Summer Loving and Learning

My 9 year old son is a different person in the summer. He goes to daycamp every day, and comes back happier, lighter and at peace in his spirit. We have spent this past school year with our son being so tense and anxious, looking to pick fights with us and his younger brother, defiance and anger often in his eyes. This was a tough year in our home. And through it all, we almost forgot who he really was. We started to believe that this angry, disengaged self was really him.

But here he is, coming home from camp every day, with a huge smile on his face, openness and peace in his eyes, and excitement to tell me all about his day. When he went to school, I would ask about his day, and he would just shrug and say, ‘It was fine’, in a voice that told me that it wasn’t fine. When I ask him about his day at camp, he can’t wait to tell me the stories and activities, the friends he has made, the funny encounters, and what he has learned. We love the summer.

But it begs the question, running through my head every day, “Why can’t school be more like camp?” It feels incredibly sad, and a missed opportunity, that at grade three, my son waits all school year for the summer. As someone who is passionate about learning (and works in the post-secondary sector), I am very concerned with his disengagement at school. I want my son to be excited and engaged with his learning, to be happy going to school and happy in his life. I want him to feel safe facing learning challenges that stretch him, to be creative and innovative in his thinking, and to make mistakes and learn from his mistakes. Is this too much to ask?

So what is it about camp, that is different from school, that captures my son’s spirit? A few elements come to mind:

  1. Active: camps are very active, kids are moving around all the time, instead of learning at a desk. People need to move. My son needs to move to learn, not because he has ADD but because people need to move. He is happier when he is able to be active, not at set times but throughout the day.
  1. Experiential: Hands-on experiential learning, like trying to sail a boat and learning about wind patterns, will be imprinted in memory because it is interesting and practical. This engaged learning is far more powerful than book learning that is remembered only for a test.
  1. Fun: Camp is fun! The songs, jokes and cheers. Doesn’t everyone want to have fun and enjoy life? Does school need to be so serious? Can’t learning be fun? I found this great article about a professor who doesn’t have exams or tests, but now reframes them as ‘celebrations’ – that is the spirit I am looking for!
  1. Connected: This is the game-changer for my son. My son makes an immediate connection to his counselors at camp. This does not happen at school. Based on this connection, he feels like he belongs and that he is safe. At the end of Day 1 at camp, he knows all of his counselors names. He talks incessantly about his camp counselors, and at the end of his week at camp, he is sad to say goodbye. I was pleasantly surprised when one evening, he gave up storytime before bed so that he could make all of his camp counselors snake puppets out of construction paper to give to them as presents (and he is NOT usually a crafty kid!). He selected which puppet should go to which counselor based on their personality. This connection just does not happen at school.

How hard would it be for schools to integrate these elements, to foster a (dare I say) fun, engaged and joyful learning environment? It would actually be very hard, because it would mean radically dismantling the culture of education that hasn’t changed much in 100 years. The culture of education that I am referring to, is where ‘learning’ takes place in desks and in classrooms, where kids line up when bells are rung, and fun is relegated to a once a year ‘fun day’ (listen to Sir Ken Robinson talk on this – he is very articulate and inspiring). Yes, dismantling this system of education would be hard. But for the sake of our children, it is time for change!

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The Power of Questions

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”- Rainer Maria Rilke – Letters To a Young Poet

I passionately found and read Rilke’s writing over and over and over again when I was a teenager and into young adulthood, and his words continue to resonate for me.

I have been thinking a lot about the power of questions lately, and our relationship to questions. My three year old is at the stage where he is constantly asking questions about everything – how does this work? Why do we do this? What does this mean? He spends his day questioning, and that is how he is learning so much about his world. I try to be patient and open with providing the most (and age-appropriate) response to all of his questions, as well as encouraging his curiosity.

But something happens when we get older – we seem to lose our questions. We become more comfortable with answers, and limited answers at best. We lose our capacity for questioning. Questioning is perceived in a negative way, and interpreted as defiance. Our natural ability to ask questions seems to disappear.

I teach at a college, and for one of my assignments, students are asked to come up with a research question about a social service topic that they care about. I thought it was an easy exercise, until I went into my classroom and my students looked at me like I had three eyes. Overall, they are challenged to develop questions that they want to think about and research. We now do extensive collective brainstorming to help each other with developing questions, but it doesn’t come easy. While most of my students can identify a topic that they are interested in, when I ask them: “What is it that you want to know or better understand? What questions do you have this topic?”, their mind is blank. They haven’t thought about questions.

I have realized that questioning can be used as a powerful pedagogical tool in my teaching. I try to encourage questioning as a way to challenge students to think differently and deeper. For example, once we have discussed and learned about a subject, I ask my students to come up with questions to look up online and dig deeper into their learning. I crowdsource my test questions, asking my students to come up with good questions that would effectively test their learning (at an understanding/not fact based level), and then I promise to use some of their questions on my tests (ironically, their questions are often harder/more complex than mine would be!). I find that while, at first students are uncomfortable with the task of creating questions, once we have done it together a few times, they enjoy the challenge.

Michael Wesch, in his amazing Ted Talk “From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-Able”,  speaks about gauging student engagement by the questions they ask when learning. The typical questions that we hear from students sadly show a lack of engagement: “What do we need to know for this test?”, “How many multiple choice questions will there be?” “When will my assignment be due?” etc… Wesch passionately states, “A good question is one that leads you on a quest.”

The quest is lifelong, through our ups and downs and windy paths alone and together. There will always be more questions than answers, and questions that arise from existing answers. In the words of Rilke, let’s ‘love the questions themselves’.

Inspired by the Internet

I remember being in my last year of high school and my father sitting me down in front of a computer screen, excitement in his eyes, saying ‘This is called the world wide web. It is going to change our world forever.” I remember feigning vague interest to be polite, but frankly, I didn’t believe his prediction. More than twenty years later, it is clear that my father was right.

Being on the young end of the Gen-X demographic, I am not a digital native and didn’t grow up online. Even among my age peers, I have been accused of being a luddite – I resist new technology and I have been slow to embrace this seismic shift in our society (ask my partner, who has been pushing me along for 15 years!). However, now that I have a smartphone and am connected to so many amazing folks through various social media (namely, Facebook and Twitter), I cannot imagine a day without the internet. And I am so thankful that it exists – I embrace the learning/teaching and collaboration/connecting that happens every day!

What I love most about the internet is the opportunity and experience of collaboration. Sharing and collaboration has been the cornerstone of what sets the internet apart from its ‘cousin’ screen – the tv. While the tv is one-way communication (we receive entertainment, news etc from it), the internet is (or has the potential to be) two-way collaboration. While we may use it as one-way consumers of entertainment or info, as a tv/book/magazine (ex. Netflix, youtube videos, articles etc), to me, the real magic of the internet is it being a tool for collaboration.

And to go one step further, for me, internet collaboration beats other forms of collaboration because it is open to the whole world, crossing all boundaries of geography, race, age, expertise, education etc. Collaboration through the internet has been termed ‘crowdsourcing’ (See Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crown is Driving the Future of Business by: Jeff Howe), which harnesses many people’s knowledge in order to solve a problem or create something. Another term used for this is ‘collective intelligence’, making the case that groups with their collective intelligence, have the capacity to far outperform individuals. And the theory behind the success of crowdsourcing is that diverse groups (and the internet is the epitome of diversity) outperform homogenous groups. As Howe argues in his book, ironically experts often experience greater barriers to problem-solving because their expertise narrows their ‘out-of-the-box’ abilities. Individuals with passion but without expertise come at the problem with a creative openness to fresh ideas.

The other critical factor of collaboration on the internet is that people are not being paid for collaborating. They are doing it for free. The motivation of a monetary reward is taken away, and that frees people to connect and collaborate based on their internal motivation – to make a difference in the world, to share their knowledge, to connect with others etc. Daniel Pink’s amazing TED Talk “The Puzzle of Motivation” illustrates what research already knows – monetary rewards stunt creativity, narrow thinking and limit the ability to effectively problem-solve.

The example of amazing crowd-sourcing internet collaboration that is most widely known is Wikipedia, where 31.7 million registered users have contributed their knowledge (with an estimation of 100 million total volunteer hours) and research has shown it to be just as accurate as expert-written encyclopedias. Here are a few other internet collaborations that I find incredibly inspiring:

  • Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choirs – Eric started the concept of a ‘virtual choir’ where people from all of the world join the choir, learn their part in a song and upload a video on youtube of themselves singing their part. The videos are all put together to make beautiful music and a virtual choir of thousands of voices singing together is unbelievably powerful! The most recent Virtual Choir was made up of 8,409 videos from over 100 countries in the world. You can read more about Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choirs here, and check out the newest song, Fly to Paradise, here.
  • Participatory mapping projects – technology has been amazing in providing an opportunity to crowd-source geographically, so that maps are created to share information quickly and effectively, and to visually represent our communities accurately in real-time. There are lots of examples of participatory mapping – globally, Unicef is on the cutting edge of using mapping as a tool for social justice (one example – youth mapping environmental risks in their communities). And at the grassroots community level, participatory maps are being created using Google Maps to map out and better understand the underground sharing economy.
  • Sharing science and experimenting together: Michael Rubinstein is a computer scientist who created a ‘motion microscope’ that captures and amplifies the smallest of movements, so you can for example, witness the pulse under someones skin or the constant movement that is taking place in our bodies even when resting. But for me, what is more amazing than his invention, is that he is sharing his code so that others can play around with his tool and innovate further. On his website, anyone can download their own video and virtually try out his microscope to see what motion magnification will do. Through this shared technology, people have seen their babies wiggling around in-utero, their friends move differently (when they are supposedly standing still), and even their pets heartbeat. And the innovation continues.

And last but not least, I am very inspired by the “Humans of New York” site/Facebook page, where a guy named Brandon decided to photograph people on the streets of New York, and he now has over 12 million followers on Facebook (including me). His reach is so far, that when he photographed Vidal, a middle school student from a dangerous neighborhood in Brooklyn who was inspired by his principal (who made him feel that he mattered), people were so inspired that a fundraiser raised $100,000.00 in 45 minutes and $1,400,000 in one month. What started out as a fundraiser for a class trip to visit Harvard (so students can expand their idea of their own potential), has now turned into a scholarship fund for students to go to Harvard! And of course, the first student who will receive this scholarship will be Vidal, who started this tidal wave of social media support.

Asset Based CD – The Importance of Identifying The Bright Spots in a Problem-Solving World

I was introduced to the concept of “Asset Based Community Development” back in 2003 when I got a job working at a busy drop-in for homeless people in Toronto. I had already worked in community work for several years, and was very committed to social change and social justice. The E.D. who hired me was passionate about community development, and told me that she wanted my work to come from a Community Development lens. I really didn’t know what that meant, but I searched out the core CD literature and read John McKnight’s paper “Mapping Community Capacity”. The Asset Based concept blew my mind and challenged me in my work – here I was, taking care of ‘those less fortunate’, literally feeding, sheltering and comforting homeless people who came to our centre hungry and in crisis. And John McKnight was challenging me to step back and facilitate change by building on the strengths in the community. So I did. My self-concept changed, from being a ‘social justice crusader’ to a ‘CD facilitator’, and I began to, tentatively at first, and then creatively, look for ways to honour and foster strengths. I asked the homeless community members about their strengths, and learned a lot. They were happy to talk and share, and of course, each one of them had unbelievable stories of strength. We did amazing work together in a short period of time – we started a group called HEAT, our ‘Homeless Education and Action Team’, made up of homeless and housed community members who wanted to work on changing the perceptions of homelessness. We started a program where we went into the schools to speak with students, all the way from grade 1 to high school, about the realities of homelessness. Students were shocked and transformed through these workshops. We organized an art show, to highlight the amazing art that was done by homeless community members in our neighborhood. The art show was unbelievably successful, in terms of attendance and art purchased as well as media attention. And the pride in our drop-in the days and weeks after the art show was unmistakable.

Fast forward 13 years, I am now teaching Community Development, and my students are really challenged by the “Asset Based” concept. I believe, and teach, that this concept is what sets Community Development apart from all of the other ‘helping’ fields, and stemming from the perspective, CD work is much more focused on facilitating change, leadership and process instead of ‘fixing problems’. When I teach ABCD (Asset Based Community Development), I show the wonderful TED Talk of Angela Blanchard, from Neighborhood Centers Inc. about changing our first questions. Her passion is deeply moving, as she challenges all of us who work in the community sector to change our question from “What is wrong? What is the problem? What are the gaps/needs?” to the questions: “What’s working? What’s strong? What’s right?” Her most important message is “You can’t build on broken.”

I think this concept is deeply unsettling and needs to be consciously considered, not just in the CD field, but to all of us. Everywhere we go, the focus is on fixing problems. Problem-solving is a buzz word these days, in our work places, in our home life and in our approach to day-to-day living. With all of our problem-solving, are we missing the assets, or as conceptualized by Dan and Chip Heath in their book “Switch”, the ‘bright spots’? Their concept is similar to ABCD, that innovations emerge from finding the ‘bright spots’. When we are faced with a problem, we are naturally steered towards analyzing the problem, spending our time and money on analyzing statistics and trying to understand why this problem exists. Instead, finding the ‘bright spots’ means looking for the exceptions to the problem. For example, even though 90% drop out of school, who are the 10% who don’t drop out and why? What is unique to those who are exceptions? What can we learn from these bright spots to understand and share?

Another model that shares the same spirit is the Appreciative Inquiry method, which is a business strengths-based consultancy approach to Organizational Development. Once again, in the business world, AI was born out of the realization that the problem-solving approach is limited and flawed. The AI approach poses strengths-based questions in a strategic change process, to vision and bring out the best in an organization.

I catch myself working from a problem-solving mentality. It is so easy, and prevalent in our culture, that I need to consciously challenge myself to find ‘the bright spots’. This is in all of my work – at my paid work, volunteer work and in my family/parenting work. What I tell my students, and what I need to tell myself as well, is that it doesn’t mean that we don’t acknowledge the needs/gaps/problems. Of course we do. We acknowledge it, and do what we need to do. But, then we move on. We are deliberate about how we spend our time and energy. To truly transform our communities, we need to dedicate ourselves to seeking out and fostering the ‘bright spots’. In doing this, I hope we can make the world a little brighter.

Sharing My Authentic Self

I embarked on this year of teaching with the goal that I want to be the best teacher that I can be. I spent some time reflecting on last years teaching experience, as well as reading and thinking over the summer on what teaching really is all about. As I was thinking about this, I came across an amazing article that struck a chord with me, “Spirit Guides” written by William Deresiewicz – see here (and thanks Ann, for sharing!).

“… students gravitate toward teachers with whom they have forged a connection. Learning is an emotional experience, and mentorship is rooted in the intimacy of intellectual exchange. Something important passes between you, something almost sacred.”

And I realized that while I am strong in teaching with academic rigour (challenging students to think critically and question assumptions, engaging with small group discussion and experiential exercises etc), I have left my real self at the door. And I cannot reach that sacred connection when I am not being real. I have been too focused on the content, the end result, the outcome of assignments and evaluations as proof of learning, and not focused enough on the process.

So, in the spirit of sharing my authentic self with my students, I have started out by taking two scary but wonderful actions over the past two weeks:

1. I sang for our student orientation.

Many people know that I love to sing, and there have been years in my life when you would rarely see me without my guitar. Singing is my authentic self. We were organizing for our new student orientation, and the suggestion came forward that I could sing (thanks Marilyn!). At first, I said an immediate no, as it felt ‘out-of-the-box’ and out of my comfort zone. However, I changed my mind and decided to go for it. I decided to sing the song “I Hope You Dance” (by Lee Ann Womack), which is about the importance of taking risks in life. It was captured on video, so here it is – http://youtu.be/ja7JqvTu7Z4.

Two small but amazing things came out of this. First, it inspired my colleagues to join in with their singing, and this was a fun and bonding moment. Second, it created an instant connection with my students. When I walked into my classes for the first time this week, they all commented on hearing my singing, and saying they were ready to dance. It set the stage for a creative and authentic teaching-learning connection right away!

2. I came out.

I have been out and proud for over 20 years and yet I felt incredibly stressed about coming out to my students. During this first week of lots of stressful situations to deal with, this stress outweighed everything else. It kept me up at night, as I replayed how I would say it. I didn’t tell anyone that I was going to come out, because I didn’t want anyone to question why it was important. Before my classes, I questioned myself – do I really need to do this? Does it matter? But I knew deep down, even though I was afraid, that this was incredibly important. The reason is simple: I am married to a woman, and my gay family is such a HUGE part of my day-to-day life, that if I can’t share this, then I cannot be authentic. Last year, I taught my students and never came out. I thought that I shouldn’t need to, that my personal life has nothing to do with my teaching. But, much to my dismay, I realized that I was closeting myself by censoring the words I used when I spoke about what I did on the weekend. And I shocked myself, when one student asked me about ‘my husband’, I didn’t correct him. Self-censoring how I speak about my life and my personal experience is as far away from being authentic as I can get.

What was I afraid of, before I came out? Not being liked by my students. Being judged and treated differently because of homophobia. Not being accepted. But I knew that I had to do it, for myself, and for any of my students who are gay and feel alone in the classroom. I knew there wasn’t a choice.

I did it in my ‘let me tell you a bit about myself’ beginning of the class. I spoke about my work experience, then when I am not working, I am singing or with my family. I shared that I was a ‘little famous’ because of my alternative family, and that my claim to fame (true story) is that Oprah’s producers called me to explore the possibility of our family coming on the Oprah show (in the end, they didn’t accept us, which was very disappointing, especially for my wife…). And what happened? No big reaction from the students, at least not in class. Some clear smiles from students, who felt happy that I shared this. And for me, a big weight was lifted off my shoulders, knowing that when my students ask me what I did on the weekend, I won’t need to self-censor and speak without using pronouns. I felt a deep sense of calm, knowing that I have taken small steps towards my goal of sharing my authentic self and forging that sacred connection with my students.

Teaching the Power Flower

This has been a disturbing month for racialized killings. Michael Brown, a Black teenager who was unarmed with his hands up, was shot and killed in Ferguson Missouri. Tina Fontaine, a 15-year old First Nations teenager, was mutilated and killed in Winnipeg. There is no denying that both of these deaths are intricately linked with deep, very real and very disturbing racism. As Andre Picard wrote in the Globe and Mail, “If non-native women were dying and disappearing at a proportionally similar rate, the number would exceed 20,000”. And it is well documented that young black men are stopped and carded by police at a much higher rate than the rest of the population.  Amidst all of this, the most pointed comment that I read recently on Facebook was someone who wrote “the white people on my feed are all Robin Williams and the black/brown people are all Ferguson”. This comment stopped me in my tracks, because it is so true. And whether we like it or not, we are very much influenced by what messages and articles that we receive (or don’t receive) through our Facebook feeds (or Twitter for that matter). And racism is continues to be a conversation that primarily takes place within racialized communities.

I don’t think that is any different from the other ‘isms’. Homophobia is primarily discussed by those of us who experience it, sexism, ableism etc. Let’s be honest – when is the last time that we able-bodied individuals have talked about our privilege and the barriers that exist for people who aren’t able-bodied? However, all ‘ism’s’ can’t be rated the same. Let’s be real. When you are killed for being a young Black man out of your home after the sun goes down, then racism trumps the other isms. I think death trumps all of the other consequences of discrimination: being poor, denied a job promotion, laughed at, treated badly, social isolation etc.

Why don’t we openly talk about the ‘isms’ (except the ones that affect us personally)? Is it because we are afraid to confront our own privilege, the gains we implicitly make (whether we want these gains or not) because we’re on the winning side of the coin? Is it because we feel guilty, or we worry that we will offend? We don’t talk about privilege, because the defining factor of privilege is that it is invisible (unless we consciously expose it) so we don’t have to acknowledge this as a critical factor in our success Privilege is only maintained when it stays invisible, and those who benefit from privilege deny its power.

Amidst all of this, I am getting ready to teach my college class. For one of my classes, I facilitate the Power Flower exercise with my students, which introduces the concepts of power and privilege and personally mapping your own social factors of identity with levels of power. Students are given a flower, and they identify ‘social/identity factors’ that exist in society where some people hold power and some do not (for example – race, gender, age etc). In the exercise, the students work in small groups to identify for each ‘petal of power’, who has the most power and they write that down in the inner petal (for example – for gender – men, for race – white, etc). Then I ask them to locate themselves on the flower privately (because some of this is very personal and they may not be comfortable to share – for example, sexual orientation, class etc). We then talk about power and privilege in society and I teach about how that impacts on peoples access (or lack of access) to opportunities, resources and engagement in society. I give lots of examples and statistics about how power and privilege is played out again and again, how power positions (government, business CEOs etc) are 99% white males, and how the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.

I remember doing the Power Flower in my first year of university, and it was transformative in challenging me to acknowledge and recognize my privilege, so that I could be able to work for social change and social justice. This exercise, along with reading the “Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” article by Peggy McIntosh, fundamentally transformed my perspective. I continued to actively confront my privilege as I discovered the amazing writing of anti-racist, feminist writers – Bell Hooks, Audre Lorde, Dionne Brand, Beth Brant, and Himani Bannerji. These writers, and others, carried me through my undergrad and graduate studies, constantly challenging me to confront my privilege as a white, able-bodied, (relatively) economically secure woman.

However, my college class is filled with students who ‘rate low’ on the power flower – most of my students are non-white, English is their second language, low-income, juggling family responsibilities, and many struggling with health and mental health issues. While it is critical for students to understand the concepts of power and privilege and social location, I worry about the underlying message. My experience of doing the Power Flower was realizing my privilege, and this understanding is core to my how I approach my work and my daily life. However, I wonder about the students who do the Power Flower and realize that they have very little power in society. Does this make them angry, and motivate them to work for change? Or does my emphasis on power in society mean that they feel more powerless and not able to change their situation?

And the question always inevitably comes up: What about Oprah? Oprah Winfrey would rate low on the power flower before she became famous – she is a Black woman and grew up dirt poor in terrible family circumstances. Oprah beat the odds, and is now the richest, most powerful woman in the world. Oprah also tells a different story, starting with her own personal life. Her story is that you can beat the odds, live your best life, and she continuously has examples of individuals who are amazing in triumphing over their struggles. I worry about this story too – that it is ‘pie in the sky’ and individualistic, that Oprah-esque/The Secret “If you try hard enough, you can be anyone and accomplish your dreams”.

Where is the middle ground? How will I approach teaching the Power Flower this semester? I think that I need to be upfront with my students the next time that I teach this, to show the different perspectives, and to give examples of how they can beat the odds and triumph. I think I need to be open and honest about my own personal perspective and my relationship with the power flower based on my position of privilege. This is a very personal story. While I believe it is critical for all of my students to understand the concepts of social location and power and privilege, I don’t want this to dampen their spirits or take their autonomy away. I want them to walk away from the lesson knowing that they, and we all, have the potential to be agents of change.

Learning and Reflecting through Soccer

In my family, with Spring and Summer comes soccer. I’m not talking about the World Cup, but I’m talking about our Wed evening ritual as a family to bring food, blankets and water bottles down to the grassy fields in the beach and to watch our 8 year old play his soccer game. I admit that I am a bit of a ‘soccer mom’. I played soccer my whole childhood, adolescence and even recreationally as an adult before I had kids and had to limit my extra-curricular activities. So I love the game. And I get really into it, yelling loudly (which both my partner and my 8 year old finds embarrassing) and I can feel my adrenalin pumping when my sons team is so close to scoring. But I also often feel VERY frustrated. Why? Because watching 8 year old boys play soccer can be very frustrating. If you have ever watched kids soccer, you’ll know why. Because the kids still just all go after the ball, without passing or thinking of their team. Often the ball just gets stuck in a mass of feet kicking.

In the process of attempting to ‘coach’ my son, I have realized that it is incredibly challenging to teach (and learn!) the concept of teamwork. Visually, by sitting on the sidelines, I have the ‘big picture’ view of what is happening (or not happening). I can see the dynamics – who is passing (or not passing) to who, who is communicating (or not communicating) to who etc. I can analyze the situation pretty objectively. However, its completely different for the soccer players, who are in the middle of it, and have one clear goal – to get the ball out of their side and into their opponents goal. This concept of teamwork seems to go right out the windown when they are out there in the action.

In my conversations with my son about soccer, I have also realized that there are so many amazing life lessons to be learned, through soccer as a metaphor. Here are a few that soccer has highlighted:

-Use the sides of the field. Choose ‘the road less travelled’. Strategically, while going straight down the middle might seem like the easiest way to score, the middle is crowded. Use the sidelines, to quietly get up the field and score! In my life, I learn from this: don’t always pick the obvious direction to move forward. Think strategically, and even if it takes a little longer to reach my goal, its worth it. Take the time to think, instead of just ‘plowing’ ahead.

-Communicate, communicate, communicate! While technical skills are important, the most important skill in teamwork is communication. Make eye contact, know everyones name to be able to call out when you are going to pass. Make a plan with your teammates and communicate this plan.

-Everyone matters in the team, and everyone has a critical role to play. Success is based on the whole team working together, and strategically utilizing everyone’s unique strengths. There is far too much emphasis and public recognition for the person who scores, but we need to recognize and celebrate the quiet team members who play a role in making the scoring possible.

And most important of all:

-The journey is far more important than the end result! My son and his soccer team played their best game ever against a very strong team, where they lost the game. Before that, my son’s team was on a winning streak, so everyone was disappointed because they lost. I wished that Morgan and his team would celebrate that game, where they played so well, communicated so well, and were a team (much more than in the other games). They were challenged, and in the challenge, was the learning and growing. And to me, that is what counts most.