Saturday, September 17, 2016

High Fives!

One of my first visitors yesterday morning was an aspiring writer.  This girl is amazing; penning, rewriting, and observing the world.  She is so passionate about the written word that she co-founded the student Writing Club, where Donegal kids can share ideas and inspiration with each other.  One of her goals for this year is to get something she has written actually published in a print source.  She was excited to share a recent letter she had received.

It was her first official rejection letter.

Did I offer a hug and consolation?  Absolutely not.  I gave her a high five, and a whitebook to record this momentous occasion.  Judging from the photo to the right, (used with her permission), she has clearly signed on to the idea of growth through embracing and celebrating failure (aka alternate success).  

Her Facebook post this morning, along with the photo of the newly-decorated whitebook, speaks volumes:

"I submitted one of my pieces to a writing magazine, and it didn't make the cut. I guess you could say I'm taking it well... "

Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, J.K. Rowling, Abraham Lincoln, Lucille Ball, and thousands of others, were rejected before they made it big.  Heck, Steve Jobs was fired by his own company.  Back in 2009, my daughter and I attended the Tim Burton exhibit at the MoMA.  Burton must have known he was going to make it big, because he had saved many early pieces of ephemera, including a signed rejection letter from the Disney Corporation, which was there on display, in the MoMA, in a climate-controlled case, scrutinized by thousands of fans who had paid to see the exhibit celebrating Burton's work.  Clearly, the rejection was not the end of the road for the brilliantly creative Mr. Burton.

So yes, high fives for the very first rejection letter, and a shout out to Rachel for her risk-taking and embracing of this very important step on the path to success.  It's a privilege to be on the ground floor of this exciting adventure, watching, and celebrating, as she builds her collection for her MoMA exhibit, which I estimate should be tentatively scheduled for sometime in 2048.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

RSVP - No Matter Where You Are.

It is the week after Labor Day, and the annual invitation to the Thanksgiving Breakfast has been posted.  There are few events in my life that I give this much forethought and advance notice -- heck, the usual time lapse between wedding invitations and weddings is usually somewhere around 8 weeks.  For the Gifted and Talented present and former students of Donegal, the "Save the Date" is implied; a standing plan to meet at 9 am on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to laugh, connect, and share stories - with present and former high school students.  As a professional TOG (Teacher of the Gifted), this single event is more rewarding than most every other day of the year.

Why do I give thanks?  That's a pretty darned obvious question.  In my opinion, any kid that is willing to get up early for breakfast on a day that school is closed is motivated by either their respect for me and the connections made through my classroom or their desire to renew connections since graduation, sharing their life-after-high-school wisdom.  Last year there were more than 60 present and former students in attendance, some who graduated almost 10 years ago.

What do I want to say to the former students?  The teacher I WAS when you had me is not the teacher I AM today.  I've changed it up, I've gone to grad school.  I've connected with colleagues and integrated new technology.  The district now has given me a classroom, and a class for credit, and a regular schedule of students who come to my room, instead of me scrambling to find them in another class.  I'm still random, but random with intent and purpose.

At 4:33 am, a former student inboxed me, begging to know why I continue to send invitations.  This individual does not feel particularly successful at life right now, and doesn't see the value in attending breakfast as someone with a  story that personally deemed to be less than inspirational.

Because society tells us that gifted kids who don't reach a societal definition of full-potential are someone failures, and there is nothing that the masses enjoys more than some tabloid-like headline about the fall from grace of someone standing above. We've all watched tv shows or movies of a ten year school reunion, and cheered the underdog who has risen above his potential that was predicted at graduation, and delighted in the "failure" of the star quarterback or valedictorian.

Today, there is a lot of talk about the idea of embracing failure.  Sure, there is the idea of positive mindset, grit, and rigorous attention to detail, that have been the big buzzwords in education in the shadow of the development of Common Core.  Failure is now something to be embraced and considered, as well.  Edutopia published an excellent article, with embedded videos, entitled 5 Minute Film Festival:  Freedom to Fail Forward.  In addition to the commentary provided by author Amy Erin Borovoy, there is an excellent mini-documentary by Honda, where race car driver, Danica Patrick,  speaks on the risks she takes on the track, constantly pushing herself to go one second faster each time she races - "you're constantly on the brink of crashing, because that's the fastest."  

Think about it.  This is where we want our gifted kids to be.  One second from crashing, pushing their talents to the limit.  Not afraid to fail, because they see the potential for learning through their failures, and come out of that crash stronger and more clear-headed than if they'd taken the safe route.  When Danica Patrick crashes, it makes the news.  When she wins her race, the media is there.  When she's somewhere between first and last, there is little mention of her performance.  The same is true of our best and brightest.

Sure risk-taking has been a theme in this blog.  (Go ahead and type the word RISK into the searchbar above - you'll see what I mean...)  Yet I haven't really pushed the idea of failing.  Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, credits to her success in her embracing failure.  As a TOG for the last 18 years, I have failed my students by not stressing the importance of pushing the pedal to the metal, and crashing.  (Metaphorically speaking, of course.)  As Diane Sawyer so eloquently states at the end of the Spanx interview, "Even in failure there is a gift.  Find the gift."  Yes, it's about Happiness.  Yes, it's about Mindset.  Yes, it's about Positive Psychology.  (And yes, all of those things are capitalized because they are important themes currently being taught in this semester's Themes in Literature class.)  This year, however, there will be more discussion and reflection about Failure, Resilience, and Determination.  There will be joy in Formula # 1- 408,  or the stories of WD-1 to 39.

And yes, I will go to breakfast on that magical Wednesday in November, and applaud the efforts and successes of students who failed at a dream, and succeeded in waking up from a nightmare, with a life lesson worth sharing.  I will want to tell them that I am not the teacher they had, and I am not the teacher that I am going to be.  There are a lot of lessons that I've taught that will never be taught again, simply because there's a Formula 409 or WD-40 waiting to be discovered.

In all of us.

So go to that reunion.  RSVP to that breakfast that you've been invited to attend.  Somebody just might need your success story, or maybe the story of your 408 failures.