Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The wonder of it all

Oh what a difference a few months makes when you have a new baby in the family.

In the fall we took Marisol to the Columbus Zoo, even in December for the Zoo Wonderlights. She was then 7 months old and thoroughly enjoyed gazing at all of the sights.

Marisol will be 10 months old tomorrow and what a difference in three months in the life of a baby.  Today in wondrous weather of over 70 degrees we ventured to the zoo again.

To see these zoo through her eyes is truly amazing.  Now no longer content to sit in her car seat that becomes her stroller, she now cranes her neck straining to sit straight up in her seat.

I unbuckled her seat straps and she sat upright in her car seat in the stroller, straightening her neck left and right like ET to view the trees, all of the other babies also in strollers, and anything that moved.

Marisol spots the Pronghorns in the North America exhibit.
Now having learned to wave, Marisol waved to the pronghorns, the cows, the otters, the flamingos, the elephants, the sea turtle, fish, rays and manatees.

The moose moving from the land to the pond drew particular attention.

Any animal that moved at the zoo not only could she see but it was now a friend.

The beautiful flamingo plumage and loud honking drew our attention.

I call her mother the animal whisperer, for she too loved any animal or creepy crawler creature that wanted to sit on her to do so.  She is the opposite of me, who is uncomfortable in a house with cats or dogs, little alone a Madagascan cockroach crawling up my arm.

We had never seen the sea turtle in a vertical perch before so Marisol gave him a big wave.

But today Marisol and I both loved the zoo.  For her, a new beautiful world is apparent through the wonders of the Columbus Zoo.  How blessed we are to live so close.  For me?  I too have a wonderful world of animals that I now see through the eyes of a 10-month-old.

The circle of life.

Monday, March 7, 2016

"If winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

"O wild west wind, if winter comes can spring be far behind?"

I have always loved this ode by Percy Shelley. It is a poem about anticipation, and right now anticipation for spring is great in Ohio.   In March, one day may still be winter and the next spring-like.

I love the lengthening of the days now, and the temperatures this week are climbing from the 60's and into the 70's.  Life is renewed, and a fresh start for all living things begins.

This is our granddaughter's first transition from winter to spring, and today we enjoyed a walk in nearby woods to celebrate the welcome warmth.

Marisol enjoying our walk in the woods today.

I know what being outdoors brings to me, but as I gazed at Marisol today the wonders of the woods intensified.

On our walk today we paused as the birds' voices swelled around the bends of the path.  As a 10-month-old, Marisol loves both seeing and hearing birds and her eyes widen at their joyous sounds.

Halfway through the walk I took her out of  her scarlet and gray stroller so that she could experience the woods firsthand.  We patted a shaggy bark hickey tree's trunk and we smiled at its roughness.  We then moved to a contrasting elm trunk.

She twisted her head as she perceived the noise of rustling leaves and watched a squirrel leap from the leaves to a tree. I placed a small twig in her hands and she hesitatingly gripped it between her thumbs and fingers.

Up and down the hills we traversed, and her head turned left and right as she strove to take in the sights and sounds of an early spring woods.

Although no leaves block the sunlight from her eyes yet, soon the woods will change from brown to green, and we will be there again and again to see it. Together.

Through her eyes, I experience the woods anew, just as God intended, for that is the meaning and beauty of spring.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

88 keys

Piano: A musical instrument in which felt-covered hammers, operated from a keyboard, strike the metal strings. (courtesy dictionary.com)

It sounds so simple, yet for me, my piano is a lifetime of memories and at times, a best friend.

In second grade, I rode in a borrowed pickup truck with my Dad and one of his friends up winding Route 60 from Marietta to New Lexington.  Someone was giving away a piano, and apparently, I wanted to play.  I don't remember the request, but I remember the trip, for on the return trip the piano started sliding off the tailgate and we had to pull over to secure it.  My Dad told that story over and over.

The old Everett piano-- one of my best friends in life.

We lived then on 8th Street beside a hollow in a rented brick house.  I soon started piano lessons with Mrs. Stout, who lived a few blocks away, next to Mound Cemetery.  My sister took lessons from my Aunt Kathareen but apparently that didn't go very well, according to my Dad, and so I started lessons with Mrs. Stout.  I believe I was a fairly unremarkable piano student though I did enjoy playing, until about 6th or 7th grade.  One summer, I decided that the old, used Everett console with dark wood already nicked with time, was my new best friend.

I played and played, for hours on end.  Our family situation was extremely volatile and very unconventional for the 1950's and 60's.  My friends had fathers who worked and mothers who stayed home and baked cookies and cleaned house.  My father was totally disabled Marine who went in on Day 1 of Iwo Jima and could not work.  He was and always will be my hero. My mother was a secretary and registrar for the Washington County Health Department.

My father fought the Battle of Iwo for the rest of his life with various addictions and mental health issues and my mother never truly coped with his problems.  My sister was six years older, and I always felt very different from my friends and very alone at times.

That piano became my solace and my friend, and gave me companionship and also an opportunity to excel at something.

Soon after I started taking the piano seriously, Mrs. Stout became too ill and elderly to continue to teach and so I started lessons with Aunt Kathareen.  This time, it went very well for me and my family.

I continued lessons with her until I graduated from high school, and we were both nervous every year about the recitals as I did not want to let her down and she didn't want me to either.  But we were both perfectionists who got along great.

I got to know my Dad's oldest sister well and admired her talent at the piano and organ.  She was the organist at the First Presbyterian Church for over 50 years and she also gave me organ lessons on a magnificent pipe organ at the church for two years.  I loved taking lessons from Aunt Kathareen and every time I still play some of the sonatinas and sonatas I learned from her I think of sitting beside her on the piano bench at the baby grand in her basement.

My Dad loved listening to me play, as did my Grandmother, and at times I can still see their faces as I played their favorite songs for them.  My grandmother had me play for her church circle at her home and so I became adept at Baptist hymns.  My Dad loved anything I played, but when I found his favorite song was Fascination I learned to play it for him, and we danced to that song as the Dad-bride dance at my wedding.  If I want to feel close to him I sit down at the old Everett and play Fascination.

For a while I was separated from my dear piano as I went off to college at The Ohio State University and then lived in an apartment before I got married to my husband Jeff.  But the piano played a part in our courtship. When I started bringing him home, we would invariably end up sitting on the piano bench together.  I would play classical and pop songs to him, singing the words of "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You" to him.

He loved it, and so did I.  He once told me he had never met anyone who could play and sing the piano.  We were young and in love, and the piano made us closer still.  That song has remained our song, having it played at our wedding, and we still dance to it in the kitchen.  But it all started at that old piano.  And yes, I still play that same arrangement for him on the same piano and on the same piano bench.

As soon as we were married and built our first home the piano left Marietta and we have all been together ever since.  I discovered plastic labels under the bench that my niece Lisa and her friend Kathy had decorated as children.

Through the years I have sometimes still played extensively and some years have barely had time to touch the keys.  But the piano always patiently waited for me to return, and I always did.

When my daughter was a baby, I would sit her on my lap and watch her little fingers strain to press hard enough to make noise. I was delighted when she enjoyed it.  She took piano lessons in elementary school and also practiced on it as I did.  She then switched to flute and on to mellophone and was a proud member of The Ohio State University Marching Band.  I am proud that the old piano provided some of the musical foundation for her also.

The old Everett has moved two more times and now rests in our den.  It needs tuned and has two keys that need glued but emits the same feeling for me as when I was a child.  Now  a retired high school principal, I find I have more time to sit down with my old friend.

Have I really played you since I was 7 years old?  Through good times and bad?  You have been my friend for the bulk of my life, and I still cherish taking even 5 or 10 minutes to play some of the same songs I have for years.  I love the connection with classical music the most, for in playing Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Dvorak, I feel not only linked with my piano but with eternity, and with all of those who have played these songs before me.

And today, the old Everett is still welcoming a new generation of our family to its 88 keys, our granddaughter Marisol.  Marisol sits on my lap and puts her tiny fingers on its keys. In just two weeks or so she has gone from not being able to make a noise to pounding it out with feeling!. She especially enjoys the low octaves, stretching her little arms all the way down to the lowest key.  Why?  Because it is there.  And then her face emits the brightest and best smile ever.  Just like her mother.  And just like I still do in my heart.

Marisol and I at the old piano.

88 keys.  Yes, it is a musical instrument with 88 keys.  But for me, the 88 keys hold my heart, my deepest emotions, love, and a lifetime of memories.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Family lullabies, family legacies

Our new granddaughter makes life better in so many ways, whether it is her hearing a bird's song for the first time or gazing quizzically at a white tail deer eating the end of the squirrel feeder's ears of corn.  Life is new and fresh again every day.

It is also a return to yesteryear.  She enjoys some of her mother's same toys saved with hope and prayer for then an unknown grandchild.  Marisol, as did her mother, enjoys the blocks that her father lovingly crafted and painted for her, as well as the wooden shape puzzles he also sawed and sanded.

And me? I hold her on my lap as her tiny fingers play the same piano keys I did, and her mother did, as children. One of our family legacies, that piano made the trip to my childhood home in the back of an old pickup truck, down State Route 60 from New Lexington to Marietta.  The price was right --free--for a poor family with a daughter eager to learn to play.

In addition, each day, Marisol and I sit in the very old wooden rocker that belonged to my grandmother's cousin whom we knew as cousin Jane.  Jane lived in a rather dilapidated apartment building close to the river at the corner of Second and Green Streets.  I was never sure of Jane's age, though she was older than my grandmother, who was born in 1888.

As we sit and rock, the old chair, a family hand-me-down with well-worn arm rests, provides the perfect setting for rocking Marisol to sleep with the two family lullabies I learned somehow, at some time from my family.  Two of our best family legacies.

The first is one I remember my Dad singing, the only time I remember him singing anything.  I sang it to our baby daughter daily, and I do the same to Marisol.

"You're the end of the rainbow, 
The star on the tree,
The Easter bunny,
To your Mommy and me,
You're sugar and spice,
And everything nice,
You're your Daddy's little girl."

I change the parental references but other than that sing the same tune.  It is special to me, as it not only reminds me of my father, but of singing it to our daughter.  Hopefully it will continue in our family, and in the hopes and dreams of future generations.

The other is one that I remember my Mom singing to my nieces and nephews, her grandchildren.  I remember asking her about its origin.  She explained that it came from the hills, and she remembers the older people in her family singing it to all the babies in her family.  All of her family grew up on Archer's Fork off Rt 26 in southeastern Ohio,  

It goes this way:

"Rock a bye, don't you cry,
Daddy's gone a-hunting,
Up on the hill, beside the mill,
To get his baby's bunting."

Even typing the words of these lullabies floods my brain with smells and sights of a time far away.  Sitting in the old rocker singing these family songs, I sometimes try to imagine all of the new babies, born in earlier days when life was simpler, being lulled to sleep.

Collicky babies, smiling babies, grabbing for the hair and necks of their mamas and grandmothers, until finally closing their eyes to the tunes of their families.

The lullabies of generations. Family legacies.

For their gifts from God.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

My heart leaps up

"My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky." William Wordsworth

I have always loved the British Romantic poets, especially those poets dedicated to the beauty of nature.

I, too, love the beauty around us each day if we choose to see it.  My husband and I share a love of nature and the outdoors, having hiked over 40 National Parks.

But often it is the beauty in our own backyards which brings us joy daily.

A hairy woodpecker visits our suet feeder on a snowy day.

Three white-tailed deer visit our backyard in search of vegetation.

Is there anything more beautiful than a cardinal at the suet right outside the sliding glass door . . .

except perhaps a male Eastern bluebird!

And so, yes, my heart leaps up, as Wordsworth's, when I behold a rainbow in the sky, and as he continued. . . .

So was it while I was a child,
So is it now that I am a man,
So will it be when I am old,
Or let me die.

I hope you find a "rainbow" in your backyard.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Meet our joy

Meet Marisol!


Smiling at everyone she meets.
Favorite books-- Baby Ben's Go-Go Book (her Mommy liked it too), Buenos Noches Luna, Wet Willie, The Magic-Bubble Pipe book, Little Sea Turtle and Brown Bear, Brown Bear.  Loves all books.:)
Story time at the library.
Tearing paper.
Clapping her hands.
Patty cake, Itsy-bitsy Spider, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Twinkle Twinkle, My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean, and The Ohio State University Marching Band and Alumni Band (especially when her Mommy and Daddy play!)
Standing up as long she is holding on to something.
Being rocked to sleep.
Sweet potatoes, apple sauce, pears, prunes, milk.
Riding in the grocery cart.
Baths and splashing.
Playing with blocks, balls, toys that make music and talk, spoons in a bowl.
Teething toys of all shapes, especially Sophie.
Rattle socks.
Pulling socks off her feet.
Looking at herself in the mirror.
Little tickles under her arms and thighs.
Mommy. LOVES Mommy.
Daddy. LOVES Daddy.
All her grandparents. LOVES.
Birds who come to the feeder.  Squirrels running up and down the trees.
Hearing birds sing.
Leaves and trees over her head on walks.
Giving open mouth kisses.
Shopping with Meemaw.


Crawling forward.
Getting new teeth.
Afternoon naps.
Getting her nose wiped.
Getting her face wiped.
Shirts and clothes that go over her head.
Sitting in a car seat that is not moving.
Waiting to eat. (Who doesn't?)
Not getting out of her highchair fast enough.
It depends on the day. :)

Marisol is the joy of our lives.  Our first granddaughter.  Every day she reminds us how blessed we are to have her and her Mommy and Daddy.

More to come . . .

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

I'm out, I'm in . . .

She loves me, she loves me not.

I so remember picking the petals off a daisy as a little girl, siting in a circle with friends in front of the Hobensack's house on 8th Street.

A similar refrain has been going through my head the past few weeks.  First I received the email from the Slice of Life Challenge inviting me again to participate, and then my daughter, the best author in the family, also invited me.

Last year I was in, all in.

This year?  I'm out.  I'm in. I'm out . . .

And so I decided this year I was definitely not going to participate.  And I had a multitude of reasons-- or excuses?

One of the main reasons/excuses was last year's SOL.

I was determined to write all 31 days.  And I was on a roll.

Day after day I wrote.  I was going to make it!

And then one busy day somewhere around Day 22 or 23, I woke up one Saturday morning thinking about the busy day to come as a high school principal and it hit me.

I had not written a post the day before.

How did I forget?  Yes, it was a busy day.  Fridays are always a blur in high schools, especially for principals.

And so my best opportunity to write every day ended just like that.  My perfectionism hit me as a train barreling around a mountain curve.  Failure.

And so, that is most likely the reason that I woke up this morning with my decision set. I hate to fail again, and I most assuredly will never make 31 days of writing.  I was out.  Definitely out.

And then tonight.  What just popped up on my email and Facebook?  My daughter's #SOL16 post.  And she delineated her dilemma-- how hard it is for her to participate.  She is a ELL high school teacher with a new baby,  Time is extremely limited.

And then her post also detailed all the steps she has taken to inspire her own students to participate-- to motivate them, as she always does.  She is a special teacher and her students' world stories are also special.  I read it.  And then I read it again.

And that is that.  My daughter inspires and motivates me. And so does #SOL16.

I am in. . . .

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Be Our Guest

"Be our guest, be our guest, put our service to the test."

Most of us can sing or hum the words to this popular Disney song from "Beauty and the Beast."

For those of us who have been fortunate to visit Disney World and Disneyland, we know that Disney is world-renown for its customer service, the ability to create magic and memories over and over again for little kids and big kids such as us.  Walt Disney's ability to do the "impossible" has been sustained over time through generations with the implementation of unique business principles.

As educational leaders devoted to serving our students and families, what can we learn from Disney's service model?

In a recent Disney Institute blog post, Bruce Jones discussed the Disney principles of "Doing Things Right" and "Doing the Right Thing."

As a programming director for the Disney Institute, Mr. Jones discussed the singular mission of Disney: "striving to create happiness to begin forming life-long relationships with our guests."

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici via Free Digital Photos.

Think of even that one word-- "guest."  Other theme parks, organizations and businesses aim to attract visitors, but at Disney we are all "guests."

Mr. Jones explained that guests are different than visitors.  In our homes, we invite and welcome guests.  We do special things for our guests-- the best towels, the best sheets, favorite meals and desserts.  "If someone is your Guest, don't you feel a greater obligation to ensure his or her happiness?" Mr. Jones posed.

So what can we learn from Disney.  Mr. Jones stated that Disney provides a script to each "cast member" (employee), for common questions or occurrences so that guests can have a high quality consistent experience.  It is important for each staff member to "do things right."  The Disney way.

Are there instances where we can provide better support for staff by providing guidelines on how to handle certain situations.  How do we want our secretaries or teaching staff to handle a parent who insists on seeing a staff member unannounced?  One who wants to visit classes during the school day? What about how to handle an irate phone call or nasty email?  How about a parent-teacher conference?  The more help we can provide our staff with common situations should provide a better experience for all of our key stakeholders.

In addition, Disney, according to Mr. Jones,  also empowers their cast members to "do the right thing."

In solving problems for guests, and in daily interactions, Disney encourages and promotes staff members to go off script in order to "empower people to intervene and own the common purpose."

A current TV Disney commercial shows a family excitedly at their first day of Disney and the cast members suddenly grows pointed ears in making all of their dreams of happiness at Disney come true.  Disney also empowers staff to do whatever it takes, even if it has never been done before, to make the Disney magic real.

Do our staff members feel the same way?  In this ever-changing educational landscape, the true work of every teacher, building and district has to be to individualize and personalize education so that each child can learn.  Our shift continues to be from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning.

Do we empower our staff to be creative in approaching each child in our classrooms?  When we were early in our Professional Learning Community journey, we discussed strategies that were uncommon in our district and building?

Re-does, test re-takes, differentiating reading assignments, flipped classrooms, grading practices,  extended time for learning, homework-- all of these became same-subject team and whole-staff discussion points.

Teachers at first were hesitant to individualize and personalize without making sure we were fine with it.  Clearly, change requires the culture and climate to empower and encourage staff to "do the right thing."  How empowered is your staff to try something never tried before?

Disney fosters creative problem-solving within a culture and climate where personalization ensures happiness and success.

Can we-- for every student in every classroom in every building every day?  If Walt Disney actualized making the impossible possible, we can, too.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Have the courage to do

In our professional and personal lives one very clear truth exists.  We often know what to do, but we don't do it.

People know not to text and drive, or do the other myriad of distracted driving tasks we see every day, but they still do it.

We know that we should eat fewer carbs, lower our salt and sugar intake and exercise every day.  Yet few do it.  And every year in January, new year resolutions are made, yet few are sustained.

How about our work as educational leaders?  What do we KNOW that we should change?  How often do we do it systemically and with sustainability?

Many of us are involved in the important work of improving our schools to improve student learning, whether as an educational consultant, teacher, principal, district administrator or superintendent.  Think of your own building or district.  What are those things that you know need changed?  Are there sacred cows that inhibit student learning that have been in place over time?

Richard DuFour, Robert Eaker, and Rebecca DuFour present the four essential questions of a Professional Learning Community in On Common Ground (15).  If we, as educational leaders, examine our practices through the lens of these four PLC questions, we clearly can identify what we know needs changed every day in the classrooms of our respective buildings and districts.

Graphic courtesy of Stuart Miles via free digital photos

PLC Question1: "What is it we want all students to learn?"

Too often, we know that in many classrooms, every student is not learning essential identified learning targets.  Teachers who work in isolation often end up teaching what they know or what they like.   There is the hidden curriculum, intended curriculum, and the delivered curriculum. The result is that students are often left behind, and when this lack of learning compiles over the course of a year, students actually lose any learning gains they may have had with a more effective teacher.  Are we certain that the teacher in the classroom is the best teacher for that grade level/subject area? Or are they there because they have been there the longest?  We know this may be the case, but how do we respond?

PLC Question 2: "How will we know when each student has mastered the essential learning?"

How to measure student learning is a widely discussed topic in professional development sessions, workshops, conferences, and on social media. Why? We know that every assessment that is given in every classroom is not a valid and reliable measure of student learning.  Certainly assessment creation and data analysis are now essential teacher skills.  But we also know that in every building there are still teachers who do not utilize student assessment as feedback on their instruction. We know this, but how do we respond?

PLC Question 3: "How will we respond when a student experiences initial difficulty in learning?"

This is indeed the separator of good teachers from great teachers, good teacher teams from great ones, good buildings from great ones and good districts from great ones.  Excellent teachers, teams and buildings support re-teaching and providing students multiple learning opportunities.  If in our buildings we do not have a systemic focus on intervention, and if our districts do not value and support time and staffing for intervention, this is the question on which we fall short the most.

Most students are either lucky or unlucky on which teacher they have if learning becomes the constant or time.  How do you respond, how do your teachers respond, and how does your building/district respond when students are not learning? Many good instructional leaders know what gaps on student achievement and growth they have, but they often do not address it systemically or systematically.  We know, but we don't do.

PLC Question 4: "How will we deepen the learning for students who have already mastered essential knowledge and skills?"

As educational leaders we have often interpreted this as the enrichment we provide at the building level. Particularly at the high school level, we have often identified our enrichment as our honors or advanced courses, such as AP and IB classes.

But just having students in these courses does not mean that students are learning what they are supposed to be learning or that the instructor is providing enrichment. We know that differentiation should occur in every class we have, as students are unique in their ability to learn.  We also know, however, that it is not occurring, and that the best students in regular or advanced classes are often unchallenged.

Certainly the most encouraging work going on in America today is the monumental shift in many schools from teaching to learning.  Indeed schools committed to  Professional Learning Community principles work on this every day, and many students are more successful in learning than ever before.  Richard DuFour states in many sources that the four PLC questions should be answered collaboratively by teachers in teams and that buildings, districts and administrators must strive to support teachers in this best practice work.

Graphic courtesy Stuart Miles via free digital photos

But truly, even in the best schools, and certainly those schools in challenging circumstances, the problem of doing, not just knowing, is not being addressed in many cases. Sometimes educational leaders are not even fully aware of their students achievement and growth data.  But certainly, we also have educational leaders who know their data, but lack either the professional development, the motivation, the support, or the courage to make the changes in their schools to improve student learning.

Indeed the problem is that the knowing/doing gap is one of the largest gaps we have in American schools.  We know what needs to be done, but for varied reasons and barriers, many of them our own making and keeping at either a building or district level, we lack the courage to make the changes we know we need to make.

Graphic by Stuart Miles via free digital photos

And until we have the "courage to do," we will never embrace or reach our goal of ensuring learning for every child in every classroom in every school every period of every day.

Dufour, Richard and Robert Eaker and Rebecca DuFour, "Recurring Themes of Professional Learning Communities and the Assumptions They Challenge." On Common Ground. eds. Bloomington: National Educational Service, 2005. Print.