Tuesday, May 28, 2013


This week I have had two separate incidents that have reminded me of the fragility and the gift of the mind.  And the importance of gratitude.

I celebrated the passing of a friend this week.  At sixty years old, Mary passed away in the late stages of what was an early onset of dementia.  Her daughter eulogized her, stating that before the disease and throughout the disease her mother never lost touch with the essence of goodness that was innately a part of Mary’s personality.  She told lovely stories of Mary’s love for her husband and children, her giving spirit.  She painted a picture of her mother who, even at the height of her disease, continued to express care for her family, owning a disposition that to the end always showed love to those who most cared for her.  Her daughter spoke of Mary’s instinct toward gratitude and how her gracious spirit, until the end, filled those around her.

I also had a conversation with someone I care about who is currently in a nursing home.  Steve has advanced Parkinson’s  disease and with the mixing of medicines and a personality that leans toward fear, has frequent episodes of paranoia.    Our conversation was a vehicle to quell his fear by my naming for him the good in his life and helping him remember.  Together we listed all for which he was grateful.  We remembered his friends, his children and his family, memories of a once full life, his aides who care for him, an evening meal, a book he likes, his paintings, and the list went on….  As he acknowledged these places of gratitude, his fear subsided, replaced momentarily by peace and love.   Steve allowedf those around him to lead him to a place of gratitude and fear slipped away.

These two and separate incidents have made me wonder how, in the midst of advanced chronic illness, people respond so differently to their world.   Both have fragile and changing minds.  Both have dispositions that create a space that responds to the world in a very different way.  Both have essences that are rooted in love and loved ones.  Mary was rooted in her goodness and responded in love, bringing others with her till the end.  Steve was rooted in his fear and through the love of others can be led to a place of love.  Both were brought to this place by gratitude.  In Mary, her access to graciousness allowed her to exude her goodness and share her connection to gratitude till the end.  In Steve, his fear can block his access to gratitude and by allowing others who care for him to guide him he can access and share this place of peace.   Different and not really so very different, after all.   

What, you might ask, does this have to do with a writing blog…an educator blog?  As an educator, I believe that as I interact with children and adults (I work with both), I am interacting with the whole of the other.  As I set up a community of learners, whether that community is a school, a classroom community, a writing community or a one day workshop, I want to set up a space where all in the community can learn and grow.  I don’t just want to impart knowledge, although that is an important aspect of what I do—and I relish that part of my work.   I want to create community where learning occurs and the whole of the people in the community thrive.  Recognition and celebration of difference supports this community.  The Mary’s of a community bring their gift to the community.  And the Steve’s do as well.  And somehow in the midst of this make-up of people brought together, gratitude is a foundation.  For some in the community gratitude comes easily.  For others, with guidance and support, gratitude becomes realized.  I wonder, as a leader and educator, how I can create a learning climate for others, through writing, through conversation, through acts of kindness, through example, where gratitude is known and each in the community grows because of it.

Today I am grateful for Mary and for Steve—both who showed me this week the importance of gratitude.  Who showed me the fragility of one’s mind and the ability of one’s spirit.  Who showed me the importance of others on a journey that leads to love and is fortified by gratitude. 

What and who are you grateful for today?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


A graduate class on literacy leadership and literacy coaching that I was teaching recently came to a close at the end of a full semester.  The class is one of the last classes that students getting their masters degrees take.  One of several principles of the class is the importance of giving feedback.   Feedback is explored in a variety of ways throughout the semester.  On this last day of class, students experienced one more way of giving and receiving feedback.  For a closing activity we sat in what I call an Appreciation Circle.   The fifteen of us face one another and one by one we give the person receiving a bit of appreciation feedback.

It goes something like this, “Deborah, what I appreciate about you and your leadership is….”  Then it goes to the next person.  “Deborah, what I appreciate about you and your leadership is….”   Through the circle till all in the circle give appreciation feedback and then the receiver responds simply with a thank-you.  No other words.  Just receiving with a thank-you.  One person scribes the feedback so that the receiver can keep it.  We go through the circle one time per person.  The feedback is a word or a phrase—not a speech.  People can repeat a phrase if it is something that they want to acknowledge.  If four people said something similar, then the receiver can look at that feedback as something that is more strongly perceived by others.  As we continue with the Appreciation Circle we go on to the next person and the next and then next till all receive appreciation. 

Students are not used to receiving or giving appreciation.  It is something that can be taught, though.  And even after a semester of feedback in many forms, simply receiving appreciation is difficult for some.  At the beginning of this circle nervous laughter filled the empty space.    And by the end of the process, you could hear a pin drop, the empty space filled with the acknowledgement of what we did as something special.  The respectful sharing of insights about the others in the room inspired.  The receiving of the appreciation with simplicity provided openings of caring.  What I appreciate about you and your leadership is that you are a good listener.  What I appreciate about you and your leadership is that you see the whole picture.  What I appreciate about you and your leadership is your kindness.  What I appreciate about you and your leadership is your playfulness.  On and on till the room was full and our hearts were fuller.

As teachers, a goal is to provide an environment  that supports a community of learners—whether they are five-year-old or adult learners.  We want to create classrooms of emotional safety and connection.  Appreciation is one key to developing communities where learning happens and learners thrive.  After that last graduate class the emails to me floated in. “Thank you for the class and thank you for our closing.  I didn’t know that people thought I was….”   “It felt good for me to say what I appreciate about others.”   “I haven’t gotten to know my classmates in the same way that I was able to know them in your class.”  “Thank you for creating a comfortable environment for us to learn.  I learned so much about leadership by how you led.”

Most of us are not used to giving or receiving appreciation.  And honest and positive acknowledgement of another is a link to strong individuals and strong community.  Who have you shown appreciation to today?  How can you acknowledge your students and your loved ones in a way that will create a deeper link?  As you end your school year, how can you celebrate with appreciation the bonds that were created and the learning that has occurred? 

Stacey and Ruth, what I appreciate about you and your leadership is your generosity in providing a wonderful forum of sharing.