Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ah, the Newness of Fall

Each Fall, I can vividly recall getting my new textbooks and new pencils and paper and the smells of newness that would trigger a new level of excitement about school. Even as a little boy those thoughts are so ingrained into my memory.  I felt that same sense of excitement and exhilaration in the last two days as I finally got to meet and speak with my four classes for the Fall semester.  Silly perhaps but I still get so excited about a new semester and all the challenges that lay ahead. I tingle in finally getting to execute countless hours of planning, syllabi's preparation, logistical coordination, establishing communications nets with my students; you know, the smell of new textbooks!

Now I realize that my energy and passion just sort of blows all over the room when the students are coming in and I am shaking hands in welcoming them.  It is the first time they have met this person, that would be me, that has made contact via an elaborate email with several attachments they received many times within minutes of them enrolling in my classes. That would be me that fills their In Box with daily articles I select and comment on as I seek to "ignite a hunger for them to want to understand" this world.  It is always interesting when I call on one of these newbies to answer the question, "so what did you think, really, when you opened that first email from me?"  I realize that is quite out of the ordinary but then teaching should be quite out of the ordinary I believe.  I seek to establish new heights of creativity and new levels of connectivity with my students long before we even meet. I want them to feel the energy, the strength of passion about the work and the new terrain that looms before them. I want them to smell the new textbooks of education.

The nearly 180 students I have this semester, after the drops and adds, are great people. They range in age from 17 to 79. I have an unusually high number of males versus females. I have very few military veterans versus what I usually. But really what I have is a large group of opportunities that need to be developed, challenged, stretched and pushed to reach levels of learning perhaps new and thus frightening for them.  That is the part I love most, frankly, for that energizes me even more.  The power of learning is a potent, unstoppable force I can, more and more, understand why, throughout history, when a dictator comes to power, the first thing they do is have the teachers killed for teachers breathe new life into stale, fragmented minds and paradigms.

So my blog message this morning to my students, old and new, and to the parents and grandparents of these young minds I say, they are in good hands and covered by daily prayer for their well being, their stretched minds they are about to experience as they prepare for life in a new, frighteningly scary and every changing world. It is going to be fun so hang on!

It is a great generation and what a blessing to get to touch the future and their unborn children and grandchildren. Yes, I view what I GET TO DO through that prism meaning it much more than just time in class for it is about changing a generation. That is powerful stuff isn't it?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Nets up!

Another early morning get up for me as I face a pretty busy day but certainly not complaining.  As I have gone through my FB wall in last couple of days, I have found it interesting at the many photos put up by parents sending their children off to a new school year and our two children are certainly no exception.  I have enjoyed seeing all the photos but the process of sending children off to school after a long or short summer is a very defining moment in the lives of those children, those parents, those teachers, our world!

For me, while I still do not understand, as a new semester approaches launch, I find myself going into the super excited, adrenalin-driven state of anticipation. I remember that same "rush" before a big basketball game in high school and college or the few minutes before the birth of our children.  I have often wondered why that sense becomes so real and almost overwhelming. My sleep need goes away for my mind will not shut off. My heart races with each new student enrollment notification and I have this giddy sense of feeling really excited about seeing "another one" choosing to take the journey.  I take it as a personal lose when a student withdraws from a class and all of this before I have even met the student.  Why is that I wonder!

See, a semester of courses for me begins about two weeks into the precious semester. The amount of mental preparation and work I invest into building a course, and each one is a new construction project for me, saps energy as my brain goes into hyper-drive in creating this Road map of work that will take the class down a pathway that is rich in learning, experiencing, affording opportunity to learn in a massive scale; that excites me and thus becomes a driver to get into a Word file a process of learning with is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. Why? because the student is worth it for I realize more and more that I am getting the blessing of touching the lives of our future.

At sixty-four, I am ever reminded that I do have more years behind me than I do in front of me. Now that may sound weird but when that reality becomes evident, some will run from it but some embrace it and seek to maximize every moment. I am truly in category "B" for my life continues to fill with activities, interfaces and interventions with people be they a friend, a student, a jail inmate, a child, grandchild, wife, etc, etc.  In other words, realizing more clearly than ever before that every breath is a blessing when you feel good and you find joy in what you are doing. 

Those that know me know I have always found myself in a multi-faceted life style.  Teaching, singing, counseling, living, etc, are all pieces and parts of my life and like I wrote a few weeks ago, the power of "I Get To" instead of "I Have To" creates a powerful force.  With each passing day I find myself wanting to do more and more when stereotypically people  think that now in retirement for almost a decade I should be relaxing 24/7; how boring is that?!

I LOVE the life I Get To live.  Do I do too much? Probably! Do I glean a richer more satisfying value from the things in my life?  On a scale I could have never imagined!  See, I think I am probably a slow learner for it has taken me too much of my life to come to some real insight on this thing called life. One of the most integral elements about life I have learned via seeing it in my own life is that God gifts each of His children with certain talents. Some He may grant more than one.  But more importantly, as you seek to live in God's Will for your life, part of that is seeking to fully utilize and maximize your gifts for His Glory.  So that term "spiritual gifts" is very real and very tangible for I can stand on my own stack of days as testimony to that reality.

As the Fall semester begins finally to unfold, the energy and exhilaration I feel is energizing. It matters not the inordinate hours spent in building a semester of work, of selecting, communicating with and preparing the team leaders for the work ahead and then working directly with the nearly two hundred students I will work with in four classes. THAT IS SO EXCITING TO ME!  Why? because I KNOW that be the end of the journey if the student will commit to the journey, carry their load, invest themselves into the work, a wealth and richness of learning will have taken place that will better posture each student for the headwinds of life; this I KNOW!

So my challenge to each of you, what is your spiritual gift for you have one more more? But more importantly, how are you mining that gift to touch, move, motivate and enrich others which is a far more important analysis for each of us. I love to see peoples' lives touched and changed through my teaching, my singing, my interface for in seeing that,  I know God is blessing and rewarding the use of the gifts He has given me; it really is that simple but so rewarding and so powerful.

So getting the Nets Up is precursor to preparing the fields for planting, cultivating and harvesting in each and every life put before you.  What a phenomenal blessing life becomes when you live long enough to realize this. So to my students, hang on for the journey is worth it IF YOU COMMIT to the journey.  This will be a great semester I know for I know the NETS ARE UP! So now I get to watch, guide, direct, cheer lead the process as it now begins to unfold ... and yes, I am already thinking about the Spring semester with some new innovations to educate.  Thank you God for the gift of teaching you gave me!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Juices of Fall

Another morning of waking at 0400 with visions, not of sugar plums dancing in my head, but of last minute details to finalize the infrastructure upon which my four classes I will be teaching will function smoothly.  Getting the team leaders identified, readying them by calming them to the task before them, finalizing the scheduling of speakers to my classes, finalizing hosts of the Study Missions, setting up separate meetings with my team leaders by class prior to the launch a week from Monday, making sure the syllabus work flow is clean and clear; those are the plums dancing in my head!

Recently I was consulting with a client in a new business start up and what the start up had basically entailed was destabilizing every element and person in his life and he was reaping the agonizing benefits of that destabilization.  In my final counsel to him, the words of Sun Tzu returned to me; the brilliant Chinese military commander and strategist in 5000 BC gave us one of his principles of strategy and leadership is that the leader must stabilize the force.

Stabilization brings a sense of calm in the wake of an oncoming storm. Never fear the storm if your preparation is done well. I saw one of those great and pertinent church signs yesterday that read, Smooth Waters Do Not Make for Skillful Sailors.  It is not the job of leaders to calm the waters but to prepare the boat and its sailors for the squall ahead. 

As the professor of approaching 200 students in four classes this Fall, I am so excited to get this journey up and running.  I know, KNOW, that much will be accomplished, growth will be witnessed, the thrill of victory will fill the noses of those that commit to the journey and the agony of frustration in having to deal with me or the rest of the team members not feeling the winning juices will be present as well. It is in that panacea of emotion that I seem to find the greatest sense of worth and satisfaction in seeing young people rise above what they think they can do or cannot do and attain something greater than they are; a blessing to watch and to be part of!

I do love what I get to do with and in my teaching on a scale I could never have imagined.  Those that serve as team leaders formulate the infrastructure of success and to watch them build their culture in their respective teams is always simply amazing.  Then the Chief Operating Officer, who a team leader as well, has the additional coordination and direction responsibility of cat herding the actions of the nine other team leaders and their folks, pulling all the work for hand in together in a specific manner and then see the smile when they literally hand the completed ten teams' work to me for grading; wow what a small but grand victory I see in the eyes of that COO.

Teaching is a joy but only if you invest in the students' lives, get to know them, respect them, challenge and stretch them, mentor them, be tough with them if not performing, expect more and more and you will get more and more. Teaching, at least the way I teach, is very kinetic and energy generating.  It is an energy that exudes exhilaration with the victories and wisdom with the losses but then turning the losses into victories is wisdom on steroids.  Watching the dozens of young minds reach outside themselves, be dependent on others and all that entails, grasp the concepts of what real, on the ground leadership looks, feels, tastes and smells like is the greatest of joys for me for I know those learned skills will play forward in years to come.

So on this beautiful Saturday morning looking into the next two weeks of meetings and then the launch, I know there will be much concern, worry and exasperation but I also know that past those clouds reside a sunrise most of these young people have not even thought about. Yes there will be those that choose not to engage, the 20%ers, so it will be for me as the CEO to rid the class of their anchoring weight or move them to the 80% group; winners and some losers but predictable. But for me that is part of the victory to see that 20% impact on the whole class when dealt with properly.

So who gets the blessing of the countless hours of preparation and coordination?  Certainly it is I in witnessing the phenomenal thing called Learning take place. Never could I have imagined that in my life but I realize more and more that this is part of the blessing and ministry God has given me to do so who gets the blessing? Yup, that would be me!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Amazing Gift and Joy of Harmony

Usually when people think of harmony, their minds go to music. While that is a great measure and illustration of harmony, I realize more and more that the world, Man, is seeking for harmony on a wide front of issues that reside in this thing called life. 

Last night was a great example for me for I was part of it.  I have been honored to sing in a Summer Choir formed from singers, sixty-six, from 18 area churches to learn a Christmas cantata written and arranged by Praisegathering Music Company.  This is a bi-annual experience and the delivery of the cantata that includes the professionals that wrote and arranged the piece are there and part of the performance.  The cantata is the capstone piece to a 3.5 day workshop of music directors from across the United States, about 300 in total, that come together to hone skills, develop a broader cache of music, network and they pay a significant fee to do that.  On the Friday night the workshop is opened to the public which fills the auditorium which was the case last evening. But the point of today is about harmony and its joy!

To spend several summertime hours from June to August on Tuesday evenings working diligently to learn the music, technique, dynamics, etc, a family is born. We may not know each other's names nor much about those on our left or right, front or back but the currency of the process of forming the family is the music.  Last night prior to the performance, our director gave her final parting comments and points to remember but then just before the final prayer spoke of people within the choir that are hurting for an array of reasons. I realized having spent a summer with these dear people I had not come to that point of really thinking that much about the very personal side of those I got to work with but for a small handful and then I was out the door for home.

But last night the "family" came together in a magical moment when the director spoke of the issues some are facing and I saw people begin to hug, shoulders quivering from crying, cheek kissing, heads bowed in very deep, personal prayer; all the earmarks that a very special moment of harmony was being experienced; a gift! In those few moments I was awestruck by the power of what a family, in harmony, has which is immeasurable for it is a very special, unique joy and I was getting to be part of it.  At that moment, in the quiet solitude of my own thoughts as I looked at the expressions of sincere love and compassion within that crowded room, I felt transcended to an even closer walk with my Jesus for only from Him could such a moment be brought to reality.

As we processed from the room into the auditorium and then to our seats, there was a sense of real joy to get to be part of something we knew would be really special. I knew something good was about to happen in the delivery of the cantata and I certainly was not disappointed. Hearing the powerful sound of that choir, experiencing the precious gift of being part of something harmonious was especially powerful to me in that almost one hour of delivering what you had spent hours learning.  Watching the reaction of the audience but especially the arrangers on stage that had heard the cantata many, many times and to see their joy at what they were hearing; that was harmony!  As the performance ended, exhausted of course, it was so uplifting to hear so many wonderful comments that melted into a special chord of harmony that was pleasing to my heart and my soul; we had done something many were pleased with but far more importantly, we had been part of the joy of harmony that brought so much to so many. WOW!

Driving home I found myself comparing the wonderful exhilaration that only harmony can bring in music but then in thinking about the vast array of things in our lives that too many times turn non-harmoniously and in that discord you are moved to worry, fear, anger, frustration, etc.  But then in relationships, issues, health matters, etc when harmony is achieved, there is such a sense of release and relief that is cast upon the water isn't there?  You are part of somebodies harmony .. or not, right?  Today, seek to turn disharmony into the sweet joy of harmony in some one's life and walk and I will assure you the harmony of your life will be enhanced as a result.

Again, the cantata was entitled, And On Earth, Peace.  So very, very, very true. Seek the harmony!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

I Get To

One of my wife's commonly used comments of late when facing something she may not necessarily want to do is, "but I get to .."  That finally rung home to me as I sat in church this morning hearing Pastor Jake's excellent sermon and he used that very term.  I am pasting in a link to a Southern Gospel song by Jeff and Sherri Easter that I want you to watch and listen to the power of the message, please:

As I listened to Jake's comments, my mind began to work back through my own life.   My own life, like most others, are normally controlled or heavily influenced by others' will on our lives.  Parents, teachers, employers, coaches, spouses; the list is endless when you begin to think about it.  But I believe you reach a point in your life when you step across that mystical point of life where you get to choose what you will do and will not do.  That line is what I guess I will call the "I Get To" line of embarcation.

In my own life, if you know we very well at all, you know I have many areas that comprise my life.  My God and what He wants me to do with my life resides at the top of my list followed quickly by my wife of almost forty-two years; I get to!  My wonderful children and their loving spouses and the  immeasurable love for my five grandchildren.  Wow, that is a good list right now but wait, there is more!

Teaching the future at a University level has become the vocational joy of my life. I still find it amazing that I invested thirty-six years of my life with one company, identified by all that knew me through those years by that company and less that ten years later after retirement over 7,000 students, the thought or hint of that company ever being not only a part of my life but it was my life is nonexistent.  Teaching is something I realize that I Get To Do and what a blessing even in the tough, disappointing times of student issues and behaviors, I can glean such joy in working various equations of behaviors and leadership to find a way to move that student toward the light of learning; I Get To!

Singing! Wow, never in my fondest imagination would I or could have imagined that so many identify me with that piece of my life. I do love to sing but the difference today is that I love to sing for I see and realize that God is using this vessel as a means to touch the hearts of those before me I get to sing to. Not for my glory or ego but for His spiritual refreshing. I Get To and I do love it!

Jail!! Say what?  Yes, I Get To go into jails on a regular basis and have met well over 200,000 male and female inmates in last eight years in getting to speak and sing praises to His Name as preparation for a sermon.   Getting to preach myself is something I would never have conceived I would want to do but ... I Get To and I love it even when the place is hot, smelly, disorganized, tension filled and you see the hurts, fears, discouragements of men and women that cannot forgive themselves.  Getting to talk about and sing about a God that loves them and is there for them; I Get To and I do love it!

Think about all the things you have to do and then think about the few but blessed things you get to do.   Guess I need to start listening more to my wife's comments, right?  So whatever this day holds for you, seek to think about what fuels or motivates you; do I have to do this or do I get to!?  Powerful stuff!