My ongoing hope is captured in my observation that “We mentor people in ways we don’t even mean to.” A corollary to that is mentoring doesn’t have to be hard. By definition, mentoring is a relationship in which an experienced person helps guide someone who is less experienced. I think something as simple as a kind or encouraging word creates a connection that can be defined as a relationship, however brief. Let’s call it a ‘mentoring moment.”
Mine isn’t the only story in which an adult did something that at first seems small, but turns out to have major impacts, perhaps because it is about human connection. Hearing those stories is encouraging and heartwarming. But creating our own stories can be even better. Just look for those mentoring moments.
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!
Tomorrow I will be teaching a course for substitute teachers. Yesterday I happen to talk to someone I believe is a truly great teacher. We bumped into each other in a grocery store. Since she looked troubled, I asked what was wrong. She replied, “I’m trying to do some math in my head.” We had a lot of fun with that. (She was buying some supplies for a class project that sounded really awesome.) Of course we ended up comparing notes and sharing “war stories.” People didn’t seem to mind going around us, standing in the aisle and laughing over some of the things we’ve experienced.
Towards the end of our conversation, we talked about some folks we knew who have recently retired. This great teacher said, “I’ve been teaching forty years.” We did some more math to estimate how many kids she’s taught. Then she added, “I really should be thinking about retiring, but I can’t.”
When I asked her why she replied, “Because I’m having way too much fun!”
The folks I’ll work with tomorrow may not be “teachers” in the formal sense of the word. But they will be teaching. My hope for them and the students they have–if only for a day–is that they will find the business of learning fun. It won’t always be easy. But it should always be meaningful. When we start to forget that, here’s a short reminder.
We have a large population of people in America who cannot go anywhere without their GPS–even to places in their own town that they truly were able to find, on their own, just four or five years ago. But now they must take their mobile performance support system with them. They have become completely dependent on the box. I can’t help but think they are in danger of losing the skill of thinking their way through a route by, say, using a map. Or perhaps they have never even learned to read a map!
I’m a huge fan of technology, make no mistake. Even on a short trip to Bangor I’ll often “fire up” Greta (Garmin). She helps me keep a sense of my progress and estimated arrival time. She reminds me occasionally to make a turn and sometimes annoys me when I deviate slightly to stop for coffee with her constant recalculating. I confess I somewhat enjoy taking a shortcut that she doesn’t have in her data bank.
We have a tenuous relationship because I refuse to yield my independent thought and directional capabilities to the support system she represents. I gently remind her that she has, more than once, let me down. I like to think I can still get myself out of a lost situation when she leads me astray. I’m discovering that the only time I can’t get myself out is when I’ve been blindly following her commands without thinking or paying some attention to where she’s sending me.
Developing a dependency on her not only may dull the senses, I get concerned it might even reduce my sense of adventure. (I am rarely lost, but have been known to have some adventures.) A few years ago I had a great deal of trouble locating a hotel where I had a reservation. My repeated attempts took me past a visitor information center so I decided to get Greta some help. After briefly stating my problem, the staffer said, “Well, the first thing you have to do is turn off the GPS.” I chuckled at this suggestion as he grabbed a pen and unfolded a paper map, and we ultimately had an interesting conversation covering topics such as “sense of direction,” conflicting messages, and self-reliance in a world that’s increasingly driven by technology.
“Getting lost” may be more about losing a sense of place than about finding things. I learned years ago when hiking in the woods that’s it’s important to turn around frequently–the world is going to look differently on the return trip. We become lost when we aren’t feeling oriented or connected to our surroundings. “This doesn’t look right! Where am I?”
As vacation travel season approaches I usually rethink my relationship with Greta. I remind myself she’s pretty good when it comes to goal orientation, but she’s not likely to say things like, “Did you notice…” or “You know, you could try…” Perhaps some day technology will develop sufficiently for Greta to say things like “Nice lane change!” and “you noticed that before I did…” It would reinforce the fact that she’s working for me, it’s not the other way around. I think she should give me a little more credit than she does.
But for now, it’s going to be up to me to be aware of my surroundings–the way it should be. Better yet, it’s my trip and my vacation. Since I gave her the goal, I can change it. For that matter, since it’s vacation, there will be mornings when there is no goal. She’ll spend a lot of time in “map only” mode as we meander. In the kindest way possible, I’ll let her know, “If I need your help today, I’ll ask for it. Let me see what I can find on my own.”
I was recently reminded of the power of criticism when two diametrically opposed viewpoints hit my email inbox on the same day. I will spare you the details, but one was highly complimentary of a website I maintain. The second was not so much so. While expressed as a concern, the uncomplimentary message evoked some pretty strong emotion from me. Frankly, it took me several hours to calm down enough to poll several folks I respect regarding the validity of the criticism. I was assured it was, in fact, baseless.
But here’s an interesting phenomena. While I was ultimately able to “chuckle” over the criticism, guess which one of those emails I spent the most mental and emotional energy on? If you guessed “the negative one,” you’d be correct.
Ironically (unless you believe in fate), a few days later I happened to listen to an inspiring TED talk. The speaker introduced the concept of “mental hygiene” noting that while we take care of our bodies with healthy practices, most people do not have a regimen that addresses mental health. One point that particularly hit home was that we human beings have a tendency to “ruminate” over incidents and conditions in our lives. (In animal terms, “chew over and over.”) His challenge was that we might do well to consider what we are consuming and chewing over and over. Our choices affect not only our mental state, but also how and what we communicate. And, of course, what we communicate dramatically impacts those we are around.
There’s both a personal and an organizational lesson for us in this. Chewing on the negative isn’t going to make it positive. Sometimes we have to spit it out and find something better to chew on. That is a choice we can make.
I substitute taught kindergarten recently. One of the things I love about five year olds is they haven’t get figured out why things can’t be done—they try stuff. One of my best moments was when a young lady came up and tugged on my sleeve. “Mr. Boomsma, I want to tell you about something nice (another student) just did for me…” We work really hard to create a positive learning environment at school. There are official positions assigned every day: class messenger (delivers notes to the office) and cubby inspector (makes sure no one has forgotten anything at the end of the day) are two. But my personal favorite is the kindness reporter. A different student each day is challenged to spot and report kindnesses happening in the classroom.
I wonder how our lives would change if we decided to be a “Kindness Reporter.” We could simply do it personally and randomly or we could self-appoint ourselves to the position with our family, our workplace, or organizations we’ve joined. Maybe we also could be a “Thinking Monitor”—someone who decides to point out negative thinking and try to stop others from chewing on it.
If you’re not willing to do it for others, at least do it for yourself. Monitor how you’re thinking and how much kindness you’re doling out. Chew on the positive possibilities. It will improve your digestion!
Walter Boomsma (“Mr. Boomsma”) writes on a wide array of topics including personal development, teaching and learning. Course information is also available here!