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Friday, January 21, 2011

21 Things I've learned During Lunch

      I have learned the importance of making sincere and sustained efforts to interact with learners. I never met the superintendent of the school district where I received my diploma until he handed me the document on the day of my graduation. It may not be impossible to lead a learning organization without really knowing and understanding those you serve, but I’m certain it increases the odds of success when you experience a firm connection.
      There are multiple opportunities at Heatly to meet with learners of all ages, at all stages. They start with greeting everyone as they walk up the sidewalk of the school to enter the building each morning. Walking the hallways provides additional chances to speak with and listen to learners. Extracurricular activities also allow for engaging with learners. But, the most enriching experience thus far has been hosting different guests for lunch every day. Any learner at Heatly can stop by and sign up for lunch by meeting with the superintendent’s secretary and receiving the next available date on the lunch calendar.
      Here’s what I have learned from these power lunches.
1.   My age is somewhere between 24 and 92 – depending on whether the elementary children reference me with their parents or their grandparents, since those are the most common forms of measurement and comparison. High school learners exercise more tact and diplomacy and politely underestimate my age - especially as we near the end of the marking period.
2.   High School learners are far more shy and reserved about having lunch with the superintendent than the elementary age learners – partly due to their understanding and respect for the position, partly because it’s such a novel concept, and partly due to some confusion about whether it’s considered cool to have lunch in the superintendent’s office.
3.   All of the learners have dreams and hopes that they share in response to dialogue starters I pose to them – “What would you like to be when you grow up? What character would you like to be from any movie you’ve watched or book you’ve read? Where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world? What would you do if you had a magic wand?
4.   After listening to many different tales spun by those seated around the table (including me)  I have a better understanding of the maxim that experienced teachers offer parents – “We’ll believe only half of what the kids say happens at home if you believe only half of what kids say happens in school.”
5.   I have discovered that even the most confident appearing learners also reveal fears and anxieties once they feel comfortable to talk freely. Just as they all have dreams and hopes, they also possess worries and frustrations.
6.   No one shares my interest or faith in any Detroit professional sports teams.
7.    Kids may use dozens of different words to explain their perceptions and values, but when they describe characteristics of their favorite teachers the words are almost always synonyms of care or compassion.
8.    There are few things in life more uplifting than a child’s smile, laughter, or sparkle of
       an  eye.
9.   Despite nuances that offer some degree of distinction, there is really little that separates kids from one another. They’re much more alike than not.
10.  I can’t imagine, much less count, the number of slices of pizza I have seen during the power lunches.
11.  This Justin Bieber kid is pretty popular…
12.  Some sandwich combinations kids have created defy logic and strain reality.
13.  It's always a pleasure to see the look on someone's face when they discover a nice little
       note from a parent in their lunchbag.
14.  I never considered how many different food items could be covered with ketchup.
15.  During different gatherings over the holidays, adults were largely unimpressed with the collection of jokes I’ve acquired from my young lunch-mates. Proof that people lose their sense of humor as they age!
16. School isn’t bad, but sometimes it gets in the way.
17. I have more appreciation for the dedication and work of the custodians who clean the superintendent’s office each night, particularly the crumbs and spills offered as evidence of hosting active diners earlier in the day.
18. I now know almost everything about the Harry Potter series and the Twilight books – although I’ve never read any of them!
19. I am now so old that the television series I enjoyed in my youth are now apparently too old to even be featured on Nickelodeon, and thus beyond the scope of kids today.
20. Teenagers who once wanted to be celebrities, professional athletes, or rock stars now speak more realistically of their futures.
21. Finally, you can learn a great deal if you just show patience, respect, and a willingness to listen to kids instead of just hearing them - and you'll usually feel much better afterwards. Try it!!!

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