Tag Archives: school

A Few Course Updates…

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Spring’s just started, but the learning opportunities continue!

I’ve conducted my newest course offering on Suicide Awareness and Prevention twice and the results have been rewarding and exciting! Not only have educational professionals attended, but students have included church employees, agency employees, and several who simply wanted the information for their own use—one attendee came all the way from Hermon!

My ego enjoys the ratings of the instructor and positive comments, but there are a couple of observations that are far more important. As a result of attending these two classes:

  • 85% of participants either agreed or strongly agreed they feel more comfortable talking about suicide.
  • 93% of participants either agreed or strongly agreed they feel more confident in their ability to recognize suicide warning signs and risk factors.
  • 85% of participants feel better equipped to help someone who might seem suicidal.

Currently, there are two more classes scheduled:

  1. Tuesday, March 29, 2016 at the Penquis Higher Education Center in Dover Foxcroft, sponsored by PVAEC, 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. Call 564-6525 for information and to register.
  2. Thursday, April 14, 2016 at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport, sponsored by RSU 19 Adult Education, 3:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. Call 368-3290 for information and to register.

As promised in the classes already taught, I’ve started a website page of resources for developing good mental health and preventing suicide.

April is a busy month with Real Estate Classes–both licensing and continuing education. You can find a complete calendar on my real estate blog.

Due to increasing requests for learning opportunities, RSU 19 Adult Education is adding a second wave of classes in late spring and this summer this year. By request, I’ll be developing and offering an overview course, The Why’s and Where’s of Blogging The course is scheduled for Thursday, May 19 at Nokomis High school in Newport. We’ll also be offering the Substitute Teacher Course late in the summer.

The best way to avoid missing an opportunity is to sign up for the Learning Opportunities Newsletter. Since I know how annoying a flood of email can be, you’ll only hear from me about once a month at the most!

If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.

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Suicide Prevention… an awareness session focused on youth!

Yes, this is about suicide prevention… but it’s also about mental health! Learn some of the signs that a person is troubled and how you can make a difference. You’ll also receive resources available and materials produced by the Maine Suicide Prevention Program. (Click the image to see a larger size.)

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

Paying It Backward

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The idea of “paying it forward” of course has much merit. It means, simply, that the response to a kindness is not so much to pay it back, but to pay it forward by being kind to someone else. It’s a feel-good concept, certainly. But I remember a kindness done to me that I have felt for some years deserves to be paid back.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s I lived in Pittsfield Massachusetts. As a country boy suddenly relocated to city life, they were some difficult years. Odd as it may seem, some of my loneliest years as a child were the years I lived in the city. I was truly overwhelmed by the numbers and differences. I really didn’t fit. I knew it and it was obvious to others. The term “bullying” hadn’t been invented yet; there were just some really mean kids—gangs, actually—who were about power and control. Those of us who didn’t fit learned how to appear invisible and avoid confrontation, but success was only relative. We learned, for example, to take different routes while walking to school, sometimes sneaking through backyards to avoid meeting certain schoolmates along the way.

When I started what was then called junior high school, it became necessary to ride the bus every day. There were actually very few yellow school busses. Mostly we received tokens that allowed us to ride on Berkshire Street Railway buses that were blue and white. They were tired old buses, with that token collection machine next to the driver and big yellow line on the floor with a sign that read, “Standing passengers must remain behind the yellow line.”

As the bus filled up it became increasingly difficult to stay behind the yellow line—we were jammed in like sardines. More importantly, it became increasingly difficult to avoid bumping others as the bus jostled along its route. One particular gang of girls resolved this problem by sharpening their fingernails to points that could stab and scratch anyone within reach.  It was not unusual to arrive at school or home bloodied. We didn’t report it, perhaps out of a strange sense of shame or a fear of even greater retaliation. There are times when I convince myself this was just one of those nightmares; it didn’t really happen. But if it had only been a nightmare, I would not have met nor would I remember the bus driver who made a difference.

I suppose bus drivers back then can be forgiven for not taking action—they were outnumbered forty or fifty to one. We weren’t really students. We were a commodity that needed moving through the city. This was public transportation. Most drivers kept their eyes glued forward, concentrating on the driving, occasionally glancing in the side mirrors and making sure the masses stayed behind the yellow line. As if it were yesterday, I remember the day I boarded the bus and the driver reached out with his hand and stopped me as I deposited my token. While it was clanging through the machine, he said, “I need you to stay up here with me by the token machine. Hold on to it while we’re moving, then step aside and make sure everyone puts a token in it when they get on.” It seemed a little strange at first that he needed my help.

But what mattered was where I stood. Standing in front of that line was an unusual privilege.  At first, it seemed very secondary that I was also safe from sharp fingernails, punches, and kicks while standing there—that was a bonus, really. Monitoring the token machine became my regular job, although I don’t ever recall needing to remind anyone to deposit a token. Of course, we’d talk some—mostly about me, my schoolwork, etc.  I noticed that he always wore a gold tie clip with the letters “OP” on it. I learned those initials stood for Otis Phillips—he loved to make sure I’d remember it by saying, “Think elevators.” Sure, I took some teasing from the girls with the pointy fingernails, but they seemed somehow less powerful and less aggressive. They’d stick out their tongues as they’d pass me to get behind the yellow line, but that didn’t hurt very much.

Otis became a friend, really. He never let me feel like a victim who needed rescuing. Instead, he made it seem that I was needed in front of the line and that I was somehow a pretty important passenger on his bus. But it wasn’t limited to being on the bus. Sometimes after school a friend and I would go on long bike rides around the city, sightseeing, and exploring. We’d always jump a little when a big blue and white bus would pull up beside us, the door would creak open, and a smiling face would call to us, “What are you guys up to? Everything okay?”

In today’s world, some might suspect his relationship with me was inappropriate. And It saddens me to think that today Otis would likely be disciplined for letting me stand in front of the line. (Truth be told I also got a few free rides when he’d spot me walking somewhere on the weekends.)

But it makes me happy to remember him, his kindness, and I now appreciate his simple solution to a problem—standing in front of that line made a huge difference. I don’t know why he chose me for that honor and today, over fifty years later, I wonder if he knew what an impact he made in my life. As is often the case, a simple act of kindness was not so simple. From his kindness I learned that where one stands can make a huge difference. And he’d probably like the fact that I often think of him when I get on an elevator.

For some years now, I’ve felt the need to “pay it back,” to acknowledge his kindness not just in deed but in word. I really never learned many details about Otis. I know he was married, but he never mentioned children. He seemed a bit grandfatherly to me at the time, so perhaps they were grown. I’ll tell you what I’m hoping. I hope through the magic of social media and blogging I can let it be known that there was an incredible bus driver working for Berkshire Street Railway around 1960 whose name was Otis Phillips. Perhaps this story will find its way to a descendant or others who knew him. It just feels like the world should know, Otis was a hero.

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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,

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Filed under Big Brains, Big Hearts, Classes and Courses, Mental Health, Mental Hygiene, Personal Growth, Small People, 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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New Course Available Soon!

Substitute teacher class “alumni,” school employees and volunteers take note!

Maine is ranked fourteenth in the United States for deaths by suicide. Suicide in Maine occurs 7-9 times more often than homicide. The State averages 196 deaths by suicide each year; in 2009 alone, 2,800 high school students and 4,000 adults attempted suicide while 6,700 high school students and 27,000 adults considered suicide.

In part for those reasons, the Maine Legislature passed LD 609 several years ago. The bill, simply stated, requires every employee of all school systems to receive one to two hours of Suicide Awareness Training.  “Every employee” means anyone who receives a paycheck and includes substitute teachers, bus drivers, custodians—in fact, it is strongly recommended school volunteers receive the training as well. The training must follow research-based national guidelines.

For the past year, I have been working towards and am now fully qualified to conduct this training. I have completed the NAMI Adult Mental Health First Aid Specialist Training, Youth First Aid Provider Training, Gatekeeper Training, and Train the Trainer training—more than was required to qualify. I did so in part for the very same reasons the Maine Legislature enacted this requirement.

From 2007 through 2011 there were 116 youth (under age 25) suicides in Maine. Of those, 49 were between the ages of 10 and 19. During my training, I learned that the youngest confirmed suicide in Maine last year was an eight-year-old girl—that is almost unimaginable to most people. Those of us who work and play with these kids have a special opportunity to prevent these tragedies.

Hotline NumbersThe workshop will last about two hours and is truly designed for anyone—not just school employees–although the focus will be on youth. The first step in suicide prevention is awareness and understanding of risk factors. The program will also provide an understanding of basic prevention strategies and help attendees become more confident in the some of the basic steps they can take to assist others who may be troubled. There will be ample opportunity for questions and discussion. Attendees will also receive printed resources and information. Training is offered in conjunction with the Maine Suicide Prevention Program, an initiative of the Maine CDC in partnership with NAMI Maine.

PVAEC (Piscataquis Valley Adult Education Cooperative) has already agreed to sponsor the workshop during the winter/spring semester. The program will likely be offered in other adult education programs throughout the area. (Check back for dates!) Also, if any schools or organizations are interested in a program at your location, please let me know. I’ll be happy to work with you. Suicide Prevention is up to all of us.

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Happy World Teachers’ Day!

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Third Graders learn the “Dictionary Race” during a Dictionary Day Presentation.

Bet you didn’t know today is World Teachers’ Day! Empowering teachers, building sustainable societies,” is the slogan for 2015.

By sheer coincidence, today I will be working with eighty third graders as part of the Valley Grange Words for Thirds Program. The program is designed to give third graders their own personal dictionary. I have the honor of facilitating the process and teaching the kids a little history and some basic dictionary skills.

Another coincidence was that one of the email newsletters I subscribe to included a very appropriate quote by thinker Friedrich Nietzsche (October 15, 1844–August 25, 1900).

Your true educators and cultivators will reveal to you the original sense and basic stuff of your being, something that is not ultimately amenable to education or cultivation by anyone else, but that is always difficult to access, something bound and immobilized; your educators cannot go beyond being your liberators. And that is the secret of all true culture: she does not present us with artificial limbs, wax-noses, bespectacled eyes – for such gifts leave us merely with a sham image of education. She is liberation instead, pulling weeds, removing rubble, chasing away the pests that would gnaw at the tender roots and shoots of the plant; she is an effusion of light and warmth, a tender trickle of nightly rain…

There may be other methods for finding oneself, for waking up to oneself out of the anesthesia in which we are commonly enshrouded as if in a gloomy cloud – but I know of none better than that of reflecting upon one’s educators and cultivators.

And therein lies a wonderful way to celebrate this relatively unknown day… thinking about those who have educated and “cultivated” us. We are all teachers and educators. We are all learners and students. I expect to learn something from these kids today. And I hope they learn something from me and the experience they have.

As I read Nietzche’s thoughts I was most struck by his suggestion that educators are liberators. Dictionary Day today will have, for me, a slightly different meaning today. I will be considering how today’s lesson and the book each child leaves with will be freeing and surely contribute to the person each becomes. As the kids would say, “Awesome!”

World Teacher Day

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