Thought For Today

I am so glad that you have found this site and I hope you will find encouragement and joy as you read through my thoughts on God, family and life.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Redirecting Behavior (Conclusion)

When encountering a rift, we "can" choose to build a bridge.

When writing this post on redirecting behavior, my thoughts continually went back to the beginning of my teaching career.  In looking back, from the start, I could see that I felt overwhelmed at times with the complexities of all the dynamics around me.  Fights, swearing, anger, restraining young men, and the like, was my everyday routine.  From the time that I came to school until I left, I was with these very needy children.  After a while, my soul felt very old and my heart found that it was harder to keep smiling, as well as encouraging my students.  No sooner when seeing positive changes in one child, I got another new student in my class.  I found myself starting all over again.  I depended more and more on the grace of God, and I found myself wondering what it would be like to be in a so-called “normal” classroom.  I soon had to dismiss these thoughts, finding that that is not where God had placed me, but at the ranch instead.  In my desperation, I pleaded for God’s guidance.  This was soon to come my way.

In my last post, I ended by saying that negative reinforcements, that is, punishing my students for bad behavior was not working.  One day as I sat monitoring my small group of boys at the dinner table, I noticed a young student of about 12 years of age, taking a cup of coffee from the kitchen counter.  My first thought was one of disbelief, how could a boy this young be wanting to drink coffee?  Then it came to me as I continued to watch further.  I saw him pour half a cup of sugar into his coffee.  To say the least, I was amazed in that he swallowed the whole thing.  Later that day, I was speaking to my friend, the ranch counselor whose name was Henry.  I told him about the young man and what he had done with the coffee.  Henry laughed and then went on to tell me that sweets in any form were forbidden for the boys at the ranch.  Henry said that many of the boys before coming here, lived on junk food with a lot of sugar in the ingredients.  By drinking the coffee with sugar, they could fulfill their cravings for sweets. 

The thought then occurred to me in how I could use sugar as a force for positive change in my students.  I went to the principal with my idea, and he said that I could try it on a provisional basis.  In my classroom, I offered students candy for positive behaviors and good academic

performance.  In one day, I had a whole different environment within my classroom.  My students studied, participated, and there were no fights what so ever.  I wanted to keep the wraps on my plan with the other teachers in the beginning, because I wanted to see if it would work first.  Soon, the other teachers were coming to my room and watching the difference this made for me, and more importantly, for my students.  Very quickly, the other instructors were approved to do the same, and we had a revolution in behaviors with in the ranch school.  After a period of time, the novelty of candy would wear off, and some negative behaviors would resurface.  This though would lead us to work on other positive reinforcers that would be less tangible.  Recognitions for good behavior, among other viable alternatives were used in turning students around.  We found that positive alternatives were having a much greater influence for change than punishments had been at our ranch school. 
Children often find that simple
discovery can be very exciting!
I found that something so simple was eluding us as professional instructors.  No form of punishment was working; it took a simple thing like sugar to turn behaviors around.  God had shown me something I never would have seen, and this was only due to its simplicity. 

How then does this story relate to my future in education?  I later took the position of starting an alternative school in central Minnesota.  Previous attempts had failed to get the program going, but because of God’s insights and direction, it soon became a success.  It went from students having to go to an alternative program, to those students who were desiring to be there.  How did it work?  We had caring staff that really wanted our students to succeed.  From our secretary, who with her gentle loving nature first greeted our new students when arriving, to that of each caring teacher in the classroom. 

One important lesson I had learned at the ranch school, that caring took precedence over education.  If children knew that you really cared for them, then they would want to learn and feel safe with you.  Many of the children when first coming to the Alternative School were angry at the world for their tumultuous existence.  We provided for them a safe place, a shelter from the storms in their lives that took place outside of the school.  They knew that they were loved and cared for when they stepped into our halls.  In this environment, they could see hope and a future for themselves. 

Sometimes certain paths can be very challenging for us adults, while for a child, the way is simple.
I now can now look back and see how God has taught me in how to love myself with all my frailties and weaknesses, and then to love my students.  Without coming to know God’s forgiveness and love, I know that I would not have been much of a teacher.  As God’s word says, “Love each other deeply, for love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

Many times over the years I have found that when in a tense situation with a child, instead of yelling back to get their attention and/or giving threats in order to scare them, I have taken a breath, and walked away from the situation.  A little later, I returned and offered that student alternatives that were positive for everyone concerned.  I am always amazed at how my wife Anne works with our children.  I have often watched her when talking to one of our kids who were upset.  She sits them down alone, away from the situation that got them angry, and then really, really listens to what they have to say.  Then, she smiles and offers them positive alternatives to the problem, and how they might do it differently next time, that is, rather than a restriction.  Our child walks away feeling that they have been heard, and loved.  They also know that there is a good outcome to the frustrating dilemma facing them.

Sometimes we only see what is on the surface,
 God though knows the heart.
By watching how Anne’s parents talk to our children, I can see where many of the skills that my wife possesses come from.  They are patient with our kids, and very slow to anger.  Anne’s mother Marji will at times, redirect (in a positive way) one of our children when seeing frustration mounting in them.  First, she lets our child know that she is listening, and that she cares for them as well as understands what it is that they are going through.  She then explores positive outcomes with them.  Marji then allows our child to choose between several alternatives in what they could have done, and what they can do in the future.   Will or Abby, then walks away knowing that they have been heard, cared for, and self-empowered to go another direction. A direction that is much more fulfilling than anger and frustration.  I have been a witness to my staff doing the same at school.  I have found this to be the essence of a good teacher, as well as a wonderful parent and caregiver as well.

As adults, we hold their futures in the balance, those that have been entrusted to us.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Redirecting Behavior

Redirecting Behavior

Watching the soothing ripple of the stream brings peace to a weary soul.
When first starting to instruct children, I found myself student teaching in a small rural area in Northern Minnesota.  My teaching assignment was to instruct children who had many challenges that they faced in and outside of school.  It was a School Within a School Alternative Program.  The everyday challenges that these children faced were enormous compared to the ones you and I face every day.  Needless to say, I did not want anything to do with this aspect of instruction when completing my student teaching assignment.  My desire was to go right back to college to obtain my Masters degree, teach awhile in the public school, and then precede on to my Doctorate degree and teach History in a college setting.  God though, had other plans.  I began my career teaching at a boy’s ranch outside a large Midwest town.  Children there came from four states and they were from diverse ethic backgrounds. 

A stream knows where it has come from, and where it is going.
God too will show us a way, one that leads to enlightenment and peace.
While instructing at the school, I was expected to teach 6 different classes a day, and with that alone, the requirement was unbelievable as to the preparation required.  Many times I didn’t leave the ranch until after 8 o’clock and sometimes as late as 11 p.m. in the evening. 

Not only was the curriculum challenging, the behavior was beyond anything that any teacher could have ever have imagined.  Many students were there because of their extreme run in’s with the law, and/or having had been horribly abused by someone close to them.  Consequently they were sent to the ranch for behavior modification, as well as an education.  In the beginning, I would listen to my students talking about how they robbed someone, shot this person, or even stabbed some individual.  After awhile, I chose not to listen to these stories, basically because I wanted to know these young adults on their merit that they displayed today, rather than to hear about their past lives which might taint my view of them in the future. 

Water that rests becomes stagnant and is useless.
It has reached an end, but has not fulfilled its purpose.
Years later, I half joked about having more wrestling experience in my classroom at the ranch, than I did in high school.  In reality, I spent almost every day restraining children or breaking up fistfights either in my classroom, or in one of the female teachers’ rooms.
One day while teaching, I found myself on the floor breaking up yet another fistfight between two students.  After their tempers cooled, I talked to each student individually and tried to work out possible solutions to their difficulties, one with another.  The policy held in the school, at the time, was that a punishment was to be given for fighting.  I told my students this and one boy looked up at me and said, “What can you do that hasn’t been done to me already!  On my last day of school, my step dad road on the hood of a car while my mom drove, he whipped me all the way to the school.  So if a whip couldn’t change me, what makes you think this punishment will?”  His comments made me think, "What punishment could we as a school enact on these kids that hasn’t been already tried before they came here?"  I saw then that punishment wasn’t the key to change in the school; something else must be tried, but what?  I prayed about this, partially because I was tired of this route, and because I could see it was a dead end.  Even in our prison systems it was not working, reentry into the prison system for those released, was very high, so punishment wasn’t the key to behavior change.  I found myself becoming very weary and I was wondering if I should resign.  The dropout rate for teachers in this environment was obviously high, and I didn’t want to be another statistic, I wanted to truly help these hurting children, but how?

"Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  John 4:13
I believe God showed me a way that would help me to see how positive change could be instituted, that it could not only help the students at the ranch, but later in my encounters with other children. 

I will write more in my next blog post. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Planting Memories

Anticipation For This Year
Today the weather is bright and shiny with a gentle breeze flowing past the flowerbed that I am sitting in.  I look up from the flowers that surround me, and I can see my children playing next door with their cousins who are 3 and 2.  I watch my son Will, gently playing with his 2 year old cousin.  Will is watching for his cousin’s next move in anticipation in how to play along with him.  As I look over to Abby, my daughter, I can see that she is pulling her 3-year-old cousin in his wagon.  They are having a wonderful time together, and I can see Abby being a “big girl” as she giggles at her cousin who is laughing heartily along with her. 

Abby, "I picked these for you Mama!"
I now find myself looking over at our flower garden again, and I notice that the second batch of flowers are finally pushing their way through the Minnesota soil.  My memories go back to the time when Will and Abby helped me plant these colorful gladiolas.  Will set the bulbs out within the spacing that I had laid out for him, while Abby was preparing the soil for my unorthodox method of planting.  I was using a 2-inch PVC pipe, about a foot long to form the bulb hole, and I used a 5-pound hammer to push the pipe into the ground at a depth I marked on the pipe.  Will would then take each dirt plug out of the pipe as Abby dropped the bulbs into the soil behind us.  We had a good method going although it probably would not be endorsed by any gardening magazine that wished to increase its sales (ever). 

Will in the bright sun, but very proud.
The planting went well, until I turned at one point to look at Abby. Unfortunately for me, the hammer at that moment was making contact with the pipe, (or so I thought).  My finger decided to intervene at that moment, and I felt an intense pain culminating at the end of my left hand.  At that instant, I let out an intense muffled scream, while at the same time in opening my eyes; I could see my children looking at me in horror.  I managed to say, “Not to worry kids, I’ll be all right!” with gritted teeth. 

A child sees its beauty, even when we do not.
For a time, I lost my joy in our planting adventure.  I kept looking at my hurting hand, and so as with all things that progress, a few days later, I lost my fingernail.  As in most things, a lesson was to be learned for all of us, especially for me. 

Today I look at the fruits of our labor and I smile over the shared adventure of planting these flowers.  I see how it has brought so much joy to so many people when looking at our little flower patch.   Now, I contemplate less over the pain from my mistake, and more in the pride I see on my children’s faces as they present the flowers to family and friends.  I think of how, as with so many things in life, there is a certain amount of pain that we go through, just because we are human, and we make mistakes.  In the end I have come to realize, that each of us must make the choice of looking either at the flowers, or the fingernail.
James 1: 1-12

Friday, May 11, 2012

Having Fun Near Home

Hand carved Troll from Norway watching over her garden.

Anne had time off this past week and so we planned different events for each day.  Today we started out in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  The town is about 30 miles south of Winona on the Mississippi River.  We stayed overnight at a hotel near the river in the  downtown area.  Grandpa, Will and I went to one of our favorite spots, the Antique Store.  I was looking for Good Housekeeping Cookbooks that were published prior to 1950.  Anne wanted to get a cookbook that was less dependent on modern appliances, like microwaves, electric and gas stoves.  I found a chocolate cookbook made by Hersey’s published in 1930.  I also found a canning cookbook for canning different fruits and vegetables.  It was a Good Housekeeping book, but it was published around 1958.  Anne got excited though when she perused through it. 

Anne and children walking in the Peace Garden.
Will went to the antique coin collection section and we looked closely at a Confederate bank note, as well as federal notes and coins issued in the 1880s.  It was fun watching him get so excited.  Will collects old coins and even has a friend of ours from HyVee (Pam) looking for coins for him.  She finds so much enjoyment in doing this.  Pam told me that Will “inspires her” with his excitement in finding old coins.

Before we left LaCrosse, Anne and Abby found a peace garden down by where the Black River and the Mississippi meet.  They had a Japanese, German, Norwegian, and Russian sections of the garden.  Abby and Anne got really excited when walking through the different areas seeing the multitude of flowers and water designs located there.  Personally, I like the little carved trolls in the Norwegian area of the Peace Garden.  Butterflies were in abundance and the weather was in the 70s, so we had a perfect day for walking. 

Suncrest Garden's Farm
We ended today by going out to the farm where we get our vegetables and fruit each week.  Heather Secrist (Suncrest Garden’s Farm) has a wonderful farm that provides a panoramic view of the valley that her farm is located in.  Each week during the summer, on Fridays, Heather has a special event all summer where she makes stone fired pizzas and provides a wide variety of refreshments and entertainment for her customers and friends.  Throughout the summer she offers a wonderful and relaxing evening out on her lawn, where the kids can play on the different outdoor swings, etc. while farmyard animals are looking on in nearby pastures.  We so enjoy our organic fruits and vegetables that Heather provides for us each week.
Early morning visitor yesterday.  Drank rainwater from our
wheel barrow and fed on nearby grass.
So, this was our Friday.  We had a wonderful time together as a family.

God has blessed us with so much.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Enjoying God's World of Nature

Will showed me this while I was writing this entry.  Simple beauty found by a child.

Today I sit on the porch talking to my sweetheart, relaxing while listening to the sounds of the many birds talking to each other in their preparations for having their young.  I look up and see that a wren has stopped by Will’s newly painted birdhouse, probably the same song bird that had had a nest in Abby’s birdhouse last year.  I listen to it peck the inside corners of the birdhouse and think, “It must be checking for a sound structure to make its nest.” 

A friend said to me, "A new Wren-ter."
I look across the meadow and I see that the cardinals are flying to and fro looking for bugs that are coming out after the recent rain.  As I now watch a male cardinal,  I observe him climb through Anne’s trellised honeysuckle in front of me.  Meanwhile, our cat Kelly is watching the same feathered friend with great interest, and I imagine she is thinking, “How can I get reach this bird?”  Kelly stretches her long body, standing on her hind legs, all the while leaning on the trellis, reaching as far as she can upward, being just out of reach. 

The table is set!
My thoughts wander back to this morning.  I was looking at the trees in the forest when all of a sudden I was visited by an unexpected friend, a ruby throated hummingbird.  Last year we did not start seeing our little hummingbirds come by until mid July, and this morning while standing on the driveway, one flew right up in front of me as to say, “I am back!”  It quickly flew away after observing that I wasn’t the only one that was watching it.  Kelly was walking from the other direction stealthily eyeing our little feathered friend with great interest. 

Catching a picture of a fairy as she flies by.
My thoughts return to the present, and I now look over at Anne and thank her for taking the time to sit with me while I enjoy the chorus of nature all around us.  This is my element; I so enjoy being apart of God’s creation in the spring.  My heart soars when I sit here in silence, listening to God’s creatures singing to him, and the entire forest as well.  How wonderful it must have been when Adam and Eve walked in the Garden of Eden, surrounded by all of God’s creatures.  Our pastor recently spoke about how during the Millennium, we will have all types of animals lying one with another.  There will be no carnivores, just herbivores.  My little girl calls them, veggiesauris’.

Rain clouds arrive at sunset.
Anne has said that when she thinks of my love for nature, it makes her recall one of my favorite individuals of the past, St. Francis.  He possessed a deep passion for the animal world around him.  For me, that is the nicest compliment I could receive.  Anne is perhaps one of the most gentlest individuals I know.   She is so kind to people, and I am so fortunate to be married to her. 

As I write this, I look up and see our hummingbird friend flying in front me, by the honeysuckle.  By the time I reach for my camera, it is gone.  There are times that I miss the photo (more times than not) with the hummingbird.  It is during those moments that Anne will reach over and touch my hand and say with a caring voice, “There will be many opportunities in the future.  Perhaps we should just enjoy its presence, just for now.”  Anne always knows how to cheer me up. 

Anne's Honeysuckle trellis.
This today is my world, life is good and God has blessed me very much.