The “Short” Guide to Life

Like many of you, I took a pseudo-break from work last week. Though I retired from the classroom a year ago, my mind constantly revolves around education. That’s really not surprising, since I’m still writing about it and consulting in the private sector. In addition, I’ve always looked for ways to connect everything “out in the world” to my teaching, so my brain has learned to default to that mode after 30 years.

Before I sat down at my computer today, I walked my dogs while listening to a podcast. Things were going pretty well as I laughed along with Martin Short and the hosts of Smartless (Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Sean Hayes) and I focused on not letting my Great Dane Karate Kid me in the knee with her head again. But then Martin Short compared his stint on Saturday Night Live to preparing for final exams on a weekly basis. That set my mind off on grading controversies and school reform… Hayes redirected me when he asked Martin Short about advice he had once given Sean about life, and Short replied, “Oh, you mean the nine categories?”

Short reminisced about a tough period he was going through in his late twenties when he first asked himself, “What if your career was one of nine courses you took?” He explained that you could still get a “good GPA” even if you didn’t do well in one of the categories. You can read about the categories in this article by Ben Carlson. The comedian/actor reflects on his performance in each category about once a year.

As I listened to Martin Short reflect on how his categories had shaped his life, I reflected on my decision to retire in 2019 – which had been predicated on the fact that I was flunking eight out of nine of those categories. I thought about the teachers and many others out there returning to work today, some of whom are feeling the tremendous pressure not unlike taking final exams every single day. And I wondered what it would be like if we lived in a society that did not define success as making lots of money or having a job around which everything else must revolve.

I like to take my metaphors to the extreme, so I began to question if some of Short’s categories would be considered “Core Curriculum” while others are electives. Would I get extra points if I took the Honors or AP version? Where can I get a syllabus for Creativity?

Then I remembered that I was planning to get back to work today and plopped by behind down on my chair to write this blog post.

I didn’t want to retire a year ago. But I was flunking the Martin Short School of Life big time. I’ve spent the last twelve months working on my skill gaps so that in 2020, I may have earned an “F” in Career, but everything else was a passing grade.

And that’s okay.

Dominick D, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Give a Little Love

This year’s holiday ad from John Lewis is just as creative and inspiring as usual. It’s about celebrating kindness, and gosh, it’s like a salve for the soul to watch it and see something that isn’t inflammatory or scare-mongering. As they did last year, John Lewis and Waitrose partnered to produce the ad, “Give a Little Love,” and they are hoping to raise money for two charities in the United Kingdom: FareShare and Home-Start. You can visit this page to go behind the scenes of the video and purchase some “Give a Little Love” merch.

The plot of “Give a Little Love” reminds me of a video I’ve recommended many times on this blog, “Kindness Boomerang.” For other videos about kindness, here are 7 more. You can also see some of the past John Lewis videos I’ve used in class here and here. And, don’t forget that I have a huge collection of Inspirational Videos for Students on Pinterest here.

Forest Man

I don’t know about you, but I needed a bit of inspiration today. Regardless of the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, there is much evidence that our country has many people who condone and take part in activities that perpetuate hatred – and I woke up this morning feeling defeated by the sheer magnitude of those numbers. Like many, I have fleetingly considered moving somewhere else – though I’m quite sure the places I would go are not amenable to accepting a bunch of disgruntled Americans at the moment.

So, I searched through my Wakelet collection of inspiration in order to take my mind off current events. I ran across a short video I had saved from Twitter, shared by @MikeHudema, about a man who grew his own forest by planting one tree every day for over 37 years. While I was hunting for sources and a YouTube link, I found several more videos about this remarkable man, Jadav Payeng. This one is a good summary (only a minute long) of the story – how Payeng transformed a desolate, eroding piece of a river island into a lush forest that is now home to multiple elephants, tigers, and other animals.

But then I found a longer, award-winning video by William D McMaster, Forest Man, and I realized that I was meant to watch it. Today. At this moment. I was meant to be reminded by Jadav Payeng that we cannot despair, and we cannot abandon what seems to be an overwhelming task. We need to take a breath and do what we can, and even though it appears that we are doing very little, those tiny achievements will grow and multiply.

As Payeng’s forest has grown to be over twice the size of New York’s Central Park, he has had to defend it from those who want to cut it down for economic gain. “There are no monsters in nature except for humans,” he says. He knows what it’s like to protect something valuable from people who care only about their own benefits.

The narrator of Forest Man says, “Sometimes I wonder what 10, 100, or 1000 Payengs could do.”

Payeng inspires me to stand my ground and keep on doing what little I can, each day, to combat the monsters.

(My friend, the awesome Joelle Trayers, just told me that there is a children’s book, The Boy Who Grew A Forest, about this amazing story! Be sure to share it with your students along with the video!)

I will be adding Forest Man to my Inspirational Videos for Students Pinterest Board, as well as my Inspirational Videos for Teachers. For a similar theme of an ordinary man doing ordinary things making a difference, I also recommend the animated video, King of the Island.

They Don’t Need Another Hero

Our society has a tendency to resort to worship heroes. When they turn out to be imperfect, we “cancel” them and move on to the next person who seems worthy. As parents and educators, it’s tempting to allow the children in our care to place us in that hero category, and to cover up our own anxiety, frustration, and mistakes. After all, not only do we enjoy having someone thinking having confidence in us, we also want them to feel safe around us. Here’s the problem – making them confident in us by constructing the illusion we are perfect makes them less confident in themselves.

As Adam Grant points out in the video in this article from MindShift, we have a duty to have conversations with children about our own fallibility. They will inevitably experience it themselves, and we can model healthy strategies for dealing with it instead of leading them to believe that their only fallbacks are to give up, lie, or blame others. We need to show them that some things don’t come easily to us, and how to analyze if those things are worth the effort. We can model constructive approaches to confronting difficulties and failure so they do not have to rely on “heroes,” who will eventually let them down.

Last weekend, my 17 year old daughter gave me the best compliment I have ever received from her: “I learned from you that I don’t need to depend on other people to be happy.” She knows about my battle with depression, mistakes that I regret, and struggles I still have. She is well aware that I’m not the perfect parent she idolized when she was three. But just like every other disappointment that has come her way, she deals with it.

(I’ll be adding this video to my Growth Mindset Pinterest Board.)

Photo by Jonathan Hoxmark on Unsplash

Working Together While We’re Apart

I have been uplifted by the many videos that have been shared on social media lately showing how people are making their own joy with others despite our physical distances.  I wanted to share a few today.

This first one was brought to my attention in a blog post by @LarryFerlazzo:

Here are two young people who chose to give their elderly neighbor a concert:

The Rotterdam Philharmonic did this gorgeous recording, “From Us, For You” of “Ode to Joy.”

This particular video from the Roedean School in South Africa is beautiful to watch and hear.

I keep watching this one over and over again because I adore the pure joy in these boys as they play Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida.”

Here is an amazing mariachi concert by students on Twitter:

For a dose of absolutely adorable cuteness, you should listen to “Virus in a Tree.”

And finally, for those of us looking for some humor, watch this clever and talented family perform the pandemic version of “One Day More” from Les Miserables. (Thanks to @jtrayers for sharing this on FB.)

If you are looking for other videos to make your heart sing, I have two Pinterest Boards that may help you: Inspirational Videos for Students and Inspirational Videos for Teachers.

The Magic of Chess

“Old people shouldn’t be forced to learn chess, but if they want to learn chess surely they can!  They’re allowed to,” a young girl assures the interviewer in The Magic of Chess.

“Even though they could be doing something else – like playing Legos,” the young boy next to her adds.

This adorable short film featured on Vimeo will inspire any young student (and maybe some old people) to try the game of chess.  The filmmaker, Jenny Schweitzer Bell, captured the many positive aspects of playing chess by interviewing boys and girls at the 2019 Elementary Chess Championship.  The children tout the problem solving skills they have learned, and growth mindset is a constant theme.  Their passion for the game is truly inspiring!

I am adding this delightful video to my Inspirational Videos Pinterest Board.

The Magic of Chess from Jenny Schweitzer Bell on Vimeo.

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Image by Ally Laws from Pixabay