Our answer is so behind the science that is demonstrating that when people use rewards and punishment to motivate, that’s when rewards are most unrewarding, most demoralizing, and most demotivating. We’re deaf to Deci, Boyatzis, Senge, Goleman, Seligman, Amiable, Dweck, Gardner, Csikszentmihaly, and others. The science is telling us that human beings are not rats in a cage or automatons. They’re more. They have an innate drive to be autonomous, self-determined, purposeful, achieving, and connected to one another. And when we focus our efforts on creating environments for our innate psychological needs to flourish, when that drive is liberated, people will more likely achieve more and live richer lives. So, the questions we should be asking are:

1. How can we create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves?

2. How can we best liberate the drives for autonomy, self-determination, meaning, and connectedness?

3. What strategies have proven effective to nurture intrinsic motivation in a variety of settings?

4. How do we help each student feel welcome in class?

5. How do we help each student feel she or he belongs and is connected?

6. How do we help each student feel respected?

7. How do we help each student feel she or he is being seen and heard?

8. How do we help each student feel she or he has some control over what transpires in their lives?

9. How do we fixate on the strength to be reinforced rather than on the problem to be solved?

Classrooms, campuses, will become “motivating environments” when we stop dictating and controlling, when we stop isolating, when we stop relying on fear-inducing and stress-creating extrinsic rewards and punishment, when we have (1) broken barriers, (2) built bridges, and (3) created community. That is true for students; it is true for faculty; it is true for staff. When our natural human needs to belong and feel connected, to experience a sense of self-determination and ownership, to have meaning and purpose in our lives, to have relevance in what we do, and to have our competencies identified and recognized are met, when we feel we are in community with each other, when we can nurture and reinforce those needs with values that are characterized by respect for oneself and others which are at the core of leading a responsible and ethical lifestyle, we are far more likely to create conditions for everyone to motivate themselves and to achieve.




            We all need a time and place, a secret spot in our soul, where our dreams can safely go.   Mine are usually in a pre-dawn walk.  Not this cold mid 20s morning.  It’s about 6:00 a.m.  I’ve been up since 3:45.  I had to help Hope (Woo Kyoung Hee), the Korean student who had been staying with us for the past month while she was taking intensive language instruction at the University, finish packing and get to the airport for the beginning of her journey home.  I couldn’t sleep when I got back to the house.  So, before I started reading student journals and issue papers, I just sat in a chair in the dark living room, slowly sipping a delicious freshly brewed hot cup of coffee, and thought. I was thinking about a rich discussion I’ve been having over the past few days with a bunch of neat collegiate faculty developers about attitudes towards students. 

             Those exchanges had sent me re-read a bunch of experts, particularly Carl Rogers.   He said it in his On Becoming A Person, Client Centered Therapy, A Way Of Being, and The Freedom To Learn.  How little we listen, he said.  How much we talk.  How much we look with our eyes.  How little we see with our heart and soul.  How much we know our discipline. How little we know each student.  How much we are inauthentic.  How little we truly know ourselves.  How much we seek to and think we control.  Yet, how little we can actually control.  How much we believe we can motivate.  Yet, in truth, how little we can motivate.  How much we believe we teach.  Yet, how little we can actually teach.  How little most of us know really about learning.  How much we pay attention to information transmission and skill development; and, how much of it we structure and supervise.  How little thought we devote to emotional and social development needed to properly use that information and those skills; and, how much all of this is ignored, unsupervised, and haphazard. 

             Now, I respond constantly to student journal entries; I write the “Words For The Day” on the whiteboard; we relate these pithy sayings to the people of the period of history we’re engaged in; I respond in class to the “How I Feel Today” single word the students write each day on the whiteboard.  With all of this, I really have not found that I successfully can impose values, ethics, or attitudes or behaviors on a student.  I have not found that I can motivate a student.   I certainly know I cannot do it by the threats or enticements of subtracting or adding points to a numerical grade.  I certainly know I cannot do it by spanking a student with words or looks or tones. If I thought otherwise, I’d be creating a breeding ground for frustration, resignation, anger, retreat and surrender.  But, I do believe being an example of unconditional respect, of being kind and considerate, of being the embodiment of support and encouragement, of being an unconditional believer in each student’s unique potential, of being understanding of the sling and arrows of outrageous fortunes they experience, of not casting aside students’ feelings as irrelevant and insignificant, not only reminds me of my vision, not only connects me with my purpose, not only connects me with each student, not only energizes me, but gives me a far, far better chance of getting students to ask and answer, “What does he see that I don’t?  Why does he believe in me when I can’t?” 

             Respect and empathy, these are the deep connections of trust; these are the core conditions for learning.  I know students feel deeply appreciate simply being respected and understood – not evaluated, not judged, not graded, not threatened; just simply understood from their own point of view, not mine, and respected as sacred, noble, invaluable, unique human beings.  So, I submit that if you want to be effective and want students to learn, start with connection by meeting the student on a person-to-person basis.  Be authentic, by being a real person without a front, a costume, or a facade.  Be accepting by prizing each student as an imperfect human being, by honoring her or his person, feelings, situations, and views.  Be empathetic by standing in a student’s shoes, by understanding the student’s inner being, by having a keep sense of otherness that is all about them and not about you, by having a sensitive awareness of the way the process of learning seems to the student.  Learn to do this every day and the chances of that student learning shoots off the charts. 

             I also know the persuasiveness of example has a far, far better chance of acquiring more true followers than reason or command or imposition or threat.  It’s like Mother Teresa said, “Let no one come to you without leaving better and happier than before. Be the living expression of love, faith, hope, empathy, and kindness; let them be in your body, face, eyes, sound, and smile.”  It’s that simple–and that challenging.  If you can do all that each day, if you live each day using your unique energy to serve a meaningful and positive purpose, if you can feel the vision and be the living fulfillment of it, I guarantee you will know what a joy and a privilege it is to be able to make a positive difference in someone’s life.  And, I know, once you have felt that joy, you will not want to stop, your load will feel lighter, your pace will quicken into a delightful dance, and you will make your world and the world around brighter with each buoyant step you take. 

             No, my wealth is not in my tenure, salary, or resume; it’s in my vision, my sense of purpose, my meaning, my significance, and the feelings of a job well and mission accomplished when they all mesh with what I do.  And, no economic downturn can drain that account.



“Dashing through the snow, on a one horse……” The temperature is in mid 20s out there. Last night we had snow! In Valdosta! First time in twenty years. All four flakes inundated us!! A blizzard!!! We’re buried. They sanded and salted the roads. Out came the tire chains. Everything came to a halt. The fire is burning in the fireplace! We’ll dig out later.

Seriously, we were lucky to be just below the snow line of the storm that came roaring through the Southeast. and to get no more than at best a very slight dusting of “heavenly dandruff” that’s already melted away. But, even if we had been hit by paralyzing inches of snow, nothing could have chilled me, not after a week of presentation of the “Dr. Seuss Project” by students in the four first year history classes, not after pre-Valentine snuggling with Susan in front of the roaring fire.

Forget the snuggling. Let’s get to the students. My goal is to plant the seeds of self, intrinsic motivation by designing a classroom experience that would provide each student with challenging and enriching opportunities to acquire the skills, knowledge, and attitudes to become autonomous, life-long learners. I want supposedly ordinary student to believe how extraordinary they are; I want them to realize that if they give themselves a chance, they can surprise themselves; I want them to untie their own “nots” in their “cannots” and kick themselves in their “cans.” In that design are the crucial words “challenging,” “enriching,” “attitudes,” “autonomous, and “life-long.” Notice what I did not say. I did not mention anything about control, untimely deadlines, test, quiz, exam, or grade.

Now, without pictures or physically being among you, how do I tell you the extraordinary things these supposed ordinary students are capable of producing and did in fact produced? How do I show you how creative these students, who supposed aren’t all that imaginative, are if given a chance? How do I show you what these students, who said they couldn’t write, wrote? How do I get you to understand that under the right circumstances these students can unwrap their “intellectual gifts” and “artistic talents” and their “unique potential?” How do I convey how these “I can’t” students “can” and “did.” How do I explain how these students made the “It’s impossible” possible?” How do I get you to experience what the students felt? How do I assure you that I will, without hesitation or reservation or equivocation, hold up the result of the efforts against anything the creme-de-la-crème would do?

Well, let me start at the beginning. To put it in simple terms, among other things, at the beginning of the semester, for the first two weeks, following the precepts of Abraham Mazlow, we lay down a foundation we call BREAKING BARRIERS, BUILDING BRIDGES, FORGING COMMUNITY. We build that foundation with class operational principles of respect, autonomy, connection, purpose, and personal mastery centered around the goal of attacking and overcoming inhibiting fear, debilitating aloneness, and paralyzing strangerness. First, we read together my “ACADEMIC OATH.” Then, we start putting aside those very unproductive and uneducational and unrewarding fear-inducing and threatening carrots and sticks by we taking a “SCREW GRADES” stance. I’ll whet your appetite by saying no more about that. We do an interviewing exercise called “WHAT DO YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT ME?” It gives students connection with me. That is reinforced throughout the semester with daily, confidential student journaling that allows me to connect with them, and them with me. We do exercises called “THE INTERVIEW” and “TREASURE HUNT.” They begin to give students connection with each other. That is reinforced by creating racially mixed and gender mixed “Communities of Mutual Support and Encouragement” composed of three or four students who are initially strangers to each other. We do an exercise called “IT’S ALL ABOUT COMMUNICATION.” It gives students connection and helps them to start tapping and sharpening their emotional and social intelligences that Daniel Goleman discusses. That is reinforced by the requirement that the students in the communities communicate in some manner, shape, or form each day. We do an exercise called “IT’S ALL ABOUT COOPERATION.” The lynch pins of all this are three “HOW IT ALL WORKS” exercises at the end of all this “Getting to Know Ya” and “Forging Community” stuff. First, we do an exercise called “THE CHAIR.” It gives the students autonomy and ownership. Second, we do an exercise called “THE STORY.” It creates what we call THE ISSUE TEMPLATE that gives the students that essential “why,” that purpose, meaning, and relevance to all we do. And, finally we do an exercise called “I SANG.” It gives the students courage to take risks. Then, we put the Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences rubber to the critical skill road and the Teresa Amabile and Ed Deci’s autonomy pedal to the content–in this case history–metal with such projects as “Dr Seuss,” “Bruce Springsteen,” “Hollywood,” “Auguste Rodin,” “Salvador Dali,” “Madison Avenue” and “New York Times.” They fuel their tanks with creativity, imagination, self-confidence, courage, and self-esteem that comes out of them as crude and is slowly refined with ever increasing octane. Did I mention the additives of capability, ability, talent, and potential?

For a week, inside class and outside class, while I was there, while I wasn’t there, they doing “jig-saw,” and “reporting out” of issue papers, pouring over the textbook, reading, drawing, printing out, arguing, downloading, teaching each other, investigating, helping, learning from each other, discussing, thinking, creating, ingesting, digesting, talking, cutting, coloring, pasting. Was it perfect? No. Will everyone come around? No. Remember this a refining process. You don’t pump high octane racing fuel out of the ground. This is process. This is a refining process. This is a weaning off process, and it’s the first project. It’s an unlearning of old habits and a learning of new ones. That takes time, encouragement, support, patience, empathy, perseverance, commitment, faith, hope, belief, and love–tough love at times. Frustration, anger, resignation, cynicism have no place in class. No, we, I, don’t get to them all. But, that’s another story. Anyway, I don’t play any of the “100%,” “Perfect,” and “You Can’t Get To Them All So Why Try” games in the first place.

So, what were the rules of the Dr. Seuss project? Well, they were issued formally on 1/28; and, they were deliberately and precisely vague:

1. Drawing from the Issue Template, the members of each community will reach a consensus of what issue runs through, ties together, explains, and makes sense of (1) the individual issue papers already written and submitted and (2) what is happening during the period and in the areas covered in chapts. 18 & 19 2. The members of the community will write collectively a consensus issue paper. That issue paper will be sent to me via Blazeview no later than Monday, midnight, Feb 8 3. The community will teach the entire class about that issue in the form of a Dr. Seuss-style book that the members will collectively create.

4. The book will be half-poster board in size 5. It will be 24 pages in length with all 24 pages being used (front and back count as two pages) 6. You must create a thematic book cover. However, the outer and inner sides of both the front and back cover do not count as part of the 24 pages.

7. I will let you use class time on both Tues. and Thurs of next week (2/2 & 2/4) to work on the books IN THE CLASSROOM.

8. Presentation of the books, by volunteering or lottery number will begin on Tuesday, Feb. 9 when the books are due.

Then, I give them their rein. They know better than to ask me “what do you want” or “how is this” or “Is this okay.”

Students, like all of us, want reward for their efforts. But, the reward they crave most, that is most effective, that has the most meaning, is praise of a job well done, positive–I repeat, positive–feedback, and useful information. I, their peers, give that by instantly evaluating each book immediately after it is presented. I was so excited this weekend as we finished presenting Thursday and Friday, that I sent out my “Seuss-ish” encouraging praise of each and every one of them either as a “keep it up,” “you raised your own bar,” or a “see, you can do it:”


You used your imagination;

You used it by the ton;

You used your imagination

You had a lot of fun.

You used your creativity;

You used it more than just an itty-bitty;

Creativity! Imagination!

You let them both be found;

You let them both resound!

You gave yourself freedom

You felt your gleedom

They’re in you, you know.

You can find them–

You just have to care to dare to go get ’em.

You did!

You do!

Oh, up, up, up you flew.

you rode high,

you rode up in the sky;

you did soar

on glorious clouds galore

up there you found magical things;

up there you got on and flew high on your creative wings.

Do see?

Do you believe me?

you entered a new world

as your creativity unfurled

you saw new sights

from those soaring imaginative heights

you are in new lands

when you just take things in your hands

Oh, yes

You sweared;

you strained;

but you gained

Oh, yes

you sneered;

you veered;

but then you cheered

Oh, yes

you fretted;

you sweated;

but how you did get it

Oh, yes

You did fight it

But you got excited

And how you got delighted

Oh, yes

Now you know

You’re not just so, so

Did you see,

your faces lit up with glee

Your hearts felt the delights

at the wonderful sights

Each of you out there

Each! of! you!!

Each of you is more than just fair.

Each of you–each of you–can get far

If you just raise your bar

Step by step

Day by day

In a very good way

Each of you can get there

If you silence the Grinch of don’t and won’t and can’t



Enough for now. The students are working on their issue papers for chapters 18-21. On Monday and Tuesday, they’ll find out both what their next project is and the places they can go.

Well, I can go on and on with this subject. I’ve gone on too long already. More later.



No, I’m not still in a holiday mood. Then, again, maybe I am. No, I’ll take that back. I am. I always am. But, especially this cold, 35 degree morning. Curiously, my “resilient word for today” is SEE. Curious, because this morning in the cold, crystal pre-dawn I could see crystal clear in the dark because of a crystal diamond I received from a dear friend at the Lilly-South conference on teaching and that now holds an honored place above the computer. The warmth inside me, fueled by three days of schmoozing with colleagues who are my dear friends, the warm hugs and kisses that greeted me when I arrived at the conference, as well as the warm hugs and kisses at the end of the conference, are my best cold weather gear.

Maybe this is why on this particular dark morning I see so much light. You know, the dawn has secrets to tell us about ourselves. Seeing, rather than merely looking at, something so grand as a cloud, a star, the moon, the rising sun, a tree, a bush, something not made with human hands, it is hard not to get enveloped with an insight, a wisdom, a patience, a peacefulness, a humility, and, maybe above all, a gratitude. To be sure, these are the times that are trying our souls. At the conference, these times were weighing on the sub-text of everyone’s souls. I can understand that. Between being furloughed and the rising cost of my medical insurance through the university system, my take home pay has taken a heavy hit, a very heavy hit. So, as I told many people this past weekend at the conference, is that all there is to who we are and what we do? Is it merely salary, tenure, resume that get me up each day, that get me going, that keep me going, that impact on how I feel and what I think, and what I do? Is it merely this that lets me sleep comfortably at night? Is it merely this that is the gauge of my worth? Am I to resent, worry, grumble, complain, and sulk that someone in high places doesn’t appreciate education or me as an educator? Am I to go to my closet to put on my hair coat or sackcloth? Am I to go to my fireplace and put ashes on my head? Am I to curse someone out? Am I to flay myself? Am I to let the situation sap my strength and slow my gait? What good would all that do? A heavy heart isn’t exactly uplifting. An empty spirit isn’t fulfilling. Self-pity is never a strengthening agent. I’m positive that you can’t build much worthwhile with worthless negatives. Sure there are problems, challenges, difficulties. But, at times like these we should not underestimate the driving power of commitment to something greater and higher and beyond us. That empowering purpose makes us more persistent than the persistent problems around us; it is a vision that helps us look past blinding confrontations; it is a significance that strengthens us so we can overwhelm overwhelming difficulties.

When we feel down and things around are chilly and dark, we just have to look up at the stars and treasure the things we treasure. Things can be very beautiful and things can be very ugly. I guess having survived a cerebral hemorrahage I shouldn’t have survived I’ve learned I cannot wait for anyone or anything to offer me encouragement and support. That’s my job. I have to keep playing each day what I call “the keep game.” I have to keep stoking the fires of my inner core. I have to keep going, keep learning, keep working, keep changing, keep growing, keep persisting, keep improving, keep believing, keep hoping, keep loving, keep adding one day on top of another. I have to keep seeing that each day is a blessing rather than a burden. I have to keep knowing that each day is as an opportunity for me to make a difference. I have to keep believing that each day is there for me to bring the unique value that is me and to bring out the unique value that is in each student. And. I have to keep walking each day on the road to some possibility. All–and it’s a big “all”–I have to do is to keep reaching deep inside and find the goodness that is always there, to keep feeling the positive purpose that nothing can take away from me, to keep feeling worthy and relevant, effective and capable, and keep helping each student help her/himself become a better person knowing, feeling, that all the difficulties don’t begin to add up to the beauty and joy.

So, I appreciate the beauty, so much that I won’t let the ugly either slow me down or bring me down. There are so very many good things in my life right now. I got, I always will have, plenty of great reasons to be exceedingly thankful. I am alive; I am not on the unemployment line; our house isn’t being repossessed; we are not out on the streets; we have heat for our home; we have medical insurance; we have clothes on our backs; we have food on the table; we have a family of two sons, their wives, and three grandmunchkins; and, above all, I go to sleep each night and wake up each morning seeing my beautiful and angelic Susan lying there next to me.

Am I being Hallmarkish? I don’t think so. I’m being very practical. Feeling how bad things are is depressing, inhibiting, and enslaving; feeling how good thing are is uplifting, energizing, and empowering. It’s gratitude, not ingratitude, that lights up the room. It’s thankfulness, not thanklessness, that warms the room. It’s a loving and filled heart, not a loveless and empty heart that makes the world a better place, at least my world. Is purpose, not purposelessness, that gives me reason to eagerly look forward to this day.



     There are moments when serendipity reigns and you don’t ask questions. This morning, getting myself deeper into the groove for the Lilly-South conference on teaching in higher education in Greensboro this weekend, sipping a cup of freshly brewed coffee, I opened my e-mail box. As I scrolled down and exercised my forefinger on the delete key, I came to a message. Its subject heading caught my eye, “Be Short.” Intrigued, I opened it. It was from a university professor. She didn’t tell me anything about herself. I’m not sure if the question she threw at me in her short message was hurled as a snide challenge or offered as a prayerful plea. Anyway, she tersely wrote, “I don’t have time to read your lengthy epistles however I enjoy the very few I do copy and later read. I just want you to give me one sentence that sums up your attitude about teaching. That’s all the time I have for.” One sentence! A few words! A couple seconds read! Interesting. Challenging! That beats in spades the five minute soliloquy my dear friend Todd Zakrajsek of my beloved UNC gives some of us at the Lilly-North conference. Well, to paraphrase the Bard, all things are ready if our hearts, soul, and mind be so. I guess mine had been readied for this as I’ve been reading myself mentally and spiritually to mix with and learn from some very neat people at the Lilly-South conference.

      As it turned out, and here is where serendipity poked its nose into my affairs, before I had turned on my computer, before I had brewed a pot of coffee, I had, as I do every morning, blindly put my hand into my cat-in-the-hat hat and pulled out a word from the heap of what I call “resilient word for the day” that lay hidden at the bottom. Each morning, I go through this ritual to get the word that I plan and struggle to embody that day. Today, as serendipity would have it, the word I had selected was “amazed.” Amazing! Again, sometimes you just don’t ask.

So, I read the message again, slowly; took another sip of coffee, slowly; looked at my word, slowly; and, my fingers started dancing on the keyboard, quickly: “Don’t be afraid to be amazed by each student and don’t be afraid to be amazing.” One sentence. A reduction, as my son, Robby, the chef, would say, intensifying the flavor! How about that! I’ll let her think about this one. I’ll let me think about this one. Now, I’m off to live my own word all this weekend: to be fearlessly and unabashedly both amazed and amazing at Lilly-South.