Tag Archives: achievement

Identity Crisis Looms…

This site is experiencing a minor identity crisis. (I’ve been known to say “We used to be schizophrenic, but we’re okay now.”) Without a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo, the “Walter Writes” site has been moved to a self-hosted site found at http://wboomsma.com/. This “new” site contains all of the same great content readers/subscribers are used to, but a whole lot more–including a whole new look. I think visitors will find it much more “user-friendly.”

Unfortunately, folks who followed this site are not automatically added to the list of followers for the http:// “new” self-hosted site. So if you liked the posts/messages you were receiving, you’ll need to follow the new site by visiting it and using the “subscribe” window on the right-hand side of the site. If you visit, you’ll discover that the story about Otis the bus driver was recently mentioned in a Bangor Daily News Article about mentoring… and if you’re patient, you’ll be among the first to learn about a guy named Rudolph who was a victim of bullying close to 100 years ago!Eventually, I’ll figure out what happens to this site… In the meantime, consider visiting http:/wboomsma.com. I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it!

 

 

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Filed under Bullying, Just for Fun, Maine Life, Mental Health

Season’s Greetings… the best is yet to come!

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Dear clients and friends…

Another year has passed and with it arises the opportunity to reconnect! As most of you know, I try hard not to write the typical Christmas letter—just to share some updates and accomplishments over the past year.

The first thing most will notice is this comes to you on a new letterhead! You’ll recall last year I announced that while I’m still a licensed broker with Mallet Real Estate, I was no longer actively seeking clients. That is all still true, but I’ve also become a bit more focused. My former high school teacher and now good friend Tony has been asking me for years, “When are you going to listen to your calling?” While I’m not sure it’s a calling, I have determined it is time to admit that I am first and foremost an educator and author.

My time spent with the kids at school continues to be enlightening and entertaining! This past spring, I volunteered to use the resources of Abbot Village Press to publish our Elementary School Yearbook. We created a yearbook team of students to assist and ended up producing a quality product at an affordable price. No, I do not plan to become a yearbook publisher, although it looks like we’ll be doing this year’s as well.

I’ve believed for some time that there are some additional writing and publishing projects in my future. Unfortunately, some major course development work this year continues to keep several writing projects sidelined. Course development includes not only major revisions to several real estate courses but also some new courses both real-estate related and adult not.

One goal I achieved this year was completing my training with the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). I’m now fully gatekeeper trained and a Certified Mental Health First Aid Specialist for both youth and adults. This also means I am qualified to teach the Suicide Awareness and Prevention Training required by Maine Law (LD 609) of all school employees. What is most important to me personally is that I now have information and resources to offer kids and adults who find themselves in a difficult place.

One of the adult education programs I teach for frequently has asked for an “adult educator enrichment program.” The course will likely include some things about the way adults learn along with checklists to improve delivery of material in an adult setting. The program will probably use some material from the Substitute Teacher Course I teach (kids aren’t really that much different!) and my “Public Speaking for the Nervous and Frightened.”

But my best days are still the ones when the phone rings early in the morning and I’m needed at school. The kids haven’t run out of things to teach me. They may be small people, but they really do have big brains and it’s fun to look ahead and imagine a world run by these future leaders.

I’ll never forget the day “Johnny”—a fourth grader with a fifty-year-old outlook—stopped by my classroom after most of the kids had left. It seems he wanted to have a “mature” conversation on a wide variety of topics. At one point he informed me, “Pre-k and kindergarten were the best years of my life.” When I asked for further explanation, he added, “Because I really didn’t have to do much.” I decided not to suggest that the best years of his life might be yet to come but they probably wouldn’t be about “not doing much.”

Have a meaningful holiday and a new year filled with health, happiness, and prosperity. It’s a busy time of the year and you probably have a lot to do, but you can still make these the best years of your life!

All the best,

WB Signature

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Filed under Big Brains, Big Hearts, Classes and Courses, Mental Health, Mental Hygiene, Personal Growth, Small People, Suicide Prevention

A Great Teacher…

Tomorrow I will be teaching a course for substitute teachers. Yesterday I happen to talk to someone I believe is a truly great teacher. We bumped into each other in a grocery store. Since she looked troubled, I asked what was wrong. She replied, “I’m trying to do some math in my head.” We had a lot of fun with that. (She was buying some supplies for a class project that sounded really awesome.) Of course we ended up comparing notes and sharing “war stories.” People didn’t seem to mind going around us, standing in the aisle and laughing over some of the things we’ve experienced.

Towards the end of our conversation, we talked about some folks we knew who have recently retired. This great teacher said, “I’ve been teaching forty years.” We did some more math to estimate how many kids she’s taught. Then she added, “I really should be thinking about retiring, but I can’t.”

When I asked her why she replied, “Because I’m having way too much fun!”

The folks I’ll work with tomorrow may not be “teachers” in the formal sense of the word. But they will be teaching. My hope for them and the students they have–if only for a day–is that they will find the business of learning fun. It won’t always be easy. But it should always be meaningful. When we start to forget that, here’s a short reminder.

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Filed under Causes and Friends, Classes and Courses, Teaching

Wait, I have to ask…

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This vehicle has GPS–the horse usually knows the way home.

We have a large population of people in America who cannot go anywhere without their GPS–even to places in their own town that they truly were able to find, on their own, just four or five years ago. But now they must take their mobile performance support system with them. They have become completely dependent on the box. I can’t help but think they are in danger of losing the skill of thinking their way through a route by, say, using a map. Or perhaps they have never even learned to read a map!

I’m a huge fan of technology, make no mistake. Even on a short trip to Bangor I’ll often “fire up” Greta (Garmin). She helps me keep a sense of my progress and estimated arrival time. She reminds me occasionally to make a turn and sometimes annoys me when I deviate slightly to stop for coffee with her constant recalculating. I confess I somewhat enjoy taking a shortcut that she doesn’t have in her data bank.

We have a tenuous relationship because I refuse to yield my independent thought and directional capabilities to the support system she represents. I gently remind her that she has, more than once, let me down.  I like to think I can still get myself out of a lost situation when she leads me astray. I’m discovering that the only time I can’t get myself out is when I’ve been blindly following her commands without thinking or paying some attention to where she’s sending me.

Developing a dependency on her not only may dull the senses, I get concerned it might even reduce my sense of adventure. (I am rarely lost, but have been known to have some adventures.) A few years ago I had a great deal of trouble locating a hotel where I had a reservation. My repeated attempts took me past a visitor information center so I decided to get Greta some help. After briefly stating my problem, the staffer said, “Well, the first thing you have to do is turn off the GPS.” I chuckled at this suggestion as he grabbed a pen and unfolded a paper map, and we ultimately had an interesting conversation covering topics such as “sense of direction,” conflicting messages, and self-reliance in a world that’s increasingly driven by technology.

“Getting lost” may be more about losing a sense of place than about finding things. I learned years ago when hiking in the woods that’s it’s important to turn around frequently–the world is going to look differently on the return trip. We become lost when we aren’t feeling oriented or connected to our surroundings. “This doesn’t look right! Where am I?”

As vacation travel season approaches I usually rethink my relationship with Greta. I remind myself she’s pretty good when it comes to goal orientation, but she’s not likely to say things like, “Did you notice…” or “You know, you could try…” Perhaps some day technology will develop sufficiently for Greta to say things like “Nice lane change!” and “you noticed that before I did…” It would reinforce the fact that she’s working for me, it’s not the other way around. I think she should give me a little more credit than she does.

But for now, it’s going to be up to me to be aware of my surroundings–the way it should be. Better yet, it’s my trip and my vacation. Since I gave her the goal, I can change it. For that matter, since it’s vacation, there will be mornings when there is no goal. She’ll spend a lot of time in “map only” mode as we meander. In the kindest way possible, I’ll let her know, “If I need your help today, I’ll ask for it. Let me see what I can find on my own.”

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Filed under Just for Fun, Personal Growth

Chew on this!

I was recently reminded of the power of criticism when two diametrically opposed viewpoints hit my email inbox on the same day. I will spare you the details, but one was highly complimentary of a website I maintain. The second was not so much so. While expressed as a concern, the uncomplimentary message evoked some pretty strong emotion from me. Frankly, it took me several hours to calm down enough to poll several folks I respect regarding the validity of the criticism. I was assured it was, in fact, baseless.

But here’s an interesting phenomena. While I was ultimately able to “chuckle” over the criticism, guess which one of those emails I spent the most mental and emotional energy on? If you guessed “the negative one,” you’d be correct.

Ironically (unless you believe in fate), a few days later I happened to listen to an inspiring TED talk. The speaker introduced the concept of “mental hygiene” noting that while we take care of our bodies with healthy practices, most people do not have a regimen that addresses mental health. One point that particularly hit home was that we human beings have a tendency to “ruminate” over incidents and conditions in our lives. (In animal terms, “chew over and over.”) His challenge was that we might do well to consider what we are consuming and chewing over and over. Our choices affect not only our mental state, but also how and what we communicate. And, of course, what we communicate dramatically impacts those we are around.

If you're going to get trapped by your own thinking, it might as well be positive.

If you’re going to get trapped by your own thinking, it might as well be positive.

There’s both a personal and an organizational lesson for us in this. Chewing on the negative isn’t going to make it positive. Sometimes we have to spit it out and find something better to chew on. That is a choice we can make.

I substitute taught kindergarten recently. One of the things I love about five year olds is they haven’t get figured out why things can’t be done—they try stuff. One of my best moments was when a young lady came up and tugged on my sleeve. “Mr. Boomsma, I want to tell you about something nice (another student) just did for me…” We work really hard to create a positive learning environment at school. There are official positions assigned every day: class messenger (delivers notes to the office) and cubby inspector (makes sure no one has forgotten anything at the end of the day) are two. But my personal favorite is the kindness reporter. A different student each day is challenged to spot and report kindnesses happening in the classroom.

I wonder how our lives would change if we decided to be a “Kindness Reporter.” We could simply do it personally and randomly or we could self-appoint ourselves to the position with our family, our workplace, or organizations we’ve joined. Maybe we also could be a “Thinking Monitor”—someone who decides to point out negative thinking and try to stop others from chewing on it.

If you’re not willing to do it for others, at least do it for yourself. Monitor how you’re thinking and how much kindness you’re doling out. Chew on the positive possibilities. It will improve your digestion!

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Filed under Personal Growth, Small People

He Was Big, But Was He Bad?

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Thanks to the “efficiency” of technology, this originally published with the wrong title and I fear went to subscribers with the title “Brain Surgeons and Truck Drivers Unite!” While there are some similarities, that’s a piece being developed for another day!


 

One of my more interesting assignments recently was working with a group of sixth graders who had just finished reading what is considered a “fractured fair tale”–in this case the story of Little Red Riding Hood written from the wolves  perspective. It’s not uncommon to ask students to read (or retell) a common story from another character’s perspective. The educational benefits are many. In this case, their assignment was to consider whether or not the retelling influenced their own perspective.

I was a bit surprised that all but one student readily bought into the wolf’s explanation. Most began to feel sorry for the poor maligned wolf now that they “understood” his perspective and were able to view the facts differently. But as I listened to them explain their conclusions, it was not so surprising. Kids are open-minded–much more so than adults–and are willing to consider new information. Yes, it makes them vulnerable but it also means they can learn and grow at astounding rates.

Now I will confess that I don’t recall ever questioning what happened in that story even as a kid. My reality has always been there was a big, bad wolf, a somewhat naive little girl, and a grandma who has a very brief role. I might have subconsciously identified with the wood cutter–it’s always  nice to identify with the hero. (There are several versions of the tale–in the earliest the story ends with grandma and the girl being eaten. They are not rescued. So much for the “happily ever after” aspect of fairy tales.)

Of course, we all know that the point of fairy tales is not to convince kids monsters exist. They already know that. The point of fairy tales is to show kids that monsters can be killed (attributed to G.K. Chesterton).

But in this sixth grade classroom (and, hopefully, many more like it) we find another point of fairy tales is to make us think. I found myself doing exactly that–not so much about whether or not the wolf was actually a victim as about how our perceptions influence our thinking and conclusions. One young fellow in the class took a minority position by remaining convinced that the wolf was a liar and was only trying to fool us the way he’d fooled Little Red Riding Hood. According to this young man, the wolf was  “bad to the bone” and we are crazy if we believe otherwise.

But are we?

Let us understand this is not about teaching truth. It might be about searching for the truth. It is certainly about learning. We have plenty of bias and close-mindedness in our adult world. I suspect some of that develops at a very young age when in our desire to protect children we adults create perspectives in them that actually become unchallenged prejudices carried into adulthood. Sometimes those biases are about others; sometimes they are about ourselves.

No matter who they are about, there is a lot to be gained in challenging them. Even if we end up maintaining our original beliefs, we may well gain empathy  and understanding of the bigger picture and those around us. That the wolf was big is probably not debatable. But was he truly “bad?” Are you willing to consider that he might merely have been doing what wolves do? In the book, he explains that he looks at grandma the way we might look at a cheeseburger.

In researching this article, I found some interesting theories about fairy tales, including speculation that they provide the “core of ethics.” Now much as I enjoy thinking, I really want to say, “or they might just be stories.” As a writer, I do think we should be careful to leave plenty of room for the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

So you can decide whether or not the wolf was bad or simply a maligned opportunist–or perhaps even a victim. But you do have to think about it before you decide.

And the next time you hear yourself stating a perception  about others  (“All politicians are dishonest.”) or yourself (“I suck at math.”) you might consider whether or not that perception is a prejudice–a decision made without really thinking.  There may be some new information available or a perspective you haven’t considered. Now that you are an adult, it’s okay to let your beliefs and yourself be a little vulnerable. Remember, this is not a call for you to abandon your beliefs. It’s a call for you to learn and grow even if you end up believing what you always have.

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Filed under Learning, Personal Growth

2014 — A Year in Review

Wh2015_crush_2014ile writing Christmas cards, I found myself sitting with pen poised and brow furrowed, pondering whether or not it was truly possible to condense a full year into a few short sentences. Several friends and I exchange annual greetings that qualify as very short updates of how the year has passed. Unfortunately, contemplating how to do that didn’t mean getting the job done, so I ultimately selected a few key words and activities and scribbled my note.

The activity left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied, so I decided to look back through an entire year of posts on this site. Here are some that represented important events this year. (Click the title to read the entire post.)

Mr. Boomsma, I Really Love You! tells a short story of a five year old who helped me learn an important lesson as she learned about balancing love and respect.

In the post titled Yesterday  I confessed to “fooling” some kindergarteners regarding my abilities. The experience reminded of why I feel so lucky that I get to work with them. No, it’s not because they are easily fooled.

“Gotcha!” marked one of the more meaningful days of the year… “Johnny” has enjoyed pulling one over on me since second grade. He got me again (he was in sixth grade last spring) and reminded me that the line between teacher and student is supposed to be fuzzy.

This Is Important suggested we can find comfort in the truth that “Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.”

On Going Amish was written in the middle of a battle with technology. I’m still not sure if I’ve won.

When Teachers Go Fishing was about process (fishing) and results (catching); teaching and learning. “You can’t say you haven’t caught any until you’ve quit fishing.” In non-fishing terms I tell the kids I work with, “You haven’t failed until you’ve given up.”

Before the Birds Start Singing suggests that writing rituals and thinking rituals are closely aligned and worthy of consideration. I confessed to considering some writing rituals that might be considered “odd” so I develop a writer’s reputation as a “character.”

Gee! Haw! One very little girl named Julia reminds us that it’s way too easy to underestimate kids.

Mr. Boomsma Makes Mag celebrates an honor this year—being featured in Maine Seniors Magazine. The photo section created a fun opportunity to work with my (then) third grade future pop star friend. I also ended up being called a “hunk” by some seniors after the article was released. I briefly considered adopting a tag line “working with people from eight to eighty…”

What’s in the Gift You Give? Simple gifts really can be the best, but it still depends on what’s in the package.

Happy Holiday Wishes was my attempt to resolve the debate about how we greet each other in December. While many responses were complimentary, I managed to give at least one person the fodder necessary to become very angry with me, proving once again that in spite of the writer’s best efforts, readers read words and then read meaning into those words that is sometimes way off the intended mark!

Of course there are other posts—some regarding classes, some shared articles and videos by others. A quick analysis of site activity showed that the most popular posts were those with information about activities at school: the PCES Winter Concert and the SAD 4 Veteran’s Celebration. Since I think that’s pretty awesome, I’m planning to give some thought this year to some site redesign that will make that sort of information even more accessible.

And therein lies a final lesson of the year. While it’s true that nothing is ever really lost as long as we remember it, we shouldn’t forget that our future memories aren’t simply a matter of fate and chance. Our choices will greatly influence what we experience.

I don’t tend to make resolutions, but I do try to keep my priorities in order and stay focused. I expect if I spend a lot of time fishing I will catch some fish. Since I do actually go fishing, that’s not just an analogy. But it might be a metaphor. I may not know the specifics, but I do know what I’ll be writing about and remembering this year. Do you?

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Filed under Big Brains, Big Hearts, Just for Fun, Personal Growth, School Programs, Small People, Writing Skills