Drugs Are Illegal. Reform’s Scary. Coffee Fixes the World.

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 4.45.17 PMI want to have coffee with a friend. We struggle to squeeze it in.

“How about two Fridays from now?” Why can’t we get our calendars to stop fighting so we can drink coffee? Eventually, one calendar wins. Coffee arrives.

What starts as coffee with a good friend ends as vision. Always does. Soon, note pads, pens, Macs, iPhones and iPads clutter the table, pushing our freakishly healthy foods aside.

Usually when two or more teachers are in the room, venting begins. Bitching even. Everyone opens the valve a little. My husband doesn’t understand this. He wonders why teachers bitch. He hates it. He won’t go to “teacher things.”

“It’s not bitching,” I explain, “It’s ‘looking for solutions.'” Sure, there are People Who Bitch. They’re the ones speaking negatively about others–students, colleagues, and leadership. When good teachers gather, it’s not bitching. It’s seeking answers for real problems. When the fixes are out of reach, there’s frustration. Especially when frustration takes good people down.

“I’ll never go back into the classroom,” I hear it more and more. “I can’t do all this testing and stuff.” People go into leadership, guidance, or whatever because, they say, they’re “done with the classroom.” Others–good people–jump into those roles to save the world, finding windmills to fight on that side of the fence, too.

“This isn’t for me. I’m no good. Didn’t realize it would be this way–I wanted to change lives, not tabulate test scores.” That was roughly the quote I got from someone leaving the profession–literally, box in hand. Midyear.

Good teachers fear tests and evals. Sure, accountability’s in every profession. Can we do it better though? I heard Steve Blank talk at last year’s Business Innovation Factory conference. “Fire the idea, not the person,” he said.

Steve Blank is a pretty smart guy. As one of Forbes Magazine’s “30 Most Influential People in Tech,” he’s not only written textbooks on how startups should be created and grown, he even changed the way the National Science Foundation spends money to align with the systems of successful entrepreneurs–systems he invented.

Anyone who changes the way government spends money has the ear of this lowly teacher.

His thoughts were simple. Sometimes you need to fire the idea, not the person, he said. Run the numbers without blame. Then fix the problems.

Getting rid of judgment helps people be objective and take risks. Risks produce results. Taking risks in education can get a person low scores, though, so there’s fear.

Fear about things real or imagined shuts good people down.

Fear does not produce vision.

Fear is conquered by vision.

Vision, luckily, is found in a cup of coffee with a friend. It pours out our hearts into the vortices swirling throughout the mugs into reality. All the little things mixing and colliding in the swirls…that’s the vision. Every sip, gulp, cup waiting for a sip–vision. Leaving the cup on the counter to go cold is missing the possibilities–so easy to do when rushing around. Steam goes uncaptured into the universe. Vision lost.

But sitting with my friend, vision pushes aside inconsequential girl talk. It says things like, “Sounds like you might consider,” and “That happens to me. I’ve tried…” or “I notice you write a lot about this, but I’d really like to read it if you wrote this…” or “I’d buy that idea…”

Every single time I meet Vision Friend, I leave with a dozen working plans. On a good day, I have pages of notes. On a crazy day, we’ve got blogs, businesses, books, and concepts racing around the room trying to get to the finish line first so we might convert them to reality.

Vision conquers fear. And accountability defeats complacency. Inaction. Inertia. This is why vision needs company. It needs someone to say, “Hey, you told me you were going to….how’s that going?”

Otherwise, we’re tempted to “forget” we promised to do something, and vision dies. Vision often requires courage, support, and the swirly things in a cup of coffee to produce results. Follow-through. Reality.

I know vision’s in the room when my heart leaps just a bit and the notepad comes out. The more I surround myself with friends who make my heart leap just a bit and pages fill on notepad, the better I become. I want to be better. And I want to make other people feel that they are better for having known me.

It’s a simple goal. One I hope I can meet. I think I can, if I have just one more cup of coffee…with my good friend.

Notes: 

My “vision” friend, Alicia, blogs here: WriteSolutions under the tag “Student Learning Is No Accident.”

That Moment Where Kids Discover Life’s Not Magic

Declan’s six. Every time I say, “no,” which is quite often, he says, “Can I do that when I’m a teenager?”

“I’m going to watch every show when I’m a teen,” he says. No. No, you’re not.

I’ve banned cartoons with a strong correlation to acting out and one that revealed a girl’s chest hidden by blurry stars.  “HAHAHAHAHA, those were her boobs!” Inappropriate–error in supervision.

“I’m going to swear when I’m a teenager. I’ll say ‘crap and…'” I break this train of thought.

“Nope. Not gonna happen.”

“Dad swears,” he negotiates. “Brittany swears.”

“Well, you don’t.”

“I’m going to eat all the candy when I’m a teenager. Can I?” This answer’s more important than permission to say a thousand f-words. He leans in for the answer.

“I suppose. Once I ate a pound of M&M’s I bought with my babysitting money. If you earn your own money, you can buy candy.”

“I have to use my own money?” This concept is extremely disturbing. Money, you see, comes from the pockets of parents, from the magic machines we drive by, and from the card in every adult’s wallet that lets us get all the stuff we want.

“Sure. I don’t buy unhealthy food a lot. If you want it, you can work when you’re a teen. Spend your money.”

“Can I pick up my puzzles and get five dollars?”

“It doesn’t work that way. See, I’m paying for your food and house. You should give me money. But I’m in a good mood, so I’ll let you stay.”

“Will you let me stay if you’re in a bad mood, Mommy?” I shouldn’t have said that. He doesn’t yet realize nobody ever really moves out of their parent’s house. We’ll be celebrating Brittany’s 21st birthday tomorrow. Well, not really, because when you’re 21, you don’t celebrate at home.

“Yes. You can stay even if I’m in a bad mood.”

“Well, when I’m a teen, I’m going to do whatever I want!” He stomps away. Note to six-year olds–getting the last word doesn’t mean victory. Carry that pearl into your teens.

I get to school and recap this conversation with my teens. They come to a general accord that teens cannot do whatever they want. That being a teen sucks.

“All we do is clean and do homework.”

“I have to babysit all the time.”

“My parents are stupid.” Yes. Yes, we’re all stupid. Until you’re 30 or run out of money in college.

I decide to let them into The Parent Inner Circle. “I’m going to tell you the truth. From a parent point of view…” They listen. They’re about to learn the secret of life.

“The reason we have you is so you can find the remote control when it’s lost. And do the dishes. And get our drinks. And watch the other kids we continue to have so that when you leave there’s always someone available to take out the trash. You babysit those so we get a break. That’s the real reason we have you.”

They stare–I might just be telling the truth. I figure I’d better iron this out.

“Everyone spends life wishing to be someone else. Kids want to be teens, teens want to be adults, adults want to be kids again. Being an adult sort of sucks, to be honest…we’ve got to pay the bills, listen to you whine, make sure you get some kind of food and don’t grow up to be criminals…If something bad happens, it falls on us to fix it. That’s a lot of pressure.”

A couple nod. Teens ready to agree?

“You’re just getting a taste of that pressure. Believe me, the pressure increases…you ain’t seen nothing yet…” I continue, “There have been rough times for me. Ask your parents, maybe for them, too. Some of your parents work more than one job…they do a lot for you.”

I get a “That’s true.” I’m being heard.

“So, yes, if I want, I can leave here today, drink two six packs and hit the clubs. I can eat anything I want, say anything I want, and do anything I want. I’m way over 21. But do I?Nope. Because I’m an adult. The pressure’s on me. I work hard to be better just like I tell you to do. We’re all playing the same game. I’m just on a different level.” Smiles. Good sign.

“The truth is, most adults want to be teens again. Not me. I work hard at things I love and feel passionate about. I didn’t always–but it’s what makes the difference. Doing things that you love–especially work…it’s the secret to having a good life…being great. Does anyone master it? I don’t know…Life’s about being under pressure. The wrong kind of pressure crushes you. The right kind turns rocks into diamonds. Find positive people–good friends. Work hard. Do things you love. Be great–let pressure turn you into a diamond. Being a teen won’t be so bad…being an adult will be even better.”

They smile. I feel a little like Mel Gibson after the “Freedom” monologue, and I wonder how long they’ll remember…I go home and inform the six-year old that teenagers don’t want to be teens. He doesn’t believe me. He continues listing all the things he’ll do when he gets there.

Having won one intellectual battle, I sit down to do something purely adult. No swearing, partying, or candy. I make tea, and sit down to write. Heaven.

http://youtu.be/KWRPzdedeyY

Training The Boy to vacuum. I said, “If you’re a really good boy, you can vacuum.” It worked.