Dead Rainbows?

RainbowsI’m honored to have been invited to speak at two Kiwanis Club Meetings in February: Orno on the sixteenth and Dover Foxcroft on the twenty-third. Since both invitations offered a fair amount of latitude regarding my topic, I decided to come up with something new!

Finding Dead Rainbows – where you stand makes a difference will be both thought-provoking and fun. Rainbows are about hope and promise. Where we find rainbows has a lot to do with where we look. And where we look has a lot to do with where we stand.

“The work will wait while you show the child the rainbow, but the rainbow won’t wait while you do the work.”

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Filed under Mental Health, Personal Growth, Small People

Some thoughts on addiction…

I’ve recently found myself referring people to this video, so I decided to make it easy to find by embedding it here! Please note I do not see this as a political issue–I see it as a social, and in many cases, personal issue. Bear in mind also, any attempt to summarize a complex issue in a five-minute video is going to suffer from over-simplification and omission. The point is not to convince; the point is to get you thinking! (I’m not sure I agree with everything presented, but we’ll leave that for another day!)

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Filed under Mental Health, Mental Hygiene

Paying It Backward

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The idea of “paying it forward” of course has much merit. It means, simply, that the response to a kindness is not so much to pay it back, but to pay it forward by being kind to someone else. It’s a feel-good concept, certainly. But I remember a kindness done to me that I have felt for some years deserves to be paid back.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s I lived in Pittsfield Massachusetts. As a country boy suddenly relocated to city life, they were some difficult years. Odd as it may seem, some of my loneliest years as a child were the years I lived in the city. I was truly overwhelmed by the numbers and differences. I really didn’t fit. I knew it and it was obvious to others. The term “bullying” hadn’t been invented yet; there were just some really mean kids—gangs, actually—who were about power and control. Those of us who didn’t fit learned how to appear invisible and avoid confrontation, but success was only relative. We learned, for example, to take different routes while walking to school, sometimes sneaking through backyards to avoid meeting certain schoolmates along the way.

When I started what was then called junior high school, it became necessary to ride the bus every day. There were actually very few yellow school busses. Mostly we received tokens that allowed us to ride on Berkshire Street Railway buses that were blue and white. They were tired old buses, with that token collection machine next to the driver and big yellow line on the floor with a sign that read, “Standing passengers must remain behind the yellow line.”

As the bus filled up it became increasingly difficult to stay behind the yellow line—we were jammed in like sardines. More importantly, it became increasingly difficult to avoid bumping others as the bus jostled along its route. One particular gang of girls resolved this problem by sharpening their fingernails to points that could stab and scratch anyone within reach.  It was not unusual to arrive at school or home bloodied. We didn’t report it, perhaps out of a strange sense of shame or a fear of even greater retaliation. There are times when I convince myself this was just one of those nightmares; it didn’t really happen. But if it had only been a nightmare, I would not have met nor would I remember the bus driver who made a difference.

I suppose bus drivers back then can be forgiven for not taking action—they were outnumbered forty or fifty to one. We weren’t really students. We were a commodity that needed moving through the city. This was public transportation. Most drivers kept their eyes glued forward, concentrating on the driving, occasionally glancing in the side mirrors and making sure the masses stayed behind the yellow line. As if it were yesterday, I remember the day I boarded the bus and the driver reached out with his hand and stopped me as I deposited my token. While it was clanging through the machine, he said, “I need you to stay up here with me by the token machine. Hold on to it while we’re moving, then step aside and make sure everyone puts a token in it when they get on.” It seemed a little strange at first that he needed my help.

But what mattered was where I stood. Standing in front of that line was an unusual privilege.  At first, it seemed very secondary that I was also safe from sharp fingernails, punches, and kicks while standing there—that was a bonus, really. Monitoring the token machine became my regular job, although I don’t ever recall needing to remind anyone to deposit a token. Of course, we’d talk some—mostly about me, my schoolwork, etc.  I noticed that he always wore a gold tie clip with the letters “OP” on it. I learned those initials stood for Otis Phillips—he loved to make sure I’d remember it by saying, “Think elevators.” Sure, I took some teasing from the girls with the pointy fingernails, but they seemed somehow less powerful and less aggressive. They’d stick out their tongues as they’d pass me to get behind the yellow line, but that didn’t hurt very much.

Otis became a friend, really. He never let me feel like a victim who needed rescuing. Instead, he made it seem that I was needed in front of the line and that I was somehow a pretty important passenger on his bus. But it wasn’t limited to being on the bus. Sometimes after school a friend and I would go on long bike rides around the city, sightseeing, and exploring. We’d always jump a little when a big blue and white bus would pull up beside us, the door would creak open, and a smiling face would call to us, “What are you guys up to? Everything okay?”

In today’s world, some might suspect his relationship with me was inappropriate. And It saddens me to think that today Otis would likely be disciplined for letting me stand in front of the line. (Truth be told I also got a few free rides when he’d spot me walking somewhere on the weekends.)

But it makes me happy to remember him, his kindness, and I now appreciate his simple solution to a problem—standing in front of that line made a huge difference. I don’t know why he chose me for that honor and today, over fifty years later, I wonder if he knew what an impact he made in my life. As is often the case, a simple act of kindness was not so simple. From his kindness I learned that where one stands can make a huge difference. And he’d probably like the fact that I often think of him when I get on an elevator.

For some years now, I’ve felt the need to “pay it back,” to acknowledge his kindness not just in deed but in word. I really never learned many details about Otis. I know he was married, but he never mentioned children. He seemed a bit grandfatherly to me at the time, so perhaps they were grown. I’ll tell you what I’m hoping. I hope through the magic of social media and blogging I can let it be known that there was an incredible bus driver working for Berkshire Street Railway around 1960 whose name was Otis Phillips. Perhaps this story will find its way to a descendant or others who knew him. It just feels like the world should know, Otis was a hero.

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Filed under Causes and Friends, Personal Growth, Teaching

Season’s Greetings… the best is yet to come!

AVP Small


 

Dear clients and friends…

Another year has passed and with it arises the opportunity to reconnect! As most of you know, I try hard not to write the typical Christmas letter—just to share some updates and accomplishments over the past year.

The first thing most will notice is this comes to you on a new letterhead! You’ll recall last year I announced that while I’m still a licensed broker with Mallet Real Estate, I was no longer actively seeking clients. That is all still true, but I’ve also become a bit more focused. My former high school teacher and now good friend Tony has been asking me for years, “When are you going to listen to your calling?” While I’m not sure it’s a calling, I have determined it is time to admit that I am first and foremost an educator and author.

My time spent with the kids at school continues to be enlightening and entertaining! This past spring, I volunteered to use the resources of Abbot Village Press to publish our Elementary School Yearbook. We created a yearbook team of students to assist and ended up producing a quality product at an affordable price. No, I do not plan to become a yearbook publisher, although it looks like we’ll be doing this year’s as well.

I’ve believed for some time that there are some additional writing and publishing projects in my future. Unfortunately, some major course development work this year continues to keep several writing projects sidelined. Course development includes not only major revisions to several real estate courses but also some new courses both real-estate related and adult not.

One goal I achieved this year was completing my training with the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). I’m now fully gatekeeper trained and a Certified Mental Health First Aid Specialist for both youth and adults. This also means I am qualified to teach the Suicide Awareness and Prevention Training required by Maine Law (LD 609) of all school employees. What is most important to me personally is that I now have information and resources to offer kids and adults who find themselves in a difficult place.

One of the adult education programs I teach for frequently has asked for an “adult educator enrichment program.” The course will likely include some things about the way adults learn along with checklists to improve delivery of material in an adult setting. The program will probably use some material from the Substitute Teacher Course I teach (kids aren’t really that much different!) and my “Public Speaking for the Nervous and Frightened.”

But my best days are still the ones when the phone rings early in the morning and I’m needed at school. The kids haven’t run out of things to teach me. They may be small people, but they really do have big brains and it’s fun to look ahead and imagine a world run by these future leaders.

I’ll never forget the day “Johnny”—a fourth grader with a fifty-year-old outlook—stopped by my classroom after most of the kids had left. It seems he wanted to have a “mature” conversation on a wide variety of topics. At one point he informed me, “Pre-k and kindergarten were the best years of my life.” When I asked for further explanation, he added, “Because I really didn’t have to do much.” I decided not to suggest that the best years of his life might be yet to come but they probably wouldn’t be about “not doing much.”

Have a meaningful holiday and a new year filled with health, happiness, and prosperity. It’s a busy time of the year and you probably have a lot to do, but you can still make these the best years of your life!

All the best,

WB Signature

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Filed under Big Brains, Big Hearts, Classes and Courses, Mental Health, Mental Hygiene, Personal Growth, Small People, Suicide Prevention

Won’t You Guide?

This is a chapter from “Small People — Big Brains” that was written in 2012, shortly after the Newtown tragedy. My intent in republishing it this year is not to remind us of the tragedy; it is rather to remind us of the possibilities and opportunities we face every day.


 

When I got the call last Monday that I’d be needed at school, I was momentarily struck with the reality that going “to work” included the distinct possibly of not coming home. Like many, I’d been mourning the huge loss we experienced in Connecticut. As a society, we’ve trusted teachers with our children’s education for a long time. The Newtown tragedy has demonstrated that we also trust those teachers and staff with our children’s very lives.

While I in no way want to diminish the loss of those children and adults, as time has passed I think we might consider that we are also mourning the loss of safe havens for children to learn. The grief that we are feeling calls out for answers and brings with it a rush to prevent this type of tragedy. We want to bring back those safe places.

One of the most meaningful things I learned about “classroom management” while preparing to become a substitute was the observation that “the only behavior you can truly control in your classroom is your own.”
child-865116_1280One day this week I was working with first graders on an art project. I’d been warned to keep them busy or “they will make your life miserable.” We’d been doing quite well, actually, when I suddenly lost control of the classroom. Amid the coloring and cutting and pasting and cries of “Mr. Boomsma, can you help me with this?” very suddenly and spontaneously one child started singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Within seconds, fifteen little voices chimed in and I was left to stand and watch the unfolding of what might be described as a “Normal Rockwell Moment.”  For at least six renditions of the song (the part they remembered) my life was anything but miserable.

But it was not because of anything I did.

Every sane person wants to prevent the type of tragedy we experienced on December 14, 2012. As we work through the grief, I believe we need to remember that six-year-old who decided to sing. To be sure, somebody taught him to sing. But he decided it was time to sing. If we don’t remember him and his choice, we are in danger of deluding ourselves into thinking we can fix this by controlling things (guns, videos, the media, etc.) and perhaps even people.

I’ve asked myself what I might do to prevent this type of tragedy and believe the long look answer lies in another truth:  “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.” While we cannot ignore those broken adults, we (collectively, not just teachers) are “breaking” children every day by missing opportunities, failing to provide structure, and in too many cases engaging in outright abuse and neglect. The same newspaper that headlined the Newtown events also carried a story of an eight-year-old girl who was raped. These tragedies deserve equal outrage.

Anyone who spends any time working in schools has met them–the kids we are breaking. A kid who is constantly angry for reasons we don’t yet understand–copes by screaming and pushing his way around. The loner who is always seen off by herself during recess…

All of the other reindeer
used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
join in any reindeer games.

Just this week a nine-year-old confessed to being tired first thing in the morning explaining that her dad goes to work at 3 AM and she’s required to get up to care for her younger brother. She’s a real good kid and I think will grow up to be a responsible adult. I’m not indicting her Dad because it’s likely an economic necessity. But she’s carrying a lot of weight on her young shoulders–can we be sure whether it will make or break her?

What happens to us shapes us, but we decide who we are. Those of us who are fortunate enough to work with kids have a key–we need to focus on building strong children who learn the skills–including the skill of self-control–that will allow them make good decisions about what they will do and who they will become.

Then all the reindeer loved him
as they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
you’ll go down in history!

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Filed under Learning, Mental Health, Mental Hygiene

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year—maybe not!

frustrated_at_my_desk_400_clr_8478It may seem counter-intuitive, but for many people the holiday season is anything but the most wonderful time of the year. There are many reasons why a person might experience the “holiday blues” and it’s an especially difficult time of the year for those who suffer from clinical depression. Feeling “down” during the holidays can be especially trying because there’s the sense that everyone else is feeling merry.

Regular readers know that I’ve spent the past year becoming gatekeeper trained and a NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) Certified Mental Health First Aid Specialist for both youth and adults. I did this in a large part so I could offer the training required to bring folks into compliance with the recent law (LD 609) that requires all Maine school employees to receive basic suicide prevention education.*

One of the things I learned during my training was that Facebook has a system in place that allows users to report posts that reflect bullying or the potential for self-harm. This was, it seemed to me, a fairly well-kept secret. I intend to include it in any training I offer and, hopefully, “spread the word.”

So this morning, I decided to “vet” the process before I shared it with you. I have good news and bad news. The good news is most social media platforms have taken suicide prevent seriously. The bad news is that, true to form, Facebook has changed the methodology several times since introducing it several years ago. While it’s still relatively easy to report, it’s not exactly intuitive.

If you see a post that raises some concerns (examples would be hopelessness, despair, obsessive thoughts about death) on Facebook, you may click the down arrow at the top right of that post. Next click on the drop down menu “report photo (or post).” On the next drop down, click “I think it shouldn’t be…” On the next drop down, click “Something else.” This will finally take you to the option of reporting the potential for self-harm. These steps “worked” as of this morning, December 2, 2015.

Personally, I think it should be easier. Frankly, I also have some concerns about whether or not it truly generates action. On unrelated issues I’ve found Facebook less than responsive. Supposedly a “team of experts” will immediately take action and reach out to the poster with an offer to chat, resources, etc.

I’d therefore encourage anyone who sees a post that creates concern to reach out personally with an offer to talk and listen, encouraging the poster to call a hotline. This might sound scary, but compassion and caring are all that are required to intervene—you do not have to be an “expert.”

An important resource is the Facebook Help Center—the link is https://www.facebook.com/help/594991777257121/ and it’s worth visiting before you need it. This link should take you directly to the safety resources page covering suicide prevention, bullying, etc.

Another resource can be found at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/gethelp/online.aspx where you’ll find links to methods for other social media such as Twitter, YouTube, etc.

Information and course dates will be posted soon. The two-hour program is designed to raise awareness about suicide risk factors and warning signs and to provide information on what steps to take if suicide is suspected. While focused on students and youth, the information and skills learned are appropriate for use with anyone who might be feeling suicidal, no matter what their age.

Hotline Numbers

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Filed under Mental Health, Suicide Prevention

Holiday Wishes…

Thanksgiving

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November 26, 2015 · 4:45 am