Wednesday Assorted Links

1. How Much Snow It Typically Takes to Cancel School in the U.S. Or how soft are you and yours? Specific Northwest, middle of the road (pun intended).

2. Speaking of maps. A Road Map for Reviving the Midwest.

“So the states of the Great Lakes region appear to be faced with a stark choice. It can . . . harness the modernizing forces of universities and immigration, setting itself up for revival. Or it can give in to the seductive impulses of nativism and hostility to higher education, and settle in for more decades of bitter, grinding decline.”

3. MoviePass Adds a Million Subscribers. Including a 25-year old Chicagoan who is digging it. You go gerl’, stretch those dollars.

4. Solar’s Bright Future is Further Away Than it Seems. In related news, in the upper lefthand corner, we’ve had more sun this winter than in any time in recent memory. Almost feels like Denver. To quote Kurt Warner after his SupBowl victory, “Thank you Jesus!”

5. Millennials are screwed. Not the 13 seniors in my January seminar. They’re going to thrive, by which I mean change the world for the better. #skilled #hardworking #sociallyconscious

6. Special Education funding is a priority this session. Shout out to Jeanette Byrnes who is an ace committee assistant this session. Working her butt off wrestling very large copying machines and providing sundry support for two committees. And gaining new respect for working men and women everywhere. Tangent: Jamie Pedersen used to swim at the Olympia Y during session. Bizarre open turns that I’m not even sure I could demonstrate.

Relational Teaching, Coaching, Parenting

While visiting my favorite first year college student in Minnesota in early November, I thought about the ones I teach in Washington State. My daughter’s friend was exiting their dorm as we were entering it. “How did your advising meeting go?” my daughter asked. “Pretty terrible.” “Why?” “She got pretty mad at me. Told me to come prepared next time. I had five different schedules written down, but I was just too scared to show them to her.”

Too scared.

Fast forward to the end-of-semester conferences I had with my writing students last week. One of them, Tori said, “I appreciated your stories because at first I was intimidated by you. I mean you said you did triathlons.” Academics intimidate students through formal titles, academic language, dress (including academic robes), and rituals such as convocation and commencement. And in my case I guess, by swimming, cycling, and running in succession.

Similarly, some coaches routinely intimidate athletes and some parents routinely intimidate their children. They argue that intimidation breeds fear and fear breeds respect. But when they have an athlete or child get in serious trouble they often ask, “Why didn’t you tell me?” The answer is obvious. Too scared.

Teaching excellence takes many forms. The intimidation—fear—respect model probably works well in the military, but I believe intimidation impedes learning because it contributes to students bullshitting  their way through school. Instead of developing authentic voices, students say and write what they think their teachers want to hear and read. The technical term is “grade grubbing”.

It’s not enough to say what my teachers-to-be always do, “I want to be more than just a teacher. I want to be a role model, someone students can come to and talk about not just class, but life.” Most students are so intimidated, any teacher that wants to be “accessible” has to be intentional about adopting a less formal, more personal professional persona.

One way to do that is to tell short, personal, self-deprecating stories. Ideally short, personal, self-deprecating stories that relate to the day’s content. Students aren’t interested in the details of their teachers’ personal lives. Save those for a friend or therapist.

Pope Francis is a great example of someone intentionally passing on a built-in pedestal. In part, his tenure has started so positively because he’s foregone the traditional perks of the position, including the Mercedes and posh Vatican digs. Compared to his predecessors, he travels and lives in ways that more people can relate to.

Most likely, my daughter’s friend couldn’t relate to her advisor for a litany of reasons. Reasons I doubt her advisor will explore. Many academics, just like some coaches and parents, prefer the view from their lofty perches. Teaching, coaching, and parenting is far less messy from above. Just not nearly as effective.

How To Get Your Child Talking About What’s Happening in School

I could buy Norway if I had a dollar for every time I sat down at dinner and mindlessly asked, “How was school?” only to hear “good” or “fine.” Stimulating four word conversation.

The older the student the harder it is to squeeze any meaningful info from them about what happens between 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Developmental psychologists say that’s as it should be. Elementary age children love having their parent(s) volunteer in their classroom. It’s a secondary students worst nightmare.

I know adolescents need some distance to become autonomous, independent peeps, but I still love the challenge of getting them to talk about their school day. Odds are I’ll never get the chance to interrogate prisoners of war. Here is some of what I’ve learned over the years.

The front “how was school” door is permanently locked. Tip-toe around to the side door and get way more specific. “What happened in Spanish today?” How did you do on your Math test?” What was Schaeffer up to today?” “What are you studying in history?” “Get your English paper back?” “Any interesting chemistry labs lately?” “What was the last film you saw?” “Anyone talk about Glee at lunch today?” “Who is going on the retreat this weekend?” “How’s Kaitlyn doing?” Is Noelle playing tennis this year?”

Notice that even those questions are of uneven quality. Ask my sixteen year old, “What happened in Spanish today?” and she’ll respond, “Nuthin’ really.” “How’s Kaitlyn doing?”? Rest assured, Kaitlyn is almost always “fine”. Instead, ask “what,” “if,” and “why” questions like these: What’s your favorite class these days? Why? If you only had to go to two classes which ones would you choose? Why? Whose your best teacher? Why? If you had to teach one of your subjects which one would you choose? Why? If you were the principal for the day, what’s one thing you’d change about your school? Why?

You can only ask specific questions if you’re engaged. If you’re on parenting auto pilot, forget the front, side, and back doors, no point really in even approaching the house. If you don’t know your child’s schedule, the names of their teachers, the names of the friends they eat lunch with, learn that stuff before going to sleep tonight.

There are exceptions to every rule. When inquiring about drinking and drugs, it’s often better to stay general because they won’t want to out any acquaintances or friends getting hammered. So I’ve found questions like “Much experimenting with marijuana going on?” or “Anyone you know get drunk lately?” yield more info than any “friend specific” drinking and drug-related ones.

At times the dinner table can be a conversation black hole. It’s the ultimate front door. Again, think side-door, back door, even windows. For example, I remember a few times, a decade or so ago, when Nineteen would ride her bike through the neighborhood while I ran. It was great, without realizing it probably, she talked continuously. Just now, Sixteen took the labradude for a pre-dinner walk. I should have joined her. Something about fresh air. Guaranteed I would have learned a lot more than I will at the dinner table.

Adolescents are living, breathing roller coasters, up one moment, down the next. Don’t press things when they don’t feel like talking. Give them a break and yourself. File away those brilliant, specific questions for later.

You don’t have to get any of these suggestions just right. Not even close. Your trying conveys care. Children peppered with questions often feign irritation, but deep down they always prefer being annoyed to being ignored.