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.
I’ve been teaching part-time and now full-time as an online university instructor since 2002. This work aligns well with my coaching and consulting work, and has, in fact, included coaching of learners and now faculty. Recently, with the turmoil surrounding online, mostly for-profit institutions and their open enrollment policies, I’ve been thinking about what works best with learners who may have excellent preparation for graduate work as well as with learners who have no preparation for graduate work–in the same courseroom.
Robbin Parry, who is pictured here, is one of my colleagues at Capella University. She is a masterful appreciative teacher. With bright, curious, and sometimes agressive learners, she is curious, calm, and wants to know what works best for them in a learning environment. With learners who have had less opportunity to prepare, or have come from environments where the challenge and stimulation may be less rich, she is curious, calm and–you guessed it, wanting to know what works best for them in a learning environment.
It is one thing, I find, to be consistently positive and curious about what works for learners when they are within a fairly narrow range of ability. It is another to be so when each learner presents a very different challenge and opportunity.
One thing that seems to work well for me is to picture a learner as someone who really wants to get the most out of each class. As I get to know something about their background I am able to suggest readings, videos, and podcasts that are geared to their level of experience and help them to raise their own bar to the level of the course materials. For those who could get into Michigan State or Cal Poly I try to find similar materials to enrich their experience beyond the level of the course materials.
I went to nursery school (now pre-school) and public elementary school with boys. I have two brothers who are younger siblings. I was taller than my brothers and my male classmates until I was 14 or 15. I was smarter than most of them, too. I like men. I like the stimulation of a different mindset and a different kind of energy. I admire the “get it done and get on with it” approach to business, and most other administration. I have worked all my adult life and have been married (not to one person) for that period as well. So, I’ve spent all of my life in close proximity to men.
Nevertheless, I appreciated going to a girl’s private school for my last three years of high school and my first two years of college. There was something about being able to focus on academic performance without the daily distraction of hormones that served me well. I was struck by a similar thought as I was reviewing an article about the theory and design of women’s leadership development programs. While hormones might play less of a factor in women’s success at the highest corporate levels, the assumption that a woman must follow a male model of leadership–assertive/aggressive, competitive, without emotion or demonstrative emotion–in order to succeed in organizational life, undoubtedly contributes to the low percentages of women CEOs, board members and corporate officers of the largest U.S. and global companies.
It was with great interest that I read that a woman’s “self-view as a leader bolsters self-confidence” and in turn increases her desire to lead. While I grant you that this is a blinding glimpse of the obvious, many of us find that our self-view is overshadowed by the culture’s and the organization’s view of who we should be. Our sense of purpose may collide with the organization’s sense of who we are capable of being. To top these challenges off, at least in my own corporate career, the worst places to look for affirmation were in other women. I hope this has changed.
In the weeks that follow I want to continue to think about how we as a nation could lead the world in creating supportive environments for bright capable women who want to lead. Any ideas you’d like to contribute?
Ely, R.J., Ibarra, H., & Kolb, D.M. (2011). Taking gender into account: Theory and design for women’s leadership development programs. Academy of Management Learning & Education. 10(3), 474-493
I love my grandson, Lachlan. He is 7. Since he was 2 he has come to California from Minnesota for two weeks in the summer. He is an only child and used to getting all of his Aunt Blake (who lives nearby) and his grandma’s attention. I love to listen to him talk to my husband and love to hear him laugh. I love to watch him run on his awkward, 7-year-old legs. When his father or mother, my husband or my other daughter disciplines him, I have to turn away because it breaks my heart. He is mostly such a good boy and so precious to me. I love him wholeheartedly and unconditionally, as my grandmother loved me, and as my mother loves Lachlan’s mother, her first grandchild.
I loved my cat Solomon. I never intended to have a cat. I was a dog person. But my second husband was a cat person and we had his and her cats. When I left him, he asked me to take my cat, Solomon. No one but me loved Solomon. He had no personality. He was a 16 pound, long-haired, black cat. But he loved me, and I loved him. When I was sick or sad, Solomon would curl up between my collar bone and my chin and purr. When I traveled, even though I would have someone visit and feed him, he’d pay me back for leaving him by pooping all over my house. As I said, no one but me loved Solomon. My present (las) husband does not like or understand pets. Yet he was smart enough to know that if he wanted me, Solomon was part of the deal. He never complained and drove me to the vets with Solomon when Solomon had to leave this world.
I love my husband, and my daughters and step-daughter. I love my step-sons, my brothers and my mother. These are more complicated relastionships, though. Even so, I consider myself very, very fortunate to have been able to love each of these someones, or beings, and know that they are the major reason I flourish.