An Online Publication written by Robert Kirwan
Presented by The Learning Clinic Education Centre

Special Messages To Motivate & Inspire Teachers & Administrators

by Robert Kirwan, O.C.T., B.A.(Math), M.A.(Education)
Professional Learning Coach & Director of
The Learning Clinic Education Centre

The Purpose of Life Is To Matter; To Count; To Stand for something; To Have It Make Some Difference That We Lived At All......Leo Rosten

REFLECTIONS ON LEARNING FOR TEACHERS  is one of a series of online publications that are being made available through The Learning Clinic Education Centre. 

I think all teachers will agree that Leo Rosten's quotation above says it all. This is our purpose in life. To make a difference in the lives of others. I have taken on many roles during my own life. A husband, a parent, a teacher, a son, a brother, a friend - no matter what hat I wore, as I look back over my life I like to think that I have made a difference in the lives of the people I have touched.

And now, in my role as a Professional Learning Coach, I am convinced that this is what living life to the fullest is all about. It is one of the main reasons why I have created this online publication, REFLECTIONS ON LEARNING FOR TEACHERS. 

Life is all about discovery; finding hidden talents and interests; experiencing all there is about life so that you can make wise decisions as you grow and develop into a mature, responsible individual? That should be the purpose of education. It is about learning who you are and being true to yourself so that you can fulfill your dreams and enjoy a career in which you can find satisfaction and happiness, not only in your work but in every aspect of your life.

I want to share with you a little story that will express exactly how I feel about THE LEARNING CLINIC EDUCATION CENTRE and my role as a Professional Learning Coach. I know I am only one person, and it will be hard to change the world, but I think you will soon see why this is one of my favourite stories of all time and why I return to this story often for inspiration. 

It is called The Star Thrower, and is written by Loren Eiseley. Her story has been told and retold so many times that I am sure it would be next to impossible to find the original version, but the story goes something like this:

beaches,iStockphoto,oceans,sea life,starfish,seashores,summers,tides,tropicsTHE STAR THROWER

Once upon a time there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to walk along the beach and enjoy the waves crashing upon the rocks. Early one morning he was walking along the shore by himself. As he looked down the deserted beach, he saw a human figure in the distance. As he got closer to the stranger, he saw that it was a young teenage boy. The boy was reaching down to the sand, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean. As the old man got closer, he yelled out, "Good morning, young fellow. What are you doing?"

The teenager paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish back in the ocean."

"Why on earth are you doing that?" asked the old man.

The boy replied, "Because the sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in they’ll die."

The old man looked at the teenager in disbelief and said, "But the beach goes on for miles and miles and there are starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference."

The young boy listened politely, then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves and said, "It made a difference for that one." And then the very wise young boy continued on his way down the beach, bending down and throwing starfish after starfish back into the ocean.

Whenever I feel like I am up against tremendous odds and that my efforts are hopeless in the larger scheme of things, I think about The Starfish Thrower. I would advise every teacher to make a copy of this story and keep it somewhere handy so that every time you wonder about whether it is worth the effort.

We have all been gifted with the ability to make a difference. It is just like Leo Rosten stated in the title to this article: "The purpose of life is to matter; to count; to stand for something; to have it make some difference that we lived at all".

It is my personal belief that there is something very special in each and every one of us. It is also my belief that it is our responsibility as human beings to reach out to the people who come into our life and make a difference by sharing those special gifts. And the wonderful thing is that we can all accomplish this with very little effort.

You may not be able to change the world, and you may not be able to make a difference to everyone, but you certainly can make a difference to most of the students you meet.

The young boy in the story understood this very important meaning of life. He represents all young persons who have the courage to experience all there is to encounter along their journey of life. They are not afraid to reach out and try new things.

The old man in the story had become skeptical from his experiences with others. He had adopted the philosophy that if he cannot change the world, there is no use in even trying. He would sit back and do nothing to save the starfish. 

What he learned from the young boy on the beach is that even if the odds are against you and it seems as if there is little you can do, what little you can get done will definitely make some difference. It doesn’t matter how long your journey may be, you can still only get there one step at a time.

Don’t miss out on a golden opportunity to make it a real difference that you have lived at all. Live your life to the fullest and be the best you can be.

"Decide On Your Big Goals First And Stay Focused!"

I recently read an interesting book one day written by Eileen Shapiro and Howard Stevenson. The name of the book was “Make Your Own Luck”. 

   The book was based on the fact that every action we take during the course of our life is a ‘bet’. In other words, the actions we take today and the decisions we make are based on the expectation or hope, but not the certainty, of achieving certain desired results in the future.
   Human beings we bet all of the time. We cannot avoid it. Everything we do in life is a bet. It is a bet that the time and resources we invest now through our actions will achieve some desired benefit as a result of those actions. Even the act of driving our car is a bet that the choices we make along the way will get us to our destination point. Sometimes we lose that bet if our car breaks down or we get involved in an accident. When we drive over the speed limit, we are betting that there won’t be a police officer around the corner. The list of daily bets is endless.
   What amazed me most about this book was the way the authors were able to explain how easy it is for us to gain control of our life simply by becoming more focused on the “big goals” instead of all of the smaller ones.  We can dramatically improve our odds of achieving our desired results and therefore go from depending on dumb luck to actually taking more control over our own destinies.

   This message really hit home in one of the early chapters when the authors were relating an experience they had one day while conducting a job interview for the position of manager of one of their companies. A man named Dean Kamen was one of the candidates for the position and he was asked a number of questions during the course of the interview. One of the questions was, “Imagine you are stranded on a deserted island. If you could choose one person to be stranded with you, who would it be?”

   The authors expected Mr. Kamen to give one of the typical answers that people usually give to this question, such as, “your spouse, a great philosopher, an athlete, a famous religious figure, a sexy movie star, a story teller or a close friend or family member.” What would your answer be?

   Mr. Kamen surprised the authors with his answer. He thought for a moment and then said, “The world’s best boat builder.”

   Mr. Kamen realized that his ‘big goal” was to get off the island. He could have selected a companion who would make life much easier for himself while he was stranded on the island waiting to be saved. Instead, he selected a companion who would be able to help him get off the island and thus control his own destiny.
   Needless to say, Mr. Kamen got the job.
   The message for all of us is that as long as we keep our big goals in mind and take actions that will help us move towards those big goals, we will increase the odds of achieving our desired outcomes. Our chances of ‘winning’ most of the bets we make in this ‘game of life’ will be much greater if we think more like Mr. Kamen. If we want to ‘get off the island’ on which we are ‘stranded’ , then we should be thinking about finding a ‘boat builder’, not someone who will merely make us comfortable in our misery.  

   If life truly is a series of “bets”, then I want to increase my odds of winning every time I place a bet. By focusing on what I need to achieve the “big goals” in my life those odds will be improved and I will be in control of my own destiny.

I hope that in some small way, the stories that are part of REFLECTIONS ON LEARNING FOR TEACHERS will help you become the "ship builder" for your students. I also hope that some of the suggestions and advice you are about to read will help you develop strategies that will help you successfully achieve your goals as an educator.

This online publication is meant to be read in small doses. Take a look at the titles and go to the ones that jump off the screen at you. Trust your intuition. Go with your heart and find your passion. My job as your Professional Learning Coach is to help you become the best boat builder possible so that you can help your students get off their "islands" and on the way to a brighter future.

The Learning Clinic  Presents...

The Secret To Being A Successful Teacher Can Be Found In A Tube of Toothpaste

I once read an article which was written by a man named Jeff Keller. After I finished the article, I realized that the title, "There’s A Lot More Left In The Tube", is one of those motivational quotations that you would like to hang up in every room to remind you that you should never give up too soon. I would recommend that most classroom teachers should consider putting this quotation up in a banner in a place of honour where all of your students will be reminded of this very important message.

No doubt we have all experienced frustration and despair at various times in our lives when we felt we had done everything we possibly could to achieve a particular goal. It may be something as simple as trying to grow flowers in your garden, or as serious as how to cultivate a better relationship with your child or spouse, or even something to do with your job as a classroom teacher. Whatever the case, there comes a point when you simply feel you can’t go on any further.
And yet, the secret to success, and the motivation you are seeking, may very well be as close as your tube of toothpaste. Let me try to explain.

Every time I come to the end of a tube of toothpaste, I am completely amazed that just when I think the tube is absolutely empty, I can squeeze many more brushings out of it. I’m sure you have all gone through the same thing. I look at the seemingly empty tube in my hand, then I look at the new tube in the box, and I have to decide whether to throw away the old and open the new, or try to squeeze a few more out of the old. Without fail, just when I think the tube is absolutely empty, I get to squeeze another 12 or 15 more brushings out of it. 

So, next time you find yourself in a situation where you feel you just can’t go on any further, remember the "tube". It’s usually when things haven’t been working out and you feel like quitting, that you experience a major breakthrough. We can all recall times when success came when we were on our last chance or when we were doing something for the final time. It is when you dig deep down for that one last burst of energy that you find your goal.

Unfortunately, too many people quit too early - just before they could get around that final corner to success. All they needed to do is squeeze one more drop from the tube. Space does not permit me to write the hundreds of examples of successful people who kept on going in the face of adversity and disappointment. Even the writers of "Chicken Soup For The Soul" were rejected by 33 publishers before they found one who would print their book. What if they would have quit too soon? Many of the world’s leaders are examples of people who reached their goal just after their greatest setback.

One of the most important lessons you can give your students is that if you have a goal; if you truly believe in yourself; and if you have the passion, enthusiasm and commitment to go for your dream; then keep squeezing that "inner tube of toothpaste" one more time. And don't forget this when you feel you have done everything possible with one or more of your more challenging students. Just keep squeezing. It is only when you run out of the "passion" that you will know that your "tube is empty". Just make sure that you don’t quit too soon. Success may be just around the corner.  


This Year Try To See The Cake And Not The Mess

I want to share a story with you that makes me feel just a little bit of pain every time I read it. 

As a father, a teacher, and a husband, I have often found myself in a situation where I “failed to see the cake” and I know I missed out on some pretty special moments. 

No matter what role you find yourself in, there will be times when you too may “miss the cake” if you focus on the wrong things. As we move forward into a new school year, let’s remember that we are all going to experience times when it is easy to see the “mess”, but life will be so much more enjoyable if we make sure we focus on the cake.

The Cake, by  Joseph Walker:

  Cindy glanced nervously at the clock on the kitchen wall. Five minutes before midnight . Her parents were expected to arrive home any minute. She carefully put the finishing touches on the chocolate cake she was frosting. It was the first time in her 12 years that she had tried to make a cake from scratch, and to be honest, it wasn’t exactly a culinary triumph. The cake was lumpy and because she had run out of sugar, the frosting was bitter.

  And then there was the way the kitchen looked. Imagine a huge blender filled with all of the fixings for chocolate cake - including the requisite bowls, pans and utensils. Now imagine that the blender is turned on - high speed - with the lid off. Do you get the idea?

  But Cindy wasn’t thinking about the mess. She had created something which was special to her - a masterpiece of flour and sugar rising out of the kitchen clutter. She was anxious for her parents to return home from their date so she could present her anniversary gift to them. She turned off the kitchen lights and waited excitedly in the darkness for them to arrive. When at last she saw the flash of the car headlights, she positioned herself in the kitchen doorway. By the time she heard the key sliding into the front door, she was on the verge of exploding and couldn’t wait to share her excitement.

  Her parents tried to slip in quietly, but Cindy would have none of that. She flipped on the lights dramatically and trumpeted: “Ta-daaaaa!” She gestured grandly toward the kitchen table, where a slightly off-balance, two-layer chocolate cake awaited their inspection.

  But her mother’s eyes never made it all the way to the table.

  “Just look at this mess!” she moaned. “How many times have I talked to you about cleaning up after yourself?”

  “But Mom, I was only...”

  “I should make you clean this up right now, but I’m too tired to stay up with you to make sure you get it done right,” her mother said angrily. “So you’ll get up early and do it first thing in the morning.”

  “Honey,” Cindy’s father interjected gently, “take a look at the table.”

  “I know! It’s a mess!” his wife said coldly. “The whole kitchen is a disaster. I can’t stand to look at it.” She stormed up the stairs and into her room, slamming the door shut behind her.

  For a few moments, Cindy and her father stood silently, neither one knowing what to say. At last she looked up at him, her eyes moist and red. “She never saw the cake,” she said. 


  While it is true that our children all need to learn to be responsible and suffer the consequences of their actions, parents must never lose sight of the fact that even though things like muddy shoes, lost money, dented fenders, and messy kitchens are frustrating, they are not worth the sacrifice of a person’s dignity and feelings. It is my sincere hope that my own children have learned from watching my wife and I, that when they become parents themselves, they must never lose sight of the fact that there are things in this life that may seem important right now - but at the end of the day they are not worth damaging a relationship. After all, what’s a little mud, a broken object, lost money or torn clothing compared to a child’s self-esteem. You can clean up the mud, replace the broken object, live without the money and fix the clothing, but any damage you do to a relationship or to someone’s self-esteem will last forever. 

   The same can be said about teachers. Your students will make a "mess" at times while they are trying to experiment with projects and assignments in order to seek your approval. It is easy for us to be critical of the work of children. Ask a child to write an essay and we can find dozens of mistakes to point out. We can even demand that the student do the work over again. But we must always take time and care to "see the good points" or we will "miss the cake" and our critical comments will "destroy" the teacher-pupil relationship that is so very important for learning to take place.


The next time you are about to mark a student's assignment, take a moment to re-read this article again or at least recall the feeling of the young girl in the story, Cindy, as she waited in anticipation for her parents to come home. Many of your students are waiting in anticipation of you to read their assignment. They have worked hard to do this assignment for you and they may not have paid much attention to the "mess" they were making. It is the "content" they want you to see. It is the "cake" they want you to see.

There are times in our life when perhaps it is all right to see the mess in the kitchen. 

And there are times when we only need to see the cake. 

It is a wise teacher who knows the difference.


The Day I Decided To Stop Teaching Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

   As I was going through some of my files the other day I came across a wrinkled page on which was written a story that had changed my whole approach to teaching very early in my career. It brought back a whole lot of memories about former students of mine who I remember quite well to this day, not because of their superior academic accomplishments, but rather for their courage and perseverance once they realized that someone actually “believed in them”.

   I just have to share this story with you and ask that you pass it on to any parents and teachers you happen to know. It had a huge impact, not only on my personal philosophy of teaching, but also on how I treated my own children.  

   As Mrs. Thompson stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children an untruth. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. However, that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.

   Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he did not play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. In addition, Teddy could be unpleasant.

   It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take  delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X's and then putting a big "F" at the top of his papers.

   At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child's past records and she put Teddy's off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise. Teddy's first grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners... he is a joy to be around."

   His second grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is an excellent student, well liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle."

   His third grade teacher wrote, "His mother's death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best, but his father doesn't show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren't taken."

   Teddy's fourth grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is withdrawn and doesn't show much interest in school. He doesn't have many friends and he sometimes sleeps in class."

   By now, Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and she was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Teddy's.  His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper that he got from a grocery bag.

   Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one-quarter full of perfume.

   But she stifled the children's laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist.

  Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, "Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom used to." After the children left, she cried for at least an hour.


   Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class and, despite her lie that she would love all the children the same, Teddy became one of her "teacher's pets."

   Many years later they met again. By this time Teddy had gone on to medical school and had become a successful doctor.  They hugged each other for a long while, and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson's ear, "Thank you Mrs. Thompson for believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference."

   Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, "Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn't know how to teach until I met you."

   During my own 28 years as a classroom teacher I came across a lot of “Teddy Stoddards”. My only hope is that they remember me as someone who believed in them and showed them that they could make a difference.


If Teachers Today Want To Survive In This Profession They Must Be Willing To Adopt The "Daffodil Principle" 

The other day I read a story about a "Daffodil Garden" that gave me some tremendous insight into how some people always seem to accomplish so much with the time they have, while others are confused, stressed out and never seem to have enough time to get anything done.

The " Daffodil Garden " was located on the side of a mountain. It was a magnificent scene. One of the most beautiful sights you could imagine. It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it down over the mountain peak and slopes where it had run into every crevice and over every rise. The mountainside was radiant, clothed in massive drifts and waterfalls of daffodils. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns, great ribbons and swaths of deep orange, white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, saffron, and butter yellow. Each different-colored variety (there were more than thirty-five varieties of daffodils in the vast display) was planted as a group so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue.

A charming path wound throughout the garden. There were several resting stations, paved with stone and furnished with Victorian wooden benches and great tubs of coral and carmine tulips. Five acres of flowers! All planted one bulb at a time, by one woman who lived in a little house on the side of the hill.

This lady had started planting one bulb at a time for a period of thirty five years. She once had a vision of beauty and joy, imagining the mountain covered in flowers. Instead of "wishing" she decided to begin bringing her vision to life on that mountain.

In the lady’s own words, when asked how she created such an immense garden, she answered, "One at a time, by one woman, two hands, two feet, and a very little brain."

And this is what we call "The Daffodil Principle".

Regardless of your dream or vision, there is no other way to do it. You have to do it one bulb at a time. 

There are no shortcuts. If you set out on a journey, it begins with the first step. Then you take the second step, and the third, and so on. Before you know it, you have traveled a long way from where you began and you just keep on going. 

The sooner we all learn to accept the "Daffodil Principle" the better. When you continuously move forward, one step at a time - and at times it is with a baby-step - we use the accumulation of time to accomplish so much. We can actually change the world in which we live. Just think about all you can accomplish in time.

It makes me think back to all those things I wanted to do but abandoned, simply because it seemed as if it would take so much effort and time to accomplish my ultimate goal. Think of all the books I could have read if I had only read one chapter per day instead of trying to find several hours at a time to read. Think of all the letters I could have written to family and friends if I had only written one letter a week (I could have kept in touch with 52 different friends each year). Think of how many people I could have made feel wonderful, if I had taken the time to give one sincere compliment per day to a stranger.


The Daffodil Principle should be required reading by all teachers at the beginning of every year - or perhaps at the beginning of every day!

You have a lot of long-range and unit plans for your students. You have individual plans and daily plans and special education plans and professional development plans...are you getting tired yet? And if you spend time going over all of those times the tasks will seem enormous.

If you simply begin, one task at a time; one week at a time; one day at a time; the job will get done. And at the end of the year, you will look back and see a beautiful "Daffodil Garden" in full bloom. The journey begins today. Just start planting and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.




Changing Your Focus Can Produce Remarkable Results 

Have you ever come up against a problem that you just couldn’t solve? 

Where it felt like you were simply banging your head against a brick wall - over and over and over again - without making any “headway”? 

Sure you have. 

And can you remember how you finally came up with a solution? You most likely took a step back and approached the problem from a different angle, with a new focus which enabled you to find a simple solution which was there all along. 

Consider the lesson of the moth which was discovered in Joe Lake ’s garage one day. 

As Joe was preparing to travel to his office, he opened the garage door and startled a large moth which immediately tried to escape by flying to the circle-topped window of the door. It tried frantically to exit through the invisible wall of closed glass.

Joe tried raising the garage door higher in hopes of aiding it’s escape. That caused it to fly higher and become entangled in a spider web. 

Fearful that it would remain entangled in the web, Joe took a long-handled broom to assist him in helping the moth escape the tangled threads. 

The moth then returned to furiously pumping his wings and banging into the glass, which was, in his perspective, the pathway of escape, but instead, the moth remained captive. By simply turning his focus to one side, he would have easily exited his prison. Rather, due to his intent on one direction, he remained confined, captive and perhaps doomed.


People are quite the same as the moth in this story. Too often we come across individuals who are so sure of them self that they refuse to change their focus. They would rather continue in one direction without changing focus or giving consideration to other alternatives. How often we have witnessed failure, when a simple change of direction would have resulted in success.

It is very much like the old farmer who had plowed around a large rock in one of his fields for years. He had broken several plowshares and a cultivator on it and had grown rather morbid about the old rock. After breaking another plowshare one day, and remembering all the trouble the rock had caused him through the years, he finally decided to do something about it. When he put the crowbar under the rock, he was surprised to discover that it was only about six inches thick and that he could break it up easily with a sledgehammer. As he was carting the pieces away he had to smile, remembering all the trouble that the rock had caused him over the years and how easy it would have been to get rid of it sooner.

Next time you find yourself facing a “brick wall”, before you spend too much time banging your head needlessly against it, remember the moth banging into the glass. Remember the farmer who finally decided to put a crowbar under the rock and discovered a simple solution. 

Try to change directions and refocus on the problem. By approaching the problem from a different direction and viewpoint, the solution may be easier than you thought.


Creating Opportunity Is Often Just A Matter of Looking At Things Differently

One of the biggest challenges we have in society today is that there are too many opportunities just sitting there waiting for people to come along and snatch up. The problem is that most of us just haven’t learned how to recognize those opportunities, even when they are right in front of our nose.

One of our main goals as teachers is to show our students how to recognize these opportunities and how to take advantage of them when they come their way.

A person with imagination and ambition is one who comes across a pile of scrap metal and sees a wonderful sculpture waiting to be uncovered. An ambitious person drives through an older part of town and sees a plan for a new housing development or a new recreation centre. An enterprising person is one who sees opportunity in all areas of life and who is willing to take a risk to seize the opportunity when it arises.

Jim Rohn, an inspirational writer states that, “We can all learn to be enterprising by simply keeping our eyes open and our mind active. We have to be skilled enough, confident enough, creative enough and disciplined enough to jump on opportunities when they present themselves, regardless of the economy.”

Rohn went on to say, “Enterprising people always see the future in the present. They always find a way to take advantage of a situation and they aren’t lazy.”

One of the points Rohn made with which I am in full agreement is that enterprising people don’t wait for opportunities to come to them - they go after opportunities and are brave enough to be creative and take chances.


As I look back on my career as an elementary school teacher, I wonder how many enterprising young boys and girls I helped destroy in a  “system” which is certainly not conducive to the development of an enterprising spirit. In order to be enterprising, you must have the courage to see things differently and go against the crowd. By taking a different approach you often have to stand alone and you definitely have to choose activity over inactivity. 

I think back on all of the “discipline problems” I encountered among students during my 28 years in the classroom and wonder how many of those boys and girls were actually merely expressing their enterprising spirit. As teachers we often do everything we can to make them “behave” and “fit in with the rest of the class”.

As I watched my three sons all graduate from the School of Business and Commerce at Laurentian University,  I was often reminded that our school system does a good job of preparing our youth to be good employees. Everyone wants to know “Where you will be “working” next year? Have you got a job yet?” No one asks, “What kind of business are you going to begin? In which type of work are you going to be self-employed? Where are you going to set up your office?”

Without a doubt, there is usually some security in finding a job where an employer pays you for your work and you put in your time making the employer a success. However, in order to be a “good employee” you are often forced to repress your creativity and ambition by following instructions and doing what you are told. As long as you remember who the boss is, everything will be fine.

Being enterprising means having enough self-confidence and self-worth to look for opportunities. You must be willing to set forth on risky voyages in order to do things which will make a difference in your future and in the future of people who come into your life.

We have talented young people who come to us ambitious, enterprising and fearless. It is up to their teachers to release the chains and allow these people to seek out the opportunities and make things happen. We must provide them with support and encouragement while at the same time accepting that they may do things differently from what we would expect. That doesn’t mean that they are doing anything wrong. It just means that they see things in a different light.

My message for teachers today is very simple. Allow your students to be different, to go against the crowd, and to see the sculpture in a pile of scrap metal. The opportunities are everywhere - just have the courage and confidence in your own abilities as a teacher to allow your students to learn how to see them.  


Learning Disabilities Are Simply Words To Describe A Lack of Something - Our Job Is To Add The Missing Elements

Every now and then Christians are challenged to justify their faith in God. Some people just do not believe things they can’t understand. 

Here is a little story that may help you the next time you find yourself in a conversation with a person who is trying to put you on the spot. It is also a reminder to all teachers that they should not be too sure of themselves when venturing into certain areas. While there is no absolute proof of this, it has been said that the student in the story was Albert Einstein.


Once day a university professor challenged his students with this question..."Did God create everything that exists?"

A student excitedly replied, "Yes, he did!"

"God created everything?", the professor asked.

"Yes, sir," the student replied.

The professor answered, "If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are, then God is evil."

The student became quiet by such an answer. The professor, quite pleased with himself sat down. 

Another student raised his hand and said, "Can I ask you a question professor?"

"Of course," replied the professor.

The student stood up and asked, "Professor, does cold exist?"

"What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold", replied the professor. The students snickered at the young man’s question.

"In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-460 F) is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have simply created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat."

The student continued, "Professor, does darkness exist?"

The professor responded, "Of course it does."

The student replied, "Once again you are wrong sir. Darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact, we can use Newton ’s prism to break white light into many colours and study various wave lengths of each colour. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. To determine how dark a place is you measure the amount of light present. Isn’t this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present."

Finally, the young man asked the professor, "Sir, does evil exist?"

Now uncertain, the professor responded, "Of course as I have already said. We see it everyday. It is in the daily example of man’s inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil."

To this the student replied, "Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. Evil is just like darkness and cold. It is a word that man has created to describe the absence of God," and with that the student sat back down.


This story can be applied in many different areas, but what jumped out at me was the analogy of the darkness.

Some students have a great deal of difficulty understanding certain concepts that are taken in school. To simplify it to the absurd level, if a student has problems in math, we give them "extra" math to do. That is like telling a person to close his eyes and he won't notice how dark it is.

Instead, our challenge as teachers is to find some way of "lighting" the child's path so that he "begins" to understand a bit of math or even just one concept. Once we convince him that "math" is not impossible, it will be possible to move forward and he will progress rapidly.

So instead of "labelling" and "identifying" children, we should look at their learning difficulties not as things that exist, but rather as a "lack of something". It is our job to find out what that something is and add it to the child.


You Will Always Get What You Expect From Your Students, So Show Them That You Expect Them To Be Successful In Everything They Do

   It doesn’t matter whether you are at work or at play; young or old; rich or poor; man or woman - in this world you will find yourself always being judged and evaluated according to your performance. And yet, one’s personal level of performance is often a direct result of other people’s expectations. If someone expects you to fail at something, you often live down to that expectation. If they expect you to succeed, you do everything you can to live up to that expectation. Let me demonstrate what I mean by sharing a little story with you.

   There was once a young lady who went to work for a company immediately after graduating from college. She seemed extremely talented but unbelievably timid. She was assigned to a small local marketing department where she assisted in the production of basic advertising material. Her supervisor associated her shyness with a lack of technical and conceptual skills. As a result, she was never included in brainstorming or planning sessions. The supervisor thought she was best suited to simple graphics layout and paste-up.

   Frustrated that her talents were squandered on simple tasks, she applied to the corporate marketing department. The vice-president reviewed her resume and transferred her without even so much as an interview. His concept of the young lady was extremely positive and he immediately assigned her to a series of important, key projects. She performed magnificently.

   A few months later, the original supervisor was in the vice-president's office admiring the new corporate ad campaign. The project consisted of television and radio commercials, full-page ads for national publications and complete press kits. The supervisor asked, "What kind of a Madison Avenue rain-maker worked this kind of magic?" The VP replied, "This was all completed by that young lady you sent me. That was the best move I ever made!"


   You see, the young lady was held back by the expectations of her former supervisor, who felt she was incapable of anything beyond the most trivial of assignments. Her new supervisor, however, saw a completely different person. He felt, from her resume, that she had enormous potential and gave her ample opportunity to demonstrate that creativity. As a result of this confidence and expectation, she performed at a very high level.

   As a classroom teacher I saw this all the time. There were many students who came into my class with low marks and a reputation for having poor work habits. I ignored previous reports and set high standards for my pupils. Many of them protested that they “couldn’t” do the work. I held my ground and told them that there was no reason why I should accept a lower standard and assured them that I would never assign them anything which I felt was beyond their capabilities. By showing them that I felt they were competent, many of them found a new level of success that surprised their parents and former teachers alike.

   The message is clear. If your supervisors expect little from you, and give you very little responsibility, you will likely perform to that level. However, if your supervisors show confidence in your abilities and give you corresponding responsibilities, you will rise to new levels which may even surprise yourself.


   This is something you must always remember when working with students in your classroom. Show your students that you have confidence in their abilities and they will rise to your expectations. They may fail once in a while and may at times find it difficult, but they will become much better for the experience.

   If you are familiar with baseball, and perhaps if you are a bit closer in age to me, you will remember Pete Rose. One day Pete was being interviewed during spring training the year he was about to break Ty Cobb’s all time hits record. A reporter asked him, “Pete, you only need 78 hits to break the record. How many at bats do you think you’ll need to get the 78 hits?”

   Without hesitation, Pete looked at the reporter and said, “78.”

   The report yelled back, “Come on, Pete. You don’t expect to get 78 hits in 78 bat bats do you?”

   Rose explained, “Every time I step up to the plate I expect to get a hit. If I go up there hoping to get a hit, then I probably don’t have a prayer.”


   Rose’s philosophy is one that we all should adopt. If you hope to finish the project; if you hope to be a good father; if you hope to be a good teacher; if you hope to finish your may do an adequate job, but you will never make it to your ultimate goals. Therefore, you must approach everything in life with an expectation that you will always be successful. Nothing else is acceptable. You should never do anything hoping to succeed. You approach everything expecting to succeed. You may not get a “hit” every time you go to bat, but you have to “expect” that you will or you will never get anywhere.

   So next time you find yourself doubting your abilities, or unsure about whether or not you are capable of handling your responsibilities, remember Pete Rose. Go into everything in your life with the expectation that you will do a great job, and you will be surprised at how well you actually perform. And if someone else gives you a task that seems a bit too difficult for you to handle, just remember that if that person thinks you can do it, so should you. Go for it!  


How Many Parachutes Did You Pack Today? Did You Pay Attention To What You Were Doing?

Do you ever spend any time thinking about all of the people who are responsible for helping you make it through the day? Or are you one of those people who actually think you have made it on your own? See if the following little story improves your memory.

Charles Plumb was a United States Navy jet pilot in Vietnam

After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a missile and after parachuting to safety he was captured and spent six years in a communist prison. He survived the ordeal and went on a lecture tour providing audiences with insight into the lessons he learned from his experience.

One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier . You were shot down!”

“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.

“I packed your parachute,” the man replied. “I guess it worked!”

Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude as he shook the man’s hand, “It sure did. If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about the man. He said, “I kept wondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform: a white hat, a bib in the back, and bell-bottom trousers. I wonder how many times I might have seen him and not even said Good morning, how are you? or anything because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor.”

Plumb thought of how many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t know.

From that day on, Plumb always asked his audiences, “Who’s packing your parachute?”

Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day. Plumb pointed out that he needed many kinds of parachutes when his plan was shot down over enemy territory. He needed his physical parachute; his mental parachute; his emotional parachute; and his spiritual parachute. He called on all of these supports before reaching safety.

It’s easy to miss what is really important as we go through the daily challenges of life. We get so caught up in surviving that we forget about the people who have provided us with the support in order to get through those challenges. In our hurry to get on with life we may fail to say hello, please, thank you, congratulate someone else on an accomplishment, give a compliment or just do something nice for someone we love. Yet, when you think of it, where would you be if they hadn’t packed your parachute?

Take a few moments to reflect upon the parachutes you use during the day. The girl who gives you your morning coffee at the drive through; the person who ploughs the road so that you can get to work; the cleaning lady who empties your garbage at night and vacuums your office; the mechanic who works on your automobile; the police officer who enforces the speed limit on the highway; the internet provider who makes sure your email arrives on time; your spouse who is always there to listen to your problems; your child’s coach who has made the arrangements for the game or practice so that you could concentrate on other things; the grocery store which remains open late at night so that you can get those things you forgot. Think about all of the things you did today which would have been impossible or much more difficult were it not for the help or assistance of someone else. Did you thank them for what they did? Did you show your appreciation? 


Now, in your role as a teacher, how many parachutes did you pack today?

Did you make it easier for someone else to meet life’s challenges? 

Remember, as well as using parachutes, we must also provide parachutes for the people who come into our life. And as teachers, we have a tremendous responsibility to pack the parachutes of all of the children who are placed in our care. Further more, it is not just the children we teach within our own wall that we are packing for. What about the children you saw on bus duty this morning? Did you give them a proper greeting, or did you treat them just as if they were faceless bodies climbing down the steps of the bus? What about the children in the hallway? Did you acknowledge them or did you just walk on by as if they never existed?

As teachers we must never forget that children are constantly watching us. Most of our teaching is done by example. When the children who crossed your path today need to use the parachute you packed for them today, will it work?


Maybe It’s Time To Just Go Fishing Again! Maybe It's Time To Just Do Some Teaching Again!

The other day while I was caught in traffic, my mind began to wander like it usually does when I am not preoccupied with one of my numerous daily activities. 

I thought back to the beginning of my career as a teacher and recalled how excited I was to finally have an opportunity to ‘teach’ children. I then projected myself to my last couple of years before retirement and realized that the early excitement I felt in my first few years had disappeared. 

I thought back to my days as a youngster growing up in Lively and how my friends and I would play street hockey for hours on end until our mothers would almost have to physically drag us into the house for dinner. It wasn’t just hockey, however. A couple of phone calls was all it took and we would have a baseball game, a football game, a game of hide-and-seek, soccer, you name it. And we had fun - no referees - no adults - just a bunch of kids playing for the “Stanley Cup” or the “World Series”.

Sadly, I don’t notice the same level of excitement in the eyes of young teachers. I certainly know that in my own career I started to lose the excitement many years before I actually retired, but I think it was still there at least until after I had been in the profession for over twenty years. 

Come to think about it, I also notice that there doesn’t seem to be many road hockey games around any more. You seldom see kids playing at a baseball field unless there are adults, umpires and fancy uniforms.  


It reminded me about a story I once heard about a group called “The Fisherman’s Fellowship”. 

These men were surrounded by streams and lakes full of hungry fish, but not one of them had ever gone fishing.

They met regularly to discuss the call to fish, and the thrill of catching fish. They really got excited about fishing! Something like I felt about  teaching when I first started. Something like a young kid feels about playing hockey in the beginning.

Someone in the group suggested that they needed a philosophy of fishing, so they carefully defined and redefined fishing, and the purpose of fishing. They developed fishing strategies and tactics. Then they realized that they had been going about it backwards. They had approached fishing from the point of view of the fisherman, and not from the point of view of the fish. How do fish view the world? How does the fisherman appear to the fish? What do fish eat, and when? These are all good things to know. So they began research studies, and attended conferences on fishing. Some travelled to far away places to study different kinds of fish, with different habits. Some got PhD’s in fishology. 

But no one had yet gone fishing.

So a committee was formed to send out fishermen. 

Since the prospective fishing places outnumbered fishermen, the committee needed to determine priorities. A priority list of fishing places was posted on bulletin boards in all of the fellowship halls. 

But still, no one was fishing. A survey was launched, to find out why. Most did not answer the survey, but from those that did, it was discovered that some felt called to study fish, a few to furnish fishing equipment, and several to go around encouraging the fisherman.

What with meetings, conferences, and seminars, they just simply didn’t have time to fish.

One day, Jake, a newcomer to the Fisherman’s Fellowship was so moved by a stirring meeting that he actually went fishing. He tried a few things, got the hang of it, and caught a nice fish. 

At the next meeting, Jake told his story, and was honoured for his catch. He was then scheduled to speak at all of the Fellowship chapters and tell how he did it. Now, because of all the speaking invitations and his election to the Board of Directors of the Fisherman’s Fellowship, Jake no longer had time to go fishing.

But soon, Jake began to feel restless and empty. He longed to feel the tug on the line once again. So he cut the speaking, resigned from the Board of Directors and said to a friend, “Let’s go fishing.” And they did. Just the two of them, and they caught fish.

The members of the Fisherman’s Fellowship were many, the fish were plentiful, but the fishers were few.

As I finished the story, the traffic began moving again and the message was clear.

If we want to keep the excitement in teachers, maybe we should just let them teach. Forget about all of the curriculum reviews, certification courses, professional development programs, provincial testing and just let them teach! 

If children are to have fun playing hockey, baseball, soccer, football or whatever, we must let them play. Forget about systems, rules, house leagues, travelling teams, uniforms, training, certification and such. Maybe what we have to do is just give a bunch of kids some  hockey sticks, a ball, a few chunks for goal posts and then leave them alone for a few hours.  


My advice to young teachers is to remember the story about Jake. I am sure that if you are in your first few years in this profession you already feel as if you are part of the "Fellowship of Fishermen". You likely have asked yourself hundreds of times how you will ever find time to teach with all of the reports, evaluations, IEP's, IPRC's and meetings to which you are expected to attend. 

My advice to experienced teachers is also the same.

The next time you feel yourself getting caught in a rut where something you once enjoyed isn’t fun anymore, think about Jake and the Fisherman's Fellowship. Put everything aside for a day and spend it with the children. Rediscover the excitement and passion which first brought you to this profession. Just for a change, go and teach the children with no thought about evaluation, special needs or reports. Just go and teach.  



Too Busy To Sharpen The Ax? Maybe That's Why You Are Having Such A Hard Time Getting Through To Your Students.  

Let me use a little story to demonstrate what happens to a lot of good young teachers.

Once upon a time a very strong woodcutter asked for a job with a lumber company, and he got it. 

The pay was really good and so were the work conditions. 

For that reason, the woodcutter was determined to do his best. 

His boss gave him an ax and showed him the area where he was supposed to work. 

The first day, the woodcutter brought 18 trees. "Congratulations," the boss said. "Continue what you were doing!"  Very motivated by the boss’ words, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but he only could bring 15 trees. 

The third day he tried even harder, but he only could bring 10 trees. 

Day after day he was bringing less and less trees.  "I must be losing my strength", the woodcutter thought. 

He went to the boss and apologized, saying that he could not understand what was going on. "When was the last time you sharpened your ax?" the boss asked.  "Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my ax. I have been too busy trying to cut trees..."

The message today is very short and sweet.

Don't get so caught up in your enthusiasm for teaching that you forget to do sharpen your own ax by getting to know your students and their parents. Remember that you are a university graduate. You did well in school. You had high marks. You had an excellent attitude towards learning. Your family was very likely very supportive and encouraged learning in every way.


Most of the children in your class will never even set foot on the property of a university campus let alone get a university degree. For many of your children, education is boring and is something they are "forced to do". They do not share your enthusiasm.

So if you find that the harder you work, the less you seem to be getting through to your children, ask yourself if perhaps it is time to "sharpen your ax" and take a day or two to get to know your children a little better. Find out who they are and what is important to them in their life right now. Discover the barriers that are preventing you from "getting through to them". Get down to their level and see the world through their eyes.

Only then will you be able to maintain your "strength" and be able to do your best for your students.


You Cannot Discover New Land Unless You Have The Courage To Lose Sight of The Shore

   One of my favourite authors is Tom Peters. He wrote the following observation, “I’ve spent a good part of my life studying economic successes and failures…above all, I’ve learned that everything takes a back seat to innovation.”
   Unfortunately, most of our busy lives are so focused on solving day-to-day problems that we seldom have any time to even consider opportunities which may lay right on our doorstep. Sadly, many of the people currently occupying leadership roles in business and government spend so much of their time trying to maintain control that they actually discourage employees and colleagues from “thinking outside the box”. It doesn’t take long for young, ambitious persons starting out in a new career to learn that if they want to keep their job, they better do what they are told and put a lid on things such as innovation, risk-taking and creativity.
   I came across a great story recently called, Paper Airplane. It was written by a man named Michael McMillan. The story is about a Grade six teacher who spent an entire week teaching her class about aerodynamics. To finish off the unit she organized a paper airplane contest. Each student was given a sheet of construction paper and 15 minutes to build the “winning” plane that would fly the furthest and win a prize.
   The students went to work immediately, carefully folding their paper, hoping to create the perfect plane that would travel farther than all of the others. Before long, everyone was ready to go outside to start the contest. Everyone that is, except for Jeff. He was a unique child and was known for traveling to a “different drummer” if you know what I mean. He usually had his own view of life that was not always the same as the others in the class. Jeff hadn’t made even one fold in his paper. He just sat there staring out the window – thinking.
   To give him more time, the teacher told Jeff he could go last. As the contest went on there were some very interesting results. Some of the planes barely flew two meters while others did surprisingly well. As the students in the class each stepped forward to test their creations, Jeff stood there at the back of the line, still holding on to that piece of construction paper.
   Before long, Jeff was the only remaining contestant. With great anticipation, the class watched as Jeff approached with his “craft” well hidden behind his back. Then he stepped to the line and exposed his masterpiece…a flat sheet of paper. But just as the class began to snicker, Jeff confidently wadded up the piece of paper into a tight ball, and then drew his hand back and threw it higher and farther than the leading plane had landed.
   The rest of the class stood there in amazement. The silence was broken when the teacher began to clap her hands and stepped forward to present Jeff with the first-place prize. The rest of the students then joined in applause and cheered the champion.
   Jeff demonstrated a new way of interpreting a problem. More importantly, he had the courage to act on his vision. 

   I’ve met a lot of people in my life like Jeff. Most of them, however, have grown tired of trying to “fight the system” and eventually settled down into a relatively secure life of compliance and conformity. They learned early that “rocking the boat” and “making waves” makes most other people uncomfortable. Your life is a lot less stressful if you just “go with the flow” and do what you are told.
   Others have gone on to “think outside the box” and have become very successful through innovations that other people soon came to like once they got over their initial “fears”.
   T.S. Elliot once said, “Only those who are willing to go too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”
   The next time you come up with an idea that seems “outside the box”, have the courage to act on your vision. If you fail, you fail. At least then you will know how far you can go or at the very least, what you must do to go further the next time. T.S. Elliot’s message is true. If you never fail, you never really know just how far or how successful you could become. You have to fail in order to know when you’ve gone too far.
   Remember, in order for Christopher Columbus to discover
America , he had to have the courage to lose sight of the shore.


Raising The Standards Among Our Youth 

I am sure most of you have noticed an increase in the number of disturbing stories and articles about young people both here at home and around the world who are involved in crime, vandalism and generally what we would consider downright disrespectful behaviour. While I am not sure if the actual crime rate among our younger generation is any worse than that of adults, it seems as if the media is quick to pounce upon examples of out-of-control youth as a way of attacking our education and police systems as well as our publicly funded social services agencies. These incidents also give an opportunity for politicians to feed the media frenzy by calling out for stronger enforcement and punishment measures to deal with youth crime or more funding for public education.

   As I prepared to write this column, for example, I read several feature articles about how our education system has been forced to lower its standards in order to reduce the failure and drop-out rates among our students. Teachers in classrooms today are required to make adjustments to their programs in order to provide adequate accommodation strategies for children who have been identified with learning disabilities, and it seems as if there are more and more identified students every year. In order to cover the curriculum many teachers are therefore forced to “teach to a lower level” than normal so that all of the children have a chance of understanding and keeping up. What results is a system where marks are inflated and children expect that they will get high grades with less actual work effort. On top of the lowering of the standards in the classroom, teachers coming into the system today are entering the profession at a time in the history of education where being a curriculum expert is nowhere near as important as being an effective classroom manager and disciplinarian. Unfortunately, classroom management and discipline falls into the same category as parenting in our society. For example, once you become a parent it is generally up to you to learn parenting on your own from experience. “Here’s your child. Good luck!”

   The same can be said about teaching. Once you graduate from Teachers’ College and are given a class of kids to look after, you are on your own when it comes to learning how to manage the group of children effectively in order to help them learn the concepts in the curriculum. You can always read books, attend workshops and talk to other teachers, but how you manage your classroom is pretty much left up to you. Some do an excellent job of managing a classroom of children and some have a terrible time keeping control.

   Without a doubt, students seem to have the upper hand today. They are not allowed to fail in most jurisdictions so teachers lose one of the primary motivational tools they had in the “old days” – FEAR! Fear of failure; fear of punishment; fear of authority; and most of all fear of how their parents would punish them at home for misbehaviour at school. And so, we conclude that it is becoming increasingly important for teachers to be true motivators and inspirations for their students. This is a profession that is under a great deal of stress today, and it doesn’t look as if things are going to change much in the next little while.

   While we can always look on the dark side, it is refreshing when we witness students who are “making a positive difference” in the community and who truly care about maintaining their own set of high standards. Confederation Secondary School’s Evolutionary Band comes to mind as a group of 25 or 30 young students who are simply “top of the class” in what they have done and what they have accomplished. Many other individual students have excelled and risen to the top level of achievement in their fields. You’ve read about some of them in The Vision Paper.
   As a community we have a collective responsibility to ensure that whenever a young person does something great, it is a cause for celebration and public recognition. It is something that we must hold up high as an example for others to follow.

   I have always believed that if you hold the bar up higher, students will jump over it. All you have to do is give them the right kind of motivation and give them credit when they accomplish their goals. We can raise the standards, but it will take a total community effort. Let’s work together in this.  


Look For Creative Ways Of Making People You Meet Feel Special 

   It is awfully difficult these days to find anything positive to say about going to the gas station to fill up on overpriced gasoline. Nevertheless, the other day a young man named Ryan McFadden served me at the local Petro Canada and he reminded me that there are people in this world who have a knack for saying just the right thing to make others feel special.

   I stopped in just before lunch to fill up my wife’s car. Ryan served me, took my $30 and returned with a receipt, offering me a polite, “Have a nice day.”

   After lunch, I returned with my truck and pulled up to the pump. Ryan once again came out and greeted me with a sincere, “Hello. You’re back again.” The fact that he recognized me out of all of the customers who he had seen that day and the fact that he remembered me being there in a different vehicle would have been enough. However, when I gave him my $50 this time along with the Petro Points card, he stopped abruptly and said, “You didn’t have this card this morning. I will put the points from the last purchase on the card for you.” He even remembered the amount of gas I had purchased.
   Obviously Ryan is just pumping gas as a job while he decides what to do with his life. He will continue his education and likely end up in a very nice career. However, what he did that day demonstrated that Ryan has a gift for making people feel special. The fact that he not only remembered and acknowledged that he had served me earlier in the day, but that he also remembered that I had not received the Petro Points I had earned, and then took it upon himself to make sure I was given those points made the pain of getting “gassed at the pumps” a whole lot easier to take.

   The experience with Ryan reminded me of a story I had read about a grocery store bagger named Johnny. Johnny had Down’s Syndrome and decided to do something to make a difference for the customers he met during the day. Since Johnny liked quotations, each day he would pick out one that he liked and he and his father would use the computer to print off a number of copies. Johnny cut the sayings in little strips and then signed his name to the back of the little strips of paper. When he packed the groceries for a customer he would drop the little strip into the bag and say, “I hope you enjoy my quote of the day.”

   Within a few weeks, the lineups at Johnny’s checkout were three times as long as the others. Customers would wait in line just so they could get one of Johnny’s quotes of the day. In fact, some customers were coming to the grocery store 2 or 3 times a week just to see the smile on Johnny’s face as he dropped in his favourite quote.
   Eventually the practice caught on and the lady in the floral department began cutting off broken flowers and pinning them on elderly women; the guy in the meat department was putting his favourite Snoopy stickers on the packages and talking to his customers; everyone was finding creative ways to put their mark on service.

   The lesson here is pretty obvious. When it comes to service, we all have our unique gifts to offer. However we'll never make the emotional connection with the customer unless it begins in our heart. What Ryan did that day may have seemed insignificant, but it certainly left a mark on me. What Johnny did in the grocery story certainly left a mark on his customers. It has made me even more committed to doing my part to making people with whom I come in contact realize that they too are important to me and that I do care about them a lot.

   This week see what you can do to leave your mark on the people with whom you come into contact.  


“The Watermelon Hunter”

   As I was working on a story one day I reflected upon a mission statement: “All knowledge is sacred." I found my thoughts drifting off to an article I once read entitled ‘The Watermelon Hunter’. I would like to share it with you at this time.
   “Once upon a time there was a man who strayed from his own country into the world known as the Land of Fools . He soon saw a number of people flying in terror from a field where they had been trying to reap wheat. "There is a monster in that field," they told him. He looked, and saw that the "monster" was merely a watermelon.
   He offered to kill the "monster" for them. When he had cut the melon from its stalk, he took a slice and began to eat it. The people became even more terrified of him than they had been of the melon. They drove him away with pitchforks, crying, "He will kill us next, unless we get rid of him."
   It so happened that shortly afterward another man also strayed into the Land of Fools . But instead of offering to help the people with the "monster," he agreed with them that it must be dangerous, and by tiptoeing away from it with them he gained their confidence. He spent a long time with them in their homes until he could teach them, little by little, the basic facts which would enable them not only to lose their fear of melons, but eventually to cultivate melons themselves.”
   The first person who wandered into the “ Land of Fools ” made the mistake of “killing the monster” for the people. This action may have removed the immediate problem, but it didn’t comfort the “Fools” because they still held on to the original fear that had made them terrified of melons in the first place.
   The second person gained the confidence of the people from the ‘ Land of Fools ’ and was able to slowly teach them basic facts that enabled them to lose their fear of melons.
   And so, the second person in the story helped the people in the ‘ Land of Fools ’ by showing them not only how to overcome their fear of the ‘unknown’, but to also embrace the melons and cultivate them for their own benefit.
   I also reflected on a time early in my career as an elementary school teacher when I learned something very important about my role in the development of effective ‘learning skills’ in my students. One day a student stood up and explained that he would not be able to complete a written assignment that I had just given to the class.  The student explained that he was ‘Educable Mentally Retarded’ and attended special education classes. When the other students began laughing at him, I immediately stopped the lesson and reminded all of the children that someone else’s opinion of them did not have to become their reality. I further told them that no one ever “rises to low expectations” and that as long as they were in my class they were going to be treated as if they were all capable of greatness. I explained that it was my job as their teacher to make sure that they had the skills, confidence and self-esteem to take on any and all challenges and that I would never give them an assignment of which they were not capable of performing. That day changed me forever as a teacher and it changed the way I challenged my students. I adopted the philosophy that if you look at a child the way he is, he only becomes worse. But look at him as if he were what he could be, and then he becomes what he should be.
   From that day forward I always had high expectations of my students, and pushed myself to make sure they all had the skills they needed to “learn for themselves”.
   Remember that there is greatness inside each and every one of us. As parents, we must do everything we can to provide our children with the skills and attitudes that will make them hunger for knowledge. We must teach them not to fear the “melons they come across in their lives”, but rather to embrace them and learn how to “cultivate this new knowledge” for their benefit and for the benefit of others around them.


“How Many Potatoes Are You Carrying Around?”

   I just finished reading what must be the shortest story in the world. It is a story that was written by M. Stanley Bubien and is entitled, “The Unhappiest Man Who Ever Lived”. Let me share the story with you.

   “Forgive? Never!”
   How is that for a powerful story?
   Let me tell you the story again.
   “Forgive? Never!”

   Yes, these are definitely the words one would expect to be spoken by ‘The Unhappiest Man Who Ever Lived”. Do you know him? Have you ever met him?

   To further illustrate the message of this wonderful story, let me share with you another short passage I came across recently. The author of this story is unknown, but I am sure each of us in our own small way can identify with the moral.

The story is entitled, ‘Are Your Potatoes Heavy?’

   “A college teacher brought a couple of huge sacks of potatoes to class one day. She told her students to think of people they have refused to forgive for whatever it was that they said or did to them. All of the students could think of quite a number of people who had done something to them that was absolutely unforgivable. The teacher then instructed the students to take one potato from the sack for each person for whom they could not forgive and write the name of that person on the potato. Each student then put their potatoes inside a clear plastic bag and were told to carry that bag with them everywhere they went for one full week. They were to put the bag beside their bed at night, on the car seat when driving, next to their desk at work, at the dinner table, etc.

   The students experienced the inconvenience of lugging this bag of potatoes around with them. Naturally, the condition of the potatoes deteriorated to a nasty smelly slime. This was a great metaphor for the price we pay for the emotional baggage we carry around with us when we refuse to forgive others for the pain they have caused during our life’s experiences. The message came across loud and clear to the students who suddenly realized that while we often think of forgiveness as a gift TO the other person, it is actually a gift FOR ourselves to get rid of these nasty feelings that we harbour inside.”

   It is too easy to blame others for our problems. When this becomes a personal habit, we tend to blame others for all of our anger, frustration, depression, stress and unhappiness. If something is missing, someone else must have moved it; if your marriage did not work out, it was your spouse’s fault; if you lose your job, it was your employer who was to blame; and so on.

   Personal happiness and peace cannot be achieved as long as you are blaming others. In order to be at peace with yourself, you must accept responsibility for your own actions as well as for your reactions to others around you. To carry on the hatred is like carrying around a bag of potatoes. Until you forgive the person and get rid of the potato, it will be a burden on your life and will follow you wherever you go. Forgiving the person who has done you wrong is not so much a gift to that person, but a gift to yourself so that you can rid yourself of this heavy burden and not allow it to consume so much of your life. You can apply this philosophy to virtually all situations in which you find yourself unable to forgive another person.

   Blaming others is very stressful and takes a tremendous amount of mental energy. It also leaves you powerless over your own life in that you soon feel that your own happiness is controlled by the actions of others. When you stop blaming others, you will regain control of your personal power and take charge of your own happiness. You will also find that life is much more fun when you stop blaming others and forgive them for what they have done.

   So, next time you think you are so angry that you feel someone has done something to you that can never be forgiven, remember the story about ‘The Unhappiest Man Who Ever Lived’. Get rid of your potatoes and enjoy life.  


The Five Most Dangerous Words In The English Language

  The last time I took my truck in for repairs my mechanic told me that it was a good thing I came in when I did. He showed me a part that was just about to break and which would have resulted in substantial damage to my engine. As I uttered a sigh of relief, I recalled that for several weeks I had frequently heard a strange sound coming from the engine, but each time I had uttered those five most dangerous words in the English language: MAYBE IT WILL GO AWAY.
   In this case it was the engine of my truck – nothing major really – so what if I had to get a new engine? But I would hate to count the number of times I have attended the funeral of a good friend or family member who also uttered those same words about a lingering pain or uncharacteristic symptom.
   I also recall watching many students in my classes over the years as they struggled and suffered with learning difficulties that were the result of stressful events occurring in their family that parents simply hoped would go away.
Perhaps there is a situation you face in your own life right now that you wish would either go away and disappear with a snap of your fingers or be transformed overnight without any intervention on your part. Whether that circumstance is a dissatisfying career, an unrealized dream, a bad marriage, an injustice you don't want to mention, signs of abuse that you'd rather not acknowledge, or a mile high stack of unopened mail - one thing is certain: wishing that "maybe it will go away" won't make it happen.
   What you need is a course of action that will support the situation you want to create. If you want a satisfying career, then you must get the training and education needed to get you into that career. If you have an unrealized dream, you must do things that will take you closer to that dream. If you have a bad marriage, you must do something to make your marriage better or get out of the marriage. In other words, uttering the five most dangerous words in the English language just won’t work. It is not enough to say MAYBE IT WILL GO AWAY.
   Children are especially vulnerable in when there is a crisis in the family. And whether you tell them or not, they know that something is wrong. They notice when family routines are disrupted or if mom and dad seem more withdrawn and stressed out. They can tell when something is not right and if you don’t communicate with them there is no telling what they might be thinking. Experts always recommend that you confide in your children and you explain things to them in an age-appropriate manner as much as they want to know.  Find a time to tell your children what is going on and you will be saving them from long-lasting effects that may even impact on their education. Something to remember is that the younger the child, the more important it is to communicate. Parents often feel that their two or three year old is too young to notice what is going on in the house, but children who are trying to make sense of their world know when things are not right. A few simple words of explanation can make everything better and will keep them feeling safe and sound.
   So no matter what is causing you stress at this time in your life, create an action plan right now to address the problem. DO NOT fall into the trap of using those five dangerous words, because in most cases, IT WON’T GO AWAY!


“If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done You’ll Always Get What You’ve Always Got”

I recently saw a documentary on television about Alcatraz Prison. It was a famous fortress that housed some of the most hardened criminals of all time. The cameras followed the person doing the show and he explained how many men had tried to escape, but only one was known to have succeeded.  He went on to point out how the prison was built on an island in such a way that it was virtually impossible to escape.
   As usual, my mind wouldn’t just let me enjoy the show and I soon started to think about how this show was so much like an article I had just finished reading. The article was about the other prisons that are equally confining in this world. But those prisons have doors that are never locked; there are no guards around the perimeter; and escape is not only encouraged, it is actually possible.
   As the host of the show continued to talk, I could clearly see the similarities in both prisons. First, there was Alcatraz , which was man-made and constructed on an island to keep criminals away from the rest of the world. Then there was the other prison, which is self-made and tends to keep us away from the rest of the world where we might be able to enjoy the best that this life has to offer. That second prison is called Habit.
   In the article I was reading, Dr. Jay Dishman described Habit in the following way:
   “Habit is thinking about ourselves and our environment as a jail or paradise. We need only to look around us and we will see people who are rich emotionally and materially because they think and feel rich. We also see people who are laden with emotional and material debt because they think and feel poor. Some are inspired with vision, others are encumbered with doubt. Some are moved by ambition, others feel safer in monotony. Some reach for the mountain tops, others huddle in the pits. Some seek opportunity, others wait for it to knock. The sad fact is that we find far more people who are confined by their thoughts than we find people who are fed by them.”
   What Dr. Dishman was describing is so true. Many of us are locked inside a prison by negative thinking. And yet all we have to do to set ourselves free is to renew our mind. By renewing your mind and your thoughts, you change your habit of thinking and you renew your life at the same time.
   The title of this week’s editorial is a quote I actually  have taped on the top of my computer screen. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
   Each time I find that I am beginning to lock myself inside a mental prison, afraid to be inspired by some new vision of mine, I glance at the quotation and ask myself if I am becoming a victim of habit. I ask myself if there is a better way of doing what I want to do…if there is a faster way of doing what I want to do. I don’t want to be trapped by Habit. I want to feel the freedom and exhilaration that comes from being inspired by a vision that few others can see. I want to reach for the mountain tops. I want to reach out and take hold of opportunities, not sit back and wait for opportunity to come knocking.
   Habit is safe. Habit is predictable. Habit keeps your life on an even keel and allows you to “fit in” with the rest of society. Habit is also appreciated by those around you who need predictability and who want to know what to expect from you at all times. That is why we spend so much time teaching our young children routines, so that they become habit forming and controlling.
   Most certainly you will encounter your share of failure and disappointment, but as the saying goes, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the tradewinds in your sails. Explore! Dream! Discover!”
   Don’t allow yourself to remain trapped inside a prison with no locks, no doors and no guards. Escape today.


In This World You Tend To Get What You Expect So Make Sure You Set Your Sights High

    It doesn’t matter whether you are at work or at play; young or old; rich or poor; man or woman - in this world you will find yourself always being judged and evaluated according to your performance. And yet, one’s personal level of performance is often a direct result of the expectations of people around them or to whom they are responsible. If someone expects you to fail at something, you often live down to that expectation. If they expect you to succeed, you do everything you can to live up to that expectation.
    As a classroom teacher I saw this all the time. There were many students who came into my class with low marks and a reputation for having poor work habits. Their parents would tell me that they couldn’t find anything that would motivate their child to complete assignments and homework and that they had faced failure and challenges for years. 

   I have always had a reputation for being a stubborn man, so I would usually ignore previous reports and establish high expectations for ALL of my pupils. Many of them protested that they "couldn’t" do the work. They complained that other teachers had understood their “learning difficulties” and would reduce the workload or modify the program.  I held my ground and would very forcefully tell them that there was no reason of which I was aware to accept a lower standard and moreover, I assured them that I would never assign anything which I felt was beyond their capabilities. Things might not be easy, but they would be achievable with hard work and determination.
   By showing them that I felt they were competent, and that in my capacity as their teacher, I had the confidence in their ability to succeed, most of them discovered a new level of success that surprised their parents and former teachers alike. Best of all, they surprised themselves at the work they were able to accomplish once they set their sights and their own personal standards higher. Many of these former students have returned at various stages of their life to thank me for “being so hard on them”, and for “helping them build up their own self-confidence and self-esteem”. Time after time I have heard these young adults tell me that all they needed was someone to “push them to new heights” and someone who they knew “was going to be there for support and guidance along the way when they needed help.”
   Readers who are familiar with baseball will remember Pete Rose, or will at least recall having read something about his playing ability. One day he was being interviewed during spring training the year he was about to break Ty Cobb’s all time hits record. A reporter asked him, "Pete, you only need 78 hits to break the record. How many at bats do you think you’ll need to get the 78 hits?"
   Without hesitation, Pete looked at the reporter and said, "78."
   The report yelled back, "Come on, Pete. You don’t expect to get 78 hits in 78 bat bats do you?"
   Rose explained, "Every time I step up to the plate I expect to get a hit. If I go up there only hoping to get a hit, then I probably don’t have a prayer."
   Rose’s philosophy is one that we all should adopt.
   If you hope to finish the project; if you hope to be a good father; if you hope to get higher marks; if you hope to finish your may do an adequate job, but you will never reach your true potential. You MUST approach everything in life with the expectation that you will always be successful. Nothing else is acceptable. You should never do anything merely hoping to succeed. You MUST approach everything you do in life fully expecting to accomplish your objectives. You may not get a "hit" every time you go to bat, but you at least have to "expect" that you will or you will never get anywhere.
   So next time you find yourself doubting your abilities, or you are unsure about whether or not you are capable of handling your responsibilities, remember Pete Rose. Go into everything in your life with the expectation that you will do a great job, and you will be surprised at how well you actually perform. And if someone else gives you a task that seems a bit too difficult for you to handle, just remember one very important thing. If that if that person who gave you the task thinks you can do it, so should you. 



The Learning Clinic is The Private Practice of
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