Tag Archives: change

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

I’ll text you…

cell phoneLike it or not, texting has become a huge part of many people’s lives. At least one estimate I saw recently suggested that the average high school student sends about 300 texts in the course of a day! While some of us haven’t adjusted to this way of communicating, it is growing by leaps and bounds. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover an amazing person and an amazing resource that’s all about texting. The amazing person is Nancy Lubin. The amazing resource is the Crisis Text Line.

There are some similarities to the traditional Crisis Phone Lines, but there are also some amazing differences. The program has already handled nearly ten million text messages ranging from addiction to sexual abuse to suicidal thoughts. Anyone can send the simple message “go” (or “Hello” or “start”) to 741-741. It’s confidential, anonymous, and free. An automated response will ask about the crisis… and here’s where this gets really amazing. Thanks to data and algorithms, the response  to the question will ensure that the text goes to a counselor trained to handle that specific type of crisis.

I discovered the Crisis Text Line while preparing for the upcoming classes I’ll be teaching. I also just learned that an agency in the area is sending some of their employees to one of those Suicide Awareness Classes and that’s encouraging! These classes are not just for school employees, nor do they demand or expect more than you can give. Just helping make information like the crisis text line available can be effect support to someone who’s troubled. (Information will be distributed during the class, but you can also access it at http://www.crisistextline.org/. There’s even a flyer you can post with the number to text as a tear off portion.)

Someone who may not want to talk may be very willing to text. Let’s get this number out and available: 741-741.

You can learn more about this incredible program and the woman who started it by watching her ten minute TED Talk. I’m comfortable guaranteeing you’ll be impressed!

Hotline Numbers

Crisis Text Line: 741-741

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Filed under Bullying, Classes and Courses, Mental Health, Mental Hygiene, Suicide Prevention

Won’t You Guide?

This is a chapter from “Small People — Big Brains” that was written in 2012, shortly after the Newtown tragedy. My intent in republishing it this year is not to remind us of the tragedy; it is rather to remind us of the possibilities and opportunities we face every day.


 

When I got the call last Monday that I’d be needed at school, I was momentarily struck with the reality that going “to work” included the distinct possibly of not coming home. Like many, I’d been mourning the huge loss we experienced in Connecticut. As a society, we’ve trusted teachers with our children’s education for a long time. The Newtown tragedy has demonstrated that we also trust those teachers and staff with our children’s very lives.

While I in no way want to diminish the loss of those children and adults, as time has passed I think we might consider that we are also mourning the loss of safe havens for children to learn. The grief that we are feeling calls out for answers and brings with it a rush to prevent this type of tragedy. We want to bring back those safe places.

One of the most meaningful things I learned about “classroom management” while preparing to become a substitute was the observation that “the only behavior you can truly control in your classroom is your own.”
child-865116_1280One day this week I was working with first graders on an art project. I’d been warned to keep them busy or “they will make your life miserable.” We’d been doing quite well, actually, when I suddenly lost control of the classroom. Amid the coloring and cutting and pasting and cries of “Mr. Boomsma, can you help me with this?” very suddenly and spontaneously one child started singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Within seconds, fifteen little voices chimed in and I was left to stand and watch the unfolding of what might be described as a “Normal Rockwell Moment.”  For at least six renditions of the song (the part they remembered) my life was anything but miserable.

But it was not because of anything I did.

Every sane person wants to prevent the type of tragedy we experienced on December 14, 2012. As we work through the grief, I believe we need to remember that six-year-old who decided to sing. To be sure, somebody taught him to sing. But he decided it was time to sing. If we don’t remember him and his choice, we are in danger of deluding ourselves into thinking we can fix this by controlling things (guns, videos, the media, etc.) and perhaps even people.

I’ve asked myself what I might do to prevent this type of tragedy and believe the long look answer lies in another truth:  “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.” While we cannot ignore those broken adults, we (collectively, not just teachers) are “breaking” children every day by missing opportunities, failing to provide structure, and in too many cases engaging in outright abuse and neglect. The same newspaper that headlined the Newtown events also carried a story of an eight-year-old girl who was raped. These tragedies deserve equal outrage.

Anyone who spends any time working in schools has met them–the kids we are breaking. A kid who is constantly angry for reasons we don’t yet understand–copes by screaming and pushing his way around. The loner who is always seen off by herself during recess…

All of the other reindeer
used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
join in any reindeer games.

Just this week a nine-year-old confessed to being tired first thing in the morning explaining that her dad goes to work at 3 AM and she’s required to get up to care for her younger brother. She’s a real good kid and I think will grow up to be a responsible adult. I’m not indicting her Dad because it’s likely an economic necessity. But she’s carrying a lot of weight on her young shoulders–can we be sure whether it will make or break her?

What happens to us shapes us, but we decide who we are. Those of us who are fortunate enough to work with kids have a key–we need to focus on building strong children who learn the skills–including the skill of self-control–that will allow them make good decisions about what they will do and who they will become.

Then all the reindeer loved him
as they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
you’ll go down in history!

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Filed under Learning, Mental Health, Mental Hygiene

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

He Was Big, But Was He Bad?

questions

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

Who Cares?

One of my old jokes was, “There’s a lot of apathy in our society but who cares?” I’m the first to admit it’s both funny and it’s not. I’ll also confess that I’ve been making the joke long enough that I stopped thinking about whether or not it’s actually true. Granted, it seems like people are less interested and less engaged, but is it due to apathy?

Last fall I self-appointed myself as a volunteer promoter and advocate for the “Pirate Specials Program” developed for our middle and high school students in M.S.A.D. 4. One aspect I’d like to share with you is the extreme lack of apathy I’ve encountered. I started out with a belief that it would perhaps be challenging to get members of the community to agree to participate. What I found instead was enthusiasm and pent-up energy. Most of the folks I talked to wanted to sign on before I’d delivered half my pitch. Sometimes there were logistical challenges such as scheduling, but I considered it my role to make things as easy as possible for those who wanted to volunteer.

Of course I’m still campaigning, but it has been rewarding to see people want to get involved with our schools and our kids. As far as I know, no one’s been avoiding me and I now find myself re-thinking my old joke. Maybe there’s not as much apathy as we think there is. 

Coincidentally, I was introduced to a Ted Talk entitled “The Antidote to Apathy” by David Meslin who calls himself a “professional rabble rouser.”   His formal bio describes him as “Multi-partisan and fiercely optimistic, Dave Meslin embraces ideas and projects that cut across traditional boundaries between grassroots politics, electoral politics and the arts community. In his work, in Toronto and globally, he attempts to weave elements of these communities together. (His business card reads “Dave Meslin: community choreographer,” which feels about right.)”

The video is only eight minutes long so I’m not going to make this post a spoiler. Yes, Meslin talks about Canada, but I think you’ll agree there are plenty of similarities in the United States. This definitely should be required watching for anyone who’s involved with a civic organization, political party, school, church… if you’ve found yourself complaining about people not getting involved in things that matter, watch this.

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Filed under Causes and Friends

It’s that time of year!

The holidays are a great time to say “thank you!” I’ve enjoyed your confidence and friendship this past year and it is satisfying to know that a lot of people have achieved success as a result of our work together. As we near the start of a new year, this is also a great time to look back and ahead with an annual update.

You’ll recall last year I announced my intention to increase the emphasis on the training and education aspects of my work. I also announced that I would be substitute teaching kindergarten through grade six at Piscataquis Community Elementary School.

A few weeks ago a fourth grader came to “my” classroom to visit after a day of subbing. In the course of chatting he informed me that “pre-k and kindergarten” were the best years of his life. When I asked why he replied “Because there wasn’t really that much I had to do…” I managed not to chuckle.

I suppose it could be considered cool that at nine or ten years old (going on forty) he’s figured out what’s important to him, but I really want to tell him “the best is yet to come.” At least that’s been true for me—while my life has been good, I can’t recall a period of time that was more fun and more satisfying than these years I am now living.

A big achievement this past year was the release of my book, Small People—Big Brains: stories about simplicity, exploration and wonder. In the obligatory about the author section, I noted, “I’ve effectively started a new career as a substitute elementary school teacher. The kids haven’t run out of things to teach me. They may be small people, but they really do have big brains.”

In support of the book and my future direction, this year I created “Abbot Village Press,” with the idea that we’ll be “Maine’s number one publisher in Maine’s number one town” by publishing books and blogs with purpose. Several publishing projects come to mind and I suspect there will be a volume two of Small People—Big Brains. Perhaps I should issue a warning: “I’m a writer. Anything you do or say may be used in a future article or book.”

I have, of course, continued to offer real estate courses in association with the Arthur Gary School of Real Estate. Class enrollments continue to climb. This may well reflect a growing confidence in the future of real estate. While it’s not a focus, I also continue my affiliation with Mallett Real Estate and work with select clients on a somewhat limited basis. Do not hesitate to contact me if you are going to be involved in a real estate transaction as a buyer or seller.

This past fall, the Piscataquis Valley Adult Education Cooperative invited me to develop and teach one day classes for others who want to substitute teach! The class was offered in Milo and Guilford and we will be repeating it in January in Dover Foxcroft and Dexter. RSU 19 Adult Education (Nokomis) has asked me to offer several courses. I’m also having a lot of fun helping out with the Piscataquis Secondary School Pirate Specials Program designed to connect middle and high school kids with community resources and individuals who will help them explore career options.

One of the stories that didn’t make it into the book happened a few years ago when a second grader became exasperated with me and said, “Mr. Boomsma, you need to focus.” It helps if you picture her with hands on the sides of her face mimicking the blinders horses wear. At the time, I thought I was very busy. She rightly recognized I wasn’t busy. I just wasn’t doing such a good job of handling multiple priorities. (You can read the entire story on this site.)

Unfortunately, I’ve lost a cartoon I had that showed a fish climbing out of a lake and saying to an animal standing on the shore, “Outta my way, pal. I’m evolving.” I’d like to think that while these are some very good years, the best is yet to come. I’m evolving!

Thanks for your confidence and support. Have a meaningful holiday and a new year filled with health, happiness, and prosperity — make these the best years of your life! Evolve!

Merry Christmas,
Signature

(aka “Mr. Boomsma”)

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Filed under Causes and Friends, Just for Fun, Personal Growth, Publications, School Programs, Teaching