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Remembering Dad and Where I’m From

I came across this article today.   Dad died 5 years ago this September and today, October 20th would have been his 90th birthday. Every day I wonder what his thinking would be about our current political climate… and so much more.  He always had a way of saying just a few words that really made you think.  As I reread this I reconnect with so many values and beliefs he instilled in me without even trying.

Having grown up amidst campaign offices I can recall the excitement in the air of a possible win and the heaviness of an impending loss.  As kids we stuffed envelopes and spent late nights at the Wayfarer waiting for elections results to come in.  The idea that he changed from Republican to Democrat for the betterment of all speaks volumes about who he was and what he stood for.  He was more interested in the greater good than individual notoriety.  I wish there was more of this in our world.

So today, in your honor,  I will prepare your favorite birthday meal with some homemade mac and cheese with hot dogs on the side and of course ice cream for dessert.  Just so wish you were to to have it with us.

Miss you Dad.

 

Article about my father Don Madden, which appeared in Boston Globe, August 6, 1989

A GENIUS FOR THE RIGHT WORD

Publisher-Democrat strategist wins wide respect

By Peg Boyles, Special to the Globe, 1989

Manchester – A teddy bear of a man, grizzled, slightly rumpled, affable, with a distracted air and a habit of speaking in mumbled phrases– Don Madden seems an unlikely genius.

But business associates, friends and political insiders describe the 61-year-old publisher of the New Hampshire Business Review as a creative genius, especially recalling him as the brilliant political strategist whose media and advertising work were substantially responsible for getting a string of New Hampshire democrats elected to high office from the early 1960’s through the late 1970s.

These associates say Madden’s accomplishments have been obscured by his pronounced distaste for self-promotion, and that others have taken credit for many of his ideas.

“Don Madden is an under-stated, self-contained, non-assertive, brilliant guy,” says Bill Dunfey, co-founder of the Dunfey hotel chain (now the Omni) vice-president of the Dunfey Group and a leading Democratic activist.

Dunfey and Madden met at the University of New Hampshire in the early 1950s, when Madden edited the college newspaper and Dunfey was writing his thesis for his master’s degree on how to organize the state’s Democratic party.

Dunfey says of Madden: “He’s a brilliant conceptualizer, a quick study who can listen to what you’re trying to do and come up with a simple, straightforward idea that cuts through the complications.  It doesn’t sound like much when he first talks about it, but when he gets it down on paper, you suddenly see it’s far superior to anything else you’ve got.  Don’s so quiet and non-aggressive, so different from other political consultants. New candidates never liked him; other ad agencies never knew what to make of him.”

Republican strategists also came to respect Madden. “He understands real people.  He’s very good at analyzing the public mood,” says Marshall Cobleigh, former speaker of the State House of Representatives who later served as aide to Gov. Meldrim Thomson.  “He’s highly respected in the business.  You know you’re in trouble when he’s on the other side.”

In fact, none of the nearly 30 people interviewed concerning Madden had anything negative to say about the publisher-political strategist.

Raised in Antrim, Madden received a degree in English from UNH in 1956, interrupting his studies between 1952 and 1956 to serve as an officer in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict.

After a brief stint as a reporter for the Rutland (Vt.) Herald, he returned to Hillsborough in 1957 to start a weekly newspaper, the Tri-Town Yankee.

“It was a Republican newspaper,” Madden says.  “I was a Republican then.  I’d grown up in a Republican environment – in those days, to be a Democrat was to be a clown.”

 

Strong competition

     In fact, his decision to join forces with the struggling New Hampshire Democrats was derived less from partisan zeal than from “my strong belief that the state was hamstrung with a one-party system.  We need strong competition among political ideas.  If I lived in Massachusetts today, I’d probably be a Republican.”

Madden sold the Hillsborough paper in 1960 and worked as a news editor for Boston radio station WBZ for a few months before accepting an invitation from Dunfey to run the media campaign for Romeo V. Champagne’s unsuccessful 1961 run for Congress from New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District.

Meanwhile, Madden was pursuing his dream of starting a Manchester newspaper to provide some counterpoint to the dominance of the ultra-conservative Union Leader.

“It’s difficult to overstate the power of the Union Leader in the days before TV, when radio stations were weaker and there were many fewer print publications,” he says.“It wasn’t so much {the late William} Loeb’s twisted editorials as the paper’s absolute power to determine which issues would even get talked about.  Very few decision-makers ever realized the full extent of that power.”

Madden pulled together $50,000 from 10 investors and started the Manchester Free Press in1961.  He ran the paper on a shoestring budget, writing news and editorials, editing and selling advertising himself.  After he married in 1963, his wife, Mary Lee, handled all the design and paste-up work.

“The best thing I had going then was my column, `The Black Cat.’ It was political gossip, written in a whimsical style.  I offered it half-price to 27 dailies around New Hampshire if they’d agree to fill out a weekly questionnaire.  I’d ask for any good local stuff they had, get them to poll local decision-makers on issues of statewide importance.”

 

Column widely read

     At one point, Madden says, the column had a combined circulation of 60,000, rivaling that of the Union Leader.

Though his paper’s circulation gradually climbed to 10,000, the Free Press never got off the ground in the advertising marketplace dominated by the Union Leader, Madden says. Lack of secure financing, utter exhaustion and the feeling his  doing little to undercut Loeb’s hegemony forced Madden to fold the Free Press in 1965.

Trading on his knowledge of the state’s press, politics and people, Madden opened a small advertising agency, Madden Associates. All along he had been doing political work for Democrats – Tom McIntyre, John King, Ollie Huot and others – and through his agency handled commercial accounts.  Madden says that for the next 14 years, “I made a lot of money from politics.”

“With McIntyre, we were the first to put 90 percent of our budget into radio.  My reasoning was simple: In a newspaper, people have to seek out your ad.  With radio, there’s no escape.

“I told McIntyre,`Use Loeb as your backboard. Don’t kowtow to him.’ So we blasted him at every opportunity.  The only print media we used was the Union Leader.  In those days they ran front-page advertising and we poured money into the front page, mostly taking editorials from other newspapers and running them as political ads.”

 

Successful radio ads

     Observers agree that Madden’s most significant achievement in politics was the series of radio ads widely credited with sparking voters to elect John Durkin over Louis Wyman for the U.S. Senate in 1975.

“I remember the first time I met Don.  He seemed like your typical New Hampshire Yankee, like most anyone you’d meet deer hunting,” says Durkin who came to regard Madden as “the most brilliant political strategist in New Hampshire, without equal in either party.”

“Louis Wyman was the toughest Republican of them all. People thought he was unbeatable,” says Durkin. “Well, Louis had had a cocktail fund-raiser in Washington, and the list of attendees read like a who’s-who of corporate America.  Those were the days of the Arab oil embargo.  There’d been hikes in food prices.  The state had 8 ½ percent unemployment.

“Don’s most memorable ad had a smooth voice speaking over the tinkling of a cocktail piano and the murmur of voices. `Guests at a recent cocktail fund-raiser for Louis Wyman included representatives of the following companies …’ You’d hear the sound of a cash register opening, and the voice said, `These companies don’t have much to do with New Hampshire, but they sure have a lot to do with the price of gasoline, bread and sugar.’

“The ads were devastating. We carried every area that had a local radio station,” says Durkin.

As the 1970s drew to a close, Madden faded from politics. “When McIntyre lost and then Hugh Gallen, I felt we’d come to the end of a cycle,” Madden says.

He moved back into publishing in 1979, buying a failed monthly tabloid called the New Hampshire Business World.  Madden changed the name to the New Hampshire Business Review, and in typical workhorse style, he and his wife ran the paper alone the first few years.

The first year, the Business Review appeared monthly and grossed $75,000.  Today, Madden’s company, Business Publications, Inc., publishes the biweekly Business Review and the slick monthly magazine Manchester – with circulations of 15,000 and 14,000 respectively.  The company also handles about 30 special projects annually and is a $2 million operation with 25 employees.

Though Madden is nervous about the recent economic downturn, he has plans to introduce “a major new regional publication” early next year.

Response to the Business Review has been enthusiastic among New Hampshire business people.

“The paper has made an enormous impact on New Hampshire. It was a pioneering effort – prior to it, there was no statewide business publication, no comprehensive coverage of New Hampshire business news,” says Mark Bodi, the former vice president of retail banking at Numerica Savings Bank.  Bodi recently became head of corporate relations for the Manchester advertising agency of O’Neil, Griffin Associates.

“Don combines a realistic amount of hard hitting business news with a vehicle for companies to promote their products and services,” Bodi says.

Much as he disliked the organizational side of politics, Madden says he hates “the business of business.  Here I am bogged down managing three sales forces, turning up new accounts, chasing accounts receivable.  I wish I were bigger so I could afford to hire someone to do what I do. What I like to do is talk to people, write, come up with ideas.”

Madden still prefers keeping his profile low.  “It’s not modesty,” he says adding “I like to see things work.  I don’t care if I see my name in the paper.”

Madden’s views on N.H. issues

On the New Hampshire economy: “It’s a real phenomenon. Everything has ground to a halt. Suddenly everyone has stopped spending, even though we’ve got the lowest unemployment in the country.

“One of the worst things the banks ever did is come up with the idea of home equity loans.  When times are good, people spend a lot; then they’ve locked into payments for all those years.  Add that to five-year car payments, the high cost of housing.  People are spent up to the hilt.

“The banks did everything they tell their customers not to do. They overbuilt a whole market. Here they are, building $200,000 and $300,000 houses when here’s a tremendous pent-up demand for $100,000 houses. We’ve got to do something to stimulate construction of low, and moderately priced housing.  It hurts the whole system when you start shutting so many people out.”

On broad-based taxes:“The voters of New Hampshire do not want a sales or income tax.  The voter knows the new tax won’t lower his property tax, and it won’t go to pay for the services the politicians says it will.  Instead, it’ll pay for 200 new jobs in Concord and 500 pet projects on hold in the Legislature.  Being against taxes is like a religion here.  You can’t beat it.  It is going to take a monumental crisis to change the state’s tax structure.”

On growth: “Controlled growth is a nice-sounding phrase, but it doesn’t mean much.  I once had a theory on controlling growth.  You’d simply make it against the law ever to widen a street, road or highway. If you wanted to increase traffic flow, you’d have to build a parallel road.  Of course that didn’t happen and it’s too late now.”

On politics: “All campaigns should be three sentences long. Anchor your campaign in two or three simple issues, hammer at those and let the rest fall where they may.”

On New Hampshire Democrats: “Republicans have forever gotten elected on three things: No new taxes, local control and the mystical quality of life.  Democrats say, `If that’s what Republicans are for, we’ve got to be for something else. We’ve got to go out and educate the voters about what they really need.’

There are a dozen good issues out there that can elect Democrats. Take something as simple as parking meters, which have nothing at all to do with parking, but everything to do with raising revenue.  Parking fines are really getting under   of the average voter.

“And how come with all this quality of life, women are no longer safe in shopping center parking lots?  Why don’t we have public access to our lakes anymore?  Why has the cost of housing gotten so far out of reach for the average wage-earner?  Child care, elder care, these are all good issues for Democrats.  Democrats should be getting themselves elected on things that people want.  Instead of lecturing voters and trying to educate them on what they should want.”

Madden’s thought on politics

On the Romeo Champagne campaign for Congress, 1961: “We did something unusual in that campaign.  We put the AP wire in at campaign headquarters, so we knew in advance what the papers would be carrying that day.  That gave us a tremendous advantage, being prepared with a response instead of having to react to what we read in the papers.”

On the McIntyre campaign for U.S. Senate, 1962: “My approach was always to take a simple idea and present it in a way people could understand.  For instance, with McIntyre, we had a woman taking a dress out of her washing machine to find it had disintegrated.  Then a voice said, `This wouldn’t happen today because of the new law that requires manufacturers to print washing instructions on the label of every garment.’ Tom McIntyre wrote that law.  Ever notice the way people who take care of the small things have a way of doing the big things well?”

Lyndon B. Johnson write-in {During the New Hampshire presidential primary of 1968}: “LBJ refused to campaign.  Here he is running for president, but we have no candidate, no one to see, hear, touch.  We have to have some sort of symbol of him, something for people to do.  I got this idea of the pledge cards – having people sign a card promising to write in his name on the ballot.”

The issue became a political embarrassment.  “But the incredible thing is that even though the Johnson people publicly disavowed the whole thing, the White House used to call my office every day if the cards didn’t arrive on time.  “What can the president possibly want with them?” I’d ask, and his aide replied, `What can I say? The man likes to sit and fondle ‘em.’

“Johnson ended up with 49 percent of the vote to 41 percent for {Eugene J.}  McCarthy. The press called it a loss, but I think it was a monumental win.  He won the popular election never having been in the state.”

On the 1978 Hugh Gallen/Meldrim Thomson campaign: “Mel Thomson’s support of Seabrook was the one time Thomson was on the wrong side of a consumer issue.  We hammered that issue and said “If Seabrook comes on line, your electric rates will double or triple.  It was very effective.”

School Shootings: A title I never wanted to write.

I wake yet again, with a heavy heart as I think of all of the children, all of my dear friends, colleagues, young moms, dads and yes, even myself who will walk into a school building today. I have to be honest, each time there is a school shooting I become hyper aware of the brick and mortar I am entering. I look left, I look right, I take a deep breath and hope that you asking for my ID behind the locked doors is enough to keep us all safe. I try to take solace in the fact that so many of YOU are in the building already and that on this day we will all remain safe. It is a risk and one that becomes more and more immediate and, one that is absolutely absurd, one that I will continue to take, as will all of you.

I come from an age where public school buildings were just that, open to the public. You could drive up, walk into the office at any time of the day with no buzzers, no ID, no nothing. The freedom of those times is not lost on me. That freedom is what we must work our way back to, but as my Dad said on 911, “things are forever changed”. Boy was he right. I just never knew it would continue to get worse and worse. As my career shifted and changed and I moved from one school to many I slowly saw this change of “security” as I encountered one locked door after another. My initial and lasting thoughts are of sheer frustration. I hate the idea of kids behind locked doors. I am annoyed at having to “prove” myself every time I wanted to enter as someone who would do no harm. I know I “should” be happy that these procedures are in place, but I am not. At every turn we lose one right after another and all in the name of fear. And my greatest fear is that we will continue to move in this direction, arming teachers, installing metal detectors and officers before we look at and address the root of the problem. It is time to say NO!

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I started watching The Handmaid’s Tale, adapted for a TV series from a book that I read in college, a book that remains torn and tattered on my shelf from those days in the 80’s when I read it and reread it, in sheer disbelief. For me it was one of THOSE books that haunts you for life. The TV adaptation is well done as it is put in more modern times, but to be honest, it frightens me because all of the characters are saying what we are saying about what is going on in this world right now. “They can’t DO this” shout the woman as they lose their bank accounts, their jobs, their livelihood as they drink a bottle of wine together after being escorted out of their jobs one after another.

the handmaid's tale

I flash to my book group where we all discuss the absurdity of what is happening in this country and yes, we are drinking our wine and agreeing with each other, but I can’t help but think about what is going on behind closed doors and how, honestly, powerless I feel. When did WE become so powerless? I have done the marches, I have written and sent my postcards, and I will continue to work to get the right people in office …but to what end? It just doesn’t feel like enough. It NEVER feels like enough. We KNOW Russia intervened with the election and still…NOTHING happens….yet.

In walk these amazing kids from Stoneman Douglas High. For the first time since November (you know which November I mean) I have begun to unearth some hope rising inside of me. It has to be THIS generation with fire in their bellies, that (with millions of 18 year olds who will be eligible to vote this year) need to show up. They did not show up at our last election, disenfranchised with the process and rightly so, but ultimately action is more effective than inaction.

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At the same time I feel the need to apologize to all of those generations younger than me that we did not do an adequate job at keeping this country united and safe for all of you.

At a local elementary school this week I was about to have class when a 5-minute emergency staff meeting was called. It was to address the upcoming scheduled walk out in March for 17 minutes; one minute for each child gunned down in Florida. As this is an elementary school they were working to make sure that, if teachers wanted to participate then that was their right and they would work to make that happen. What I appreciated even more was the fierce message that we must protect our kids and that although some may know about what is going on, that many others may not and that protecting their innocence is of utmost importance. While I appreciated this open dialogue I was once again saddened that this had to be a topic. Period.

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We chose a career, many of us out of passion; one that was fascinating to us as we work to learn to understand the inner workings of children: the minds and hearts of these little beings that come into our care each day. The kids we each take home with us, the ones that we mull over as we are in the shower, driving to school, the ones who perplex us, the ones who hug us. We are in the trenches each and every day trying to make a difference but the distractions of the world are slowly taking over keeping us from doing what we need to do. Our schools are far from perfect, but the right to an education is what is at stake here.   We NEED to preserve this institution to ensure a fair and equal education for ALL in SAFE spaces.  2018-01-25-protest-get-up-stand-up-for-your-rights-400-300Not just the rich and the famous and the lucky, but also the poor, the unknown and the not so lucky. We are so much better than what plays out every day on the media. We just are. And fighting for the rights of each individual is just something we have to do. There is no other choice when you sit in a 3rd grade classroom and watch a teacher read aloud to a group of students who are enthralled with the reading of Wonder, as they discuss empathy, caring, understanding and what it means to be an outcast or when you see a kindergartener make her own book that she is dying to share with you or when you see a table of first graders giggling at Captain Underpants together or when you see 6th graders confer with their teacher on the Civil Rights movement giving voice to  how they are personally discriminated against. This all matters. What you do matters. Don’t forget that in the wake of all that tries to undermine that.

Tweeting is For the Birds

I confess, I do not tweet and I am (finally) at peace with it.

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There, I said it. I said what many are thinking and perhaps, afraid or just not wanting to say.  I am a twitter fail.  (unless you are an avid tweeter and while I respect your choice to tweet.   I just don’t get it!)

Last week, Learning Through Teaching (LTT) hosted Lester Laminack at the University of New Hampshire.  As his presentation began he made several references  as to what could or could not be tweeted.   And while I found myself completely engaged in Lester’s talk, I also found myself suddenly wondering, “Should I be the one tweeting?” As the director of LTT, I realized the obvious answer would be yes and so I took my eyes off this belly-laughing, engaging talk and put my head down and into the light of the eternal phone flame. Instantly I felt the glow illuminate my ever reddening face as I became self conscious that I was not paying attention.  I felt like that kid in the back of the class who is interested in anything and anyone but what is going on in the room.  Onward I flew.   I mean doesn’t everyone else NEED to know how awesome this is and how much fun they are missing?

Image from Wired

So I attempted to login to twitterdeck so that I could tweet not just as me (as I have nary a few followers because, remember, I DON’T tweet). So I logged in only to discover that it was the wrong account. As I found myself, once again, in password hell (a place I frequent much too often for anyone’s comfort) I felt myself surging with heat of frustration (and hot flashes) as I threw off my sweater and thought, DAMMIT, this is NOT going to beat me!

I turned to my colleague next to me, a younger version of who I used to think I used to be, and she looked at me, shrugged and said, “I don’t do twitter.”  She owned it. She was not apologetic.  And in that moment I realized  it was NOT my age

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50 year old Tweety Bird. Image by flickr

that kept me from this world of tweeting fowl, but my own personal dislike for a platform that honestly, I just don’t like! And I have tried people. I really have tried over and over and over, over the years. I keep thinking it is like that one book that you pick up over and over but you just can’t get into it. I give myself permission to abandon that book with ease…so why the hell should I struggle with abandoning this virtual platform that I just don’t like or fully get? Well, this day I granted myself permission.

So I put my phone down as everyone around me threw themselves into stitches of laughter and I realized I had missed it. Not only had I missed that moment, but I had also missed every moment since I turned my face from Lester to the almighty phone that seems to rule me and others in more ways than we ever thought possible.

And as I looked around I saw that I was in a room filled with teachers, respected colleagues and friends who were NOT tweeting. We were the anti-twitter group. dare-to-be-different-t-shirts-men-s-premium-t-shirtEveryone was engaged, laughing, listening and I thought to myself. Screw this! Isn’t this what everyone is complaining about? People on their phones?  But seriously, what message are we sending here? Is it actually possible to tweet and be completely present? One might argue that it is akin to taking notes. I would argue it is not because the ultimate purpose of the tweet is to see how many responses you can get and to see if you make the leader board for what is trending. This mechanism asks you to look back and back and back at your phone to see what others are tweeting and well, I have to ask, WHAT about the person in the room with you that is presenting? If one is trending virtually, what is happening in reality? And really, does anyone REALLY care who is not there? I ask this with respect and a niggling that we are caught up in a world that is not real. If we trend does that make the work better? Does that make what is happening in real life more or less real?  Are we ever truly present if we base our worth on what is happening elsewhere and virtually no less?

Now I am sure you are thinking, what a  curmudgeon, but I am not, at least not completely!   Part of my job is to upkeep our UNH LTT facebook page ( Learning Through Teaching) and I will tell you, it is not a task for the feint of heart. Content balanced with photos balanced with reliable sources and messages and articles and charts and graphs that align with our philosophy.  I enjoy doing it but I do often wonder…to what end? At least in Facebook the post will be there for the entire day and will not get buried in all of the other tweets that embed my feed. I can see who likes and responds and perhaps it is the speed of FB that I prefer. Tweeting seems so fleeting because it is.

So where does this leave me? I am about to attend the annual NCTE conference where twitterers will abound and I will be in the minority. I could go as I did last year and hide my bad relationship with twitter and pretend to tweet as I  play Toyblast or even glance at my twitter feed only to wonder if I have chosen poorly as the other sessions seem to be so much more interesting.  But are they really or is it just the outward projection of what is being put out there?  If I am so engaged in what is happening everywhere else at the conference I wonder,  am I  missing out?   Have I  made the wrong choice?  Am I not making the best of my time?  It is stressful.

No.  I will go, notebook and pen in hand and put the phone in the pocketbook for safe keeping and come out of the closet and admit that I choose NOT to be glued to my phone and at the mercy of the trending tweets.   I will sit in my sessions, look straight at the presenter and remember that we are not all birds that flock together because in my humble opinion, tweeting is just for the birds.

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Break the Silence with Compassion

In the wake of the election I find myself at odds with everything I thought I knew… I grieve with so many and wake everyday to a face palm moment

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Photo Credit:  Wikipedia

as each new appointee is named. The idea of going so far backwards in human rights, the disregard for the constitution, and utter disbelief that the behavior displayed by this man child is acceptable to ANYone hangs heavy on me each and every day.

I have noticed a shift in my graduate classes in schools, where there is a herd of elephants in the room and people who want to talk and others who don’t.  And while my first inclination is to let the conversation “go there” my next is to not. Silenced are many in the group. A group that has been together for so long…some feel empowered to speak passionately while others not so much and then you think, perhaps some people in this room voted for Trump and so we move forward with our polite conversations about conversations.

And so out of respect we do not go there…but I wonder is that the right way to go either? I realize that my classes that are largely based on discussion, heck two of them are focusing on classroom conversations and discussion, but they are stilted and without the ease and flow of yesterday. We do not trust each other anymore. We are unable to discuss anything that is disagreeable. The art of conversation seems lost or at least  dying when it comes to anything that is the least bit antagonistic.

I have lived with a Republican my entire married life and while this has been a challenge, ultimately I have respected that he has different opinions and viewpoints. And as much as I didn’t like it I had to respect it. As I have been saying from the day that man threw his hat in the ring, “THIS IS DIFFERENT”. And what I see happening every day in schools proves just how completely different it really is.  They are calling it the Trump Effect, yes it even has a name.

Stories of kids marching in to school the day after the election chanting, “Build that wall, build that wall” while others screamed out, “hang her” and “assassinate him”. Teachers are ill equipped to deal with this especially when the word from above is to not engage in discussion about the election and its’ results. (Can you even imagine NOT discussing the election…not even in Social Studies??) Teachers with election hangovers, like us all the day after, were left speechless at the behaviors going on around them. Silencing our teachers or silencing anyone is the first sign that oppression is winning.

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones

“Sticks and stones may break my bones

But words could never hurt me.”

And this I knew was surely true

And truth could not desert me.

But now I know it is not so.

I’ve changed the latter part;

For sticks and stones may break the bones

But words can break the heart.

Sticks and stones may break the bones

But leave the spirit whole,

But simple words can break the heart

Or silence crush the soul.

by Herb Warren

“silence crush the soul” this phrase haunts me as I sit and listen to these stories that make their way to me after class and in the hallways because these teachers need to talk.They NEED to talk and to let kids know that these behaviors are NOT acceptable and so that is where we begin. We begin by addressing the behaviors to create a safe environment for all of our kids and teachers.

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Photo Credit:Business 2 Community

I use Delta’s letter to its employees as an example of how to NOT be silent, but to speak out in volumes about how we need to be better than this.  (See here for Delta Letter) Delta took a stand on civility (that had nothing to do with taking a political side) and that is exactly what we need to do. We need to take a stand and not normalize any of this behavior because it is not normal! We need to call alt-right out for what it is, White Supremacy. We need to be truthful about what is happening right in front of our eyes and use our voices to let kids know what is acceptable behavior in school and what is not.  These kids are scared.  They are experiencing things we never experienced growing up.  They are anxious and nervous and it is our job to help them deal in any way that we can.

We can do this without addressing politics because this is NOT politics as usual. THIS IS DIFFERENT.

This is Lord of the Flies gone awry.  “Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.” …Lord of the Flies.

We have come so far past this and choosing silence is choosing to not be a part of the solution. So I urge you to speak out, speak to each other, speak to your students about what is acceptable and what is not.

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Photo Credit:  John Bryan

One man is not the role model…we are all role models and we can do better. We can do so so so much better. And part of that is giving our students a voice, a voice that allows them to speak with confidence and the knowledge around what they are saying instead of jumping on a bandwagon of chanters and not even understanding the implications or meanings of what they are saying.  Teach them debate, points and counterpoints.  Teach them to speak with grace and compassion and hope and understanding.  Teach them to listen with their whole bodies to each other.

It is time to work with compassion, not just empathy. Empathy is feeling for others, compassion takes that one step further where you feel and then you take action. So with compassion we must move out of our grief and take actions every single day that move us away from the hatred that is running rampant in the hallways, on the streets and in between. We do have the power in each moment, in each interaction and those moments matter more than ever before.

And so I call on myself and for each of us to take action and make it known that we are in this together, regardless of how you voted, we are in this to create within the walls of our schools, our homes, our towns, our states, safe places and spaces where everyone is accepted regardless of race, religion or sex.

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Photo Credit: charterforcompassion.

Education is a big part of the answer. The more we know the more we realize how much we don’t know and in that we find humility and the ability to live from a place of compassion, together, and in peace.  Our jobs as educators is bigger than ever here and we can help ourselves and our kids through this…we can.  One moment, one child, one interaction at a time and while I know it will be painful the truth is that we got this.  WE CAN DO THIS!  We have no other choice.

Thank you for listening…

Learning Through Teaching

“We believe that teachers develop professionally through meaningful inquiry and collaborative opportunities with colleagues, characterized by sharing observations of students, exploring instructional possibilities, and reflecting on their growth as learning teachers and teacher-leaders.”  from The Teacher You Want to Be

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For almost all of my life, my passion for education has been undying. I loved what I did with great purpose and a determination that I can only describe as innate. I always believed I was born to teach. It was just that simple.  I was forever thankful for such a powerful force in my life, especially as I watched others struggle to find their place in the work world. I felt lucky to know what it was I was here for and for all of the meandering paths to take me there.    I would kill for this work, but  now I fear the work may be killing me.

You see, ever since my very first teaching gig, I have  had a community of forward thinkers around me. It started when I was an intern and worked at a cluster school where there were several of us lowly interns, working for free, taking graduate classes and trying to make ends meet financially. We bonded often at the local watering hole in the  afternoons for Happy Hour because there were free hors devours (dinner to us!) and one-dollar beers. We would spend hours debriefing our weeks and mulling over our common and uncommon experiences. The laughter, the camaraderie and the connections were invaluable.

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Photo Credit:  Designsolutions

My first job landed me in the middle of nowhere New Hampshire in the midst of the most welcoming and fabulous team of teachers where working together was just the way it was.   I needed to learn to teach and they were there to help me grow and learn.  We grew up as Mother’s together.   Our strength in our numbers was undeniable. Just the opening of the door meant I could go to the bathroom any time of the day! They are still some of my nearest and dearest friends to this day.

My next position was in Plaistow where I instantly felt alone and missing my community, so I listened intently at staff meetings and in the teachers room and then there was an opportunity to take a graduate course called Learning Through Teaching.  It was held at the  Pollard School and it is there that I really started to get to know people. I loved the meetings after school where we wrote, shared our writing and our thinking.  I found my peeps and then I went after them, moving rooms and finding ways where we could work together. We too bonded in and out of school and there I found some of the funniest people I have ever met who I don’t see often enough!

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Photo Credit: peeps

My last 15 years at UNH, that community of support ebbed and flowed in terms of numbers, but was unwavering in it’s consistency. One Friday a month we would all gather at someone’s house to talk things through over coffee, tea and some kind of breaking of bread. We read, we wrote, we listened, we responded. Participants would come and go, but the core was steadfast and true and at that core was  Louise and Newkirk, and now they have both retired. (Well, Louise will officially this month anyway! Congrats to you my friend!)

As I move forward in this work I realize that I need to make, create and establish this kind of consistent community with new people. I am not as good on my own as I am with others who talk the talk, ask the questions and keep us all current in our work. I NEED this as I need air to breathe and without this air, I am not in good enough shape to keep on going it alone….and that is what I mean by killing me.

“I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.”
From:  To Be of Use by Marge Piercy

Learning Through Teaching was born on the foundation of teachers gathering and having professional conversations. It was Jean Robbins (see blog on Jean) who approached Tom Newkirk (see blog on Newkirk) and thus Learning Through Teaching was founded.

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Louise and Tom

Enter Louise to run it and grow it for 20 years with me by her side for 15 of those years and it has been an amazing run, but it is not over.  If connectedness is this important to me then the work we do is even more important than I even knew. In LTT, we do just this. We help teachers grow professionally in a safe environment where we read; we write and have those conversations regularly within the walls of their schools while earning graduate credits.  I still believe it is the most powerful and individualized form of Professional Development.

 

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DMS LTT Group, Photo Credit:  Mark Holt- Shannon

So what is next?  It is time for the next generation of forward thinkers to gather and keep on keeping on.   We need ways to extend ourselves beyond the brick and mortar that has so many feeling constrained and at the same time to stay there and support teachers as they move and change in their thinking and practices. It is time to breathe life into and grow again;  to create a new garden of support, to blossom, to bloom, to create more beauty together.

 

If you have ever been a part of Learning Through Teaching I would love for you to share your experiences here (in the comments section or e-mail me directly at tomasen@comcast.com) , to tell your story of what it was like for you to be a part of a learning community and how it helped you in your teaching. As we look forward, it is important to look back, to think about what works well and what might need to be changed and to do that we need all of you and your ideas, your questions, your thoughts.

My hope is to continue interviewing, thinking and writing about Learning Through Teaching to uncover the truths about what has kept it going for so long and to keep it in schools far into the future.

For more information on Learning Through Teaching, see here: UNH Learning Through Teaching Professional Development.

 

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Photo Credit:  HGTV

 

40 Day Challenge is on!

I woke up this morning with my blog on my mind and I said Write Girl Write! It has been so long since I have been moved to write.  That was until this past week where I took on a new challenge in my life, something to practice a daily meditation EVERY day for 40 days.

 

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Quotesaboutlifeandwriting.com

So where am I in this challenge? I am on day 4, I think! And while it may sound pretty easy, it has been my experience that easy is as easy does. The hardest part is getting myself down and on that damned mat! Once I am there I find myself seeking out more yoga, breath work and meditations to practice. The effort comes not from the actual act of the meditation; the effort comes in getting my ass onto that mat. And even as I type, there it sits, right in front of me, beckoning me to sit, waiting for me to occupy. (I am coming, just let me get this written!!)

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The theory here is that it takes 40 days to make or break a habit and yes, this is a habit that I want in my life. To be fair and kind it is a habit that I have incorporated some days and the truth of the matter is that those are the days where I find myself flowing through the day with less effort. In short it allows me to be who I am, wherever I am, whomever I am with.

If we believe we are human beings then being is really what we are meant to do, right? But even as I sit and begin my practice on the mat my mind is swirling with the list of things I must get done. We are NOT human doings, and yet, so much of our self worth is measured in how much we do! I find it harder and harder to meditate with this spring air, bright sunshine and not to mention a full moon that has kept me up for the past 2 nights! So in essence you could make the leap that I NEED this time to myself in stillness even more. And I do!

I was in a restaurant the other day; the first day of this 40-day challenge and the waitress walked over to our table and asked if she could interrupt. She then went on to say that she wished she had had a camera because in all of her years of waitressing, never had she seen someone who was so completely in the moment. She went on to describe how I was looking and listening to my lunch date with such presence. She then thanked us  and made her way away from the table. I tucked that gem away in my back pocket as a reminder of just how important it is to have that phone away in my purse, to make eye contact and to “really” listen.

She said I was “in the moment”. In the moment is where I strive to be, but with a very busy mind, a phone, ipad and laptop at my fingertips and so much to “do” it is rare to actually be there.

As I walk into one of my schools after the quarter has closed, there  is an enormous banner celebrating all of those in the school who made the honors list. First glance seems benign enough, unless of course you were one point away from making any of those lists or even if you were miles away from making that list, the bottom line is that if you are not there, well you pretty much suck.  You didn’t DO enough to make the list of the elites.

 

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projecthappiness.com

 

I see so much time spent on busy work when I am in classrooms. The language is all about what is and isn’t done! There is a done work basket, there are finished folders, lists of things to get done in the morning while the teacher meets with other students, but the idea of just being with a book or a piece of writing for an extended period of time doesn’t seem like enough anymore! This worries me, as that sense of getting lost in a book or in one’s own writing or wondering and inquiring in science or social studies is a critical part of becoming real learners.  I cringe when I hear teachers telling kids to put their book away to complete a worksheet on silent e. So they comply, follow directions to get that busy work worksheet done, even though they were living and breathing silent e’s in their own reading. Sometimes I want to yell out, STOP the madness! Just let them BE!!

The rate of yogi’s and yoga studios has increased like wildfire across this nation. Yoga means union and the ultimate purpose of yoga practice is to prepare one to meditate.  Movement before stillness.  Doing to “be”.  In this age of technology that continues to move at warp speed it is easy to get caught in the fast lane, moving forward, forward, forward…but towards what? From pre-school to the best kindergarten, from Elementary school to Middle to High School to get into the very best colleges. The race is on, but you know what? At the end of all of that education you still have people seeking out a way to make meaning of their lives and hopefully a place to work that allows them to live and work with purpose.   If we are always looking ahead at the next step then we are never really here? Are we?  The idea of slowing down, taking the back roads to just wind one’s way through the countryside is where I want to be and I believe it is where many of us want to be, but we can’t because we are so revved up and moving too quickly to even realize there are options.

So today, like the next 36 days, I will get myself to that mat, I will meditate, do some yoga and notice. I will “do” the practice to “be”.  And while I know every day will be far from rosy, at least I will have that time every day to sit in stillness, to remember why I am here and fully embrace the notion of being, for at least 3 minutes each day.  Now onto that mat!

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Remembering Jean Robbins

I read an essay, ham of god, by Anne Lamott to begin class this week.   I used to read aloud all the time, but as with many good practices we just let them slide to the wayside. I read because I was trying to find some humor, solace and some kind of sense of all that is happening in the world. I read because my dear friend and mentor, Jean Robbins always said, read aloud.

Jean passed away on November 8th. Jean was one of those people who comes into your life and never leaves. She was kind, generous and incredibly good at connecting people and to people herself. I am forever grateful to have known her.

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I attended her service yesterday afternoon, only to be greeted by so many faces from the past. It was as if a timeline of my teaching career spread across the room, from my Maplewood School Ed 500 teacher, Karolina Bodner and Internship principal, Dennis Harrington and fellow intern, Judy George to Maryellen Webb one of my first teaching partners at Barrington Elementary School to Nancy Barcelos, one of my teaching colleagues from Pollard School in Plaistow to Rachel Small, a student I have had in class for LTT to David McCormick who teaches at the Writer’s Academy to Ellin Erwin who’s daughter was in my Writer’s Academy class 2 summers ago to Maryellen Giacobbi, whose work with Don Graves changed the way we taught writing forever.

It hit me that so many of the amazing educators in my life were in some way connected to Jean. This was no accident. I was not alone in this as we stood talking “Jean” people began to make more and more connections…”oh you know so and so….” and that is how the legend of Jean will live on as we each continue to make these connections one at a time, for a lifetime.

You see, Jean and I met while she was a supervisor of interns many years ago at Barrington Elementary School. I had a troubled intern who would often show up to work so hung-over that she could not function. Jean and I banded together and recommended that she not move forward with her career in teaching. (This was not something that was done, as by the time one made it to their internship it was pretty much a done deal that they would go on to teach!) I am not sure what happened to that intern, but Jean and I had formed a bond by making a tough decision, but the right decision.

So when my daughter, Emma, was diagnosed with Leukemia at 3 and a half, I walked out of my 4th grade classroom at the Pollard School and never returned to a classroom full time again. When I thought my teaching career was over I called Jean about a year into Emma’s treatment as a stay at home Mom with a sick child and her younger brother who never sat still. I was exhausted, housebound and NEEDED something to get me out and to get my brain working again. Jean promptly set up a meeting and introduced me to Tom Newkirk and Louise Wrobleski, two of the most influential people in my life today.   They offered me a consultant position at the Sandown school. I accepted as it meant I would work one day a week, a day to be out and be something other than mother and caretaker.

I was so excited that I ran out and bought the very first car phone, the size of a small loaf of bread so that I could be contacted if needed as Mom and went back to work in this capacity. As time went on and Emma got healthier my load increased until one day Tom offered me a part –time position as Field Coordinator for Learning Through Teaching and that is where I have been for the past 15 years. Jean changed the course of my life and for that I am forever grateful.

I always said I wanted to be like Jean when I grew up, always traveling, swapping her home before HomeExchange or Airbnb even existed. I learned at her service that she had been abroad 50 times and her son in law, Gary listed them all. I always knew Jean missed LTT meetings as she was often travelling, but 50 times! WOW!! I guess it is time to grow up, to take and create every travel opportunity I can and just do it!

I started when I walked out that door and had a choice to go home or to follow through with my plans to revisit my singing sisters for a sing along in Portsmouth with Voices From the Heart. I was tired, but I knew that Jean would have gone because she said she was going. As I drove along route 4 towards Portsmouth I noticed the sky was turning a slight pink. The further I drove, the more intense the colors became. I reveled in these colors and pulled over in Newick’s parking lot, the smell of fried everything wafting in the air, to capture it. It seemed like the perfect end to a service where one woman impacted so many people’s lives and while what she did seems short of miraculous, I realize what she did was to fight for children, to stand up for what was right for kids and teachers and to connect people near and far.

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Jean’s sunset from Newicks.

I remember Jean telling me a story about being at a train station in Germany and while there was a language barrier, Jean laughed her wonderful laugh and recalled a little boy tugging on his mothers shirtsleeve screaming, “NEIN, NEIN!!” Through her laughter she said, “NO, is one word that is universal and sounds pretty much the same in every language”. And then she listed off all of the translations of no she could remember.

So I salute you, Jean Robbins, Grand Dame of education in New Hampshire, as the sun sets on a beautiful life, a life that touched so many. May we all live with an open heart, listen to each other, reach across our borders and connect with each other and the world.

You are loved. You are missed.

Good Night Jean.

 

 

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