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.