I had the juiciest piece of gossip to tell you today. Guess what? I didn’t go so far as punching in your number, but I did have the conversation with you in my head. No one liked to hear gossip more than you, and no one passed it along faster than you. Sometimes this was a source of pleasure–when you were passing it to me, or when we were laughing or pretending to be horrified by something someone else did. Other times, when it was my secret, and I had stressed to you that it was indeed a secret that you passed on, I didn’t enjoy it as much.
Earlier this evening when my grandson, Lachlan, couldn’t get his butt far enough back in the lounge chairs you loved so much, to teeter into a prone position, I thought of how impatient you were with me when I couldn’t do it either. ” Just lie back,” you would say, and I would. Still I found myself in an upright position. And you’d get mad, as if I were doing or not doing something to thwart you.
When my first husband called, the day after you died, and reminisced about how there had never been any recriminations for either of us after she found us in flagrante delicto almost 50 years ago, I said, that wasn’t exactly true. ” She may have loved you unconditionally, but there had been plenty of conditions on her love for me.”
One sister in law wishes her adoptive mother had been you. I understand that. You two had a wonderful close, and loving relationship. The other sister-in-law had a more day-to-day relationship with you and loved you at arms length. You called this selfish. I called it smart.
I spent years in expensive therapy, believing that I needed you more than either of my husbands (at that point). My lovely and wise therapist would routinely say, “You don’t need your mother.” I think now that he may have seen maturity in me that I wasn’t able to claim for myself. When I finally stood up to you in my late 50s and realized that I did not indeed need you, my therapy was mostly complete.
But in this, your final year I needed you again as if my life depended on your loving me. I got jealous of the sister-in-law closest to you and of your friends, particularly of the one you described as your adoptive daughter. I wanted to be needed. I wanted to be important. It took most of the year to realize that I was important, that I was needed, and that our love for each other, while never unconditional, was a powerful force in both our lives.
Margaret Davies Orem died June 29-30 at 92. My brothers and I had dinner with her the night she died. She died looking forward to whatever might be next.
I have to start with a scholarly term, and for this I apologize to any reader who wants “the three paragraph version” as my dad used to say to his extroverted mother-in-law, wife, and daughter. The term is identity construction and comes from the overarching belief and theory (to which I subscribe) that we all have our own versions of reality, and “construct” ourselves based on our family, culture, and environment. We also construct ourselves differently in different environments. For instance, I am different with my mother (still stuck in my painful teenage years), than I am with my husband (a strong woman and caring partner), or with my children (still the maternal approver even as they are in mid-life). So, do you get the idea? We are, in fact, different people in different environments. We change according to what we believe is our best “presentation of self” in each–see Erving Goffman’s wonderful book by the same name.
Learners in my classes construct themselves in roughly four ways. This is a simplification of course, and one I apologize for but for this blog, these should suffice.
1. Learners who want to learn, who will do anything to improve–take a writing class, study social science’s crazy making formatting system (American Psychological Association–APA), or go back and write an assignment over for no credit just to cement new learning.
2. Learners who want to learn when it is convenient or fits their identity construction (I am an A student, why should I put up with being told I need to learn to take an informed position?).
3. Learners who just want an A and will spend untold amounts of energy better put to genuine learning, arguing with an instructor about the injustice of a B or C, no matter what the metrics say.
4. Learners who want to fly beneath the radar and get through the course with as little disturbance as possible.
Since I coach faculty with all of these learners in their classes, here is the best I think we can do:
Learner #1 gets challenging feedback, encouragement to open her mind to the next level of learning, the next more complex set of ideas.
Learner #2 gets the same thing with perhaps a nudge in the direction of learner #1.
Learner #3 gets firm verbal and written feedback encouraging them to see themselves in a slightly different way. The challenge and encouragement are to see themselves as more open to new ideas and less demanding and aggressive about grades. This is difficult and takes a light touch combined perhaps with self-deprecating humor on the part of the instructor.
Learner #4 is the mystery. Perhaps this learner is really a learner #1 in hiding. Perhaps this is a shy #2. It is up to the instructor to engage this learner in a positive identity construction, someone who can achieve self-efficacy through learning.
Finally, Daniel Pink in Drive suggests that workers and learners thrive on autonomy (self-direction), mastery (of meaningful work), and purpose (to work in the service of something larger than an A). We can provide the opportunities, and even ways to achieve autonomy, mastery and purpose, thereby changing the identity construction of the learner
. In the end, learners have gotta wanna achieve these things (learner #1) with our challenge and support.
Two weekends ago I attended a memorial celebration of my dissertation mentor’s life at Fielding Graduate University. Two other graduates who were slightly behind me, Linda Blong and Kate Creede (also his mentees), and one faculty member, Frank Barrett, who was also on my dissertation committee, planned and facilitated the wonderful two hour meditation, small group exercise, and witnessing to W. Barnett Pearce’s life and accomplishments.
So many graduates spoke of his listening capability. He gave his whole being to a conversation and was open and curious about his student’s lives, worldviews and work. He was a rigorous scholar. It took me a long time to dare to work with him as I thought I’d never live up to his expectations. In my defensive first approach to Barnett, I said I wasn’t really sure I wanted to work with him. He was unruffled. He shrugged and said he had plenty of good work to do and didn’t need to convince me to work with him. That, of course, was all I needed to want to work with him.
When I cried all the way through my first committee meeting (I was afraid I couldn’t write a dissertation), Barnett was kind but not patronizing. I said I could cry and think at the same time. He took me at my word.
Toward the end of my Fielding journey Barnett asked me at a national meeting how I was doing . I said that it always took me a few days to feel like I really belonged at Fielding. His response: “I wonder why you construct yourself that way?” Throughout the day I noticed all the ways in which I DID belong, and was a valued member of the community. His question expresses what we call in Appreciative Coaching, the Simultaneity Principle. This principle tells us that a question, all by itself, can send us down a path of change and insight. It certainly helped me to see my own worth.
At his retirement celebration, the committee chair asked me to “roast” him. At first I thought, “Who wants to go to Kansas City (site of the meeting) in August?” Then I thought, “I’m not THAT funny!” But I did the roast with love and that seemed to be OK. He and his wife Kim did a skit about Barnett the house-husband after his retirement. This was not to be, however.
About a month after his retirement Barnett announced via his website that he had cancer. Although the doctors never found the origin of that cancer, it took his life in November of 2011. He had been the soul of appreciation for so many of us, and the encourager of scholarship and self-esteem for many more.
My mother will be 92 in a month. She is active in her church. She loves a party more than anyone I know, and will literally rise from her sickbed so that she doesn’t miss one. She loves her family and we have many, many photos to prove it. The one I have chosen comes from a special experience.
At 90 my mom decided she wanted to go to Africa. She didn’t really know why. She wanted to see the animals. I promised I would make this happen. Between my regular travel agent in Michigan (www. alwtravel.com) and a web based tour company (really one especially talented man) we crafted a trip of two weeks in South Africa, the first week in the north seeing the animals, and the second in Cape Town, the wine country, and the south coast. What a trip! Twice during the summer before our September departure date, Mom fell. The day before we were to leave, her neighbor came to me and said, “she’ll never make it.” She didn’t know mom’s determination.
We had a spectacular time together! I will remember this trip as a highlight of my life and of my relationship with my mom. And here is what this appreciative teacher taught me:
1. If you really want to do something, make it happen. Maybe you can’t make it happen by yourself. Enlist others to help you make your dream come true, or your goal achievable.
2. Believe in yourself. Physical disability, fear, others’ lack of belief in you should not stop you. Keep moving toward what you really want.
3. Rest. None of us can push all the time. It makes us crabby among other things–and a martyr. So rest. I picture my mom snoozing in the back of big, bouncy jeeps as we looked for leopards and elephants (she opened her eyes when we got there).
4. Love, and show it your way. Every day my mom would say something like, “I can’t imagine another daughter who would do this for me!” She only has one, but I appreciated knowing that she recognized the work and love that I had put into the trip.
5. Use your resources for the things that are important to you. My mom paid for this trip. We flew first class as she didn’t think she could sit squished in an economy seat for 16 hours. She gave me a budget. I showed her the animals. I arranged for a driver (through my excellent tour guide) in both the north and south. Both drivers enchanted mom and wheeled her around where she couldn’t walk. She was both brave (tackled stairs where wheelchairs couldn’t go) and smart (didn’t even try to walk to the Cape of Good Hope as I did).
Using these principles helps me understand my students better too. I have more energy for those who are struggling, but willing, than those who are entitled and unwilling to stretch. My mom has been my own best teacher.
Our guide in Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, fluent in English, German, and his native language told us a joke one hot afternoon on our bus as we returned from one gorgeous temple. He asked, “What do you call someone who speaks two languages?” We all shouted “Bilingual!” “OK” he said. ‘ What do you call someone who speaks three languages?” Again, we shouted, “Trilingual.” “What do you call someone who speaks one language?” We tittered self-consciously before responding, “An American.” He asked the questions good naturedly. We responded in kind, but a little self-consciously at the end.
I spent two weeks boating along the Mekong River mostly in Cambodia, but beginning and ending in Vietnam. In each city and region, we had guides who spoke at least passable English and met schoolchildren in tiny villages who spoke almost perfect English. We met teachers and Buddhist monks who teach the old way, by rote. The teachers were mostly men (even of the smallest children) and always wore pressed shirts and trousers even in villages where the children wore the same skirt or pants every day and where washing in the river resulted in mud colored clothes no matter what their original color. We had brought school supplies to this village to give to the children–notebooks and pencils.
In one village we were transported by ox cart to yet another Buddhist temple and school. One little girl of 8 followed us all the way back to the village on her bike speaking to us in English and singing “If you’re happy and you know it” through all its verses. Of course she wanted money before we reboarded our boat. We were encouraged not to do this, and so we didn’t.
I appreciate my country more when I travel. I am also self-conscious. I am a teacher too. My learners are adults, most of whom I never see. They have the same will, most of them, to learn to be effective in the world. I honor this willingness, determination, and commitment by seeking to understand the key to their wish for a better education and by that a better life, just as the Cambodian children I met want a better life for themselves.