Honoring Mom

This weekend, I had the job of writing a short speech.  I fund a high school scholarship in my mother’s name, and I was asked to participate in a video presentation for an anniversary celebration of the scholarship organization.  Speech writing is a genre that is not very familiar to me, but it was a great way for me to, once again, honor and celebrate my mother.

Good Evening, and thank you for inviting me to participate in today’s celebration. 

My mother (Patricia Weber Baxter Pelton) was a graduate of this high school.  She was a member of the class of 1950.  She went on to pursue a college education and career in the field of fashion design. In her later years, she became a painter, and then a jewelry designer. In addition to her incredible creativity and powerful work ethic, she was also a superb mother, wife, aunt, grandmother, and friend.  Mom was strong, optimistic, and always hopeful, even when times were tough.  When my mother died from pancreatic cancer a few years ago, I knew I had to do something to not only honor and remember her, but also to share her incredible spirit with others.

As I was considering a variety of possibilities, I remembered an experience we had with our oldest daughter when she was in high school. Our daughter received a yearly scholarship from The Susan Fund.  Unfortunately Susan had lost her fight with cancer when she was far too young. To honor her memory, her family started a scholarship to provide tuition assistance for children who had struggled with cancer.  Every year, when our daughter would receive her award, I watched as Susan’s mother met and congratulated each and every recipient.  It was as if she were seeing her daughter live on in the hopes and dreams and futures of all of those children, one after another, year in and year out. What a beautiful way to both honor her daughter’s memory and create a meaningful legacy.  

It was this memory that inspired me to create a scholarship in my mom’s name.  It was Staples Tuition Grants that gave me the vehicle to make this happen. Each year we now attend the STG awards ceremony and have the opportunity to greet the students who receive our award.  Each year we are so impressed with the students, their hopes and dreams, their strength, and their positive energy.  Each year, we too feel as though mom is living on in the lives of these young people.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen the incredible strength of our country’s high school students  They, like my mom, are strong, optimistic, and hopeful,  even in the face of extreme adversity.  It is an honor to be able to provide students with the funding they need and deserve to pursue an education so that they can work to make this world an even better place for all who inhabit it.

Thank you, STG, for giving me a way to honor and remember my mom, and also share her incredible spirit with others.


Little Red

The old red Beemer had been a great car, but its time had come.  More than 25 years old, 235,000 miles on the odometer, and lots of things to repair, it just wasn’t worth keeping. So we decided to donate it to the Make a Wish Foundation.  The tow truck came one Friday while I was at work, and took the car away.

Morgan had found the car on EBay when she was in high school, and it was love at first sight.  She convinced us that this 1989 red BMW 535i was the perfect car for her, and was affordable too (Better yet, she was going to pay for half the car!).  Convinced, we drove up to get the car, only to find out on the way home that it was going to need some serious work.  The car could barely keep a straight line, the frame was so bent!  So we fixed it up, and it was Morgan’s car for more than 10 years! Morgan loved that car.  It was more than just her “wheels.” It became part of her identity. She and that car were perfect for each other.  They were both fun, outgoing, strong, cool and uber fashionable. Morgan and “Little Red” became like best friends, always going places together, always looking out for one another.

The little red car took Morgan through high school, to all her dance classes, back and forth to her many babysitting jobs, and on trips to visit friends and family.  When Morgan went to college, Little Red went along. I’ve chosen not to ask about all of the adventures Morgan and her college friends may have taken in her cool red machine, but I know they had fun. Morgan absolutely loved to drive that car.  She would talk about how much she liked taking to the open road, music on high, windows down, hair blowing in the wind.

But the years passed, Morgan finished college and moved to New York City, and the car ended up sitting in the driveway unused.  For a while it was nice to have a third car available.  We could lend a car to a visiting family member, or have an extra car when one of our cars (both old and often in need of repair) was in the shop, but eventually the little red Beemer began to show her age.  Hoses needed work, brake lines needed repair, there was rust on the undercarriage, the battery died.  She was no longer safe to drive.  We just let her sit in the driveway (She was a beauty, after all) for a while.  Morgan really couldn’t deal with the idea of letting her go.  But eventually, with a good deal of encouragement, Morgan agreed that Little Red’s time had come. So we coordinated a donation to Make a Wish, thinking that at least this wonderful car was going to help make another person’s dreams come true.  

But when I came home that Friday night to an empty parking space where Morgan’s car had been, my heart sank.  There was such a void.  Something was so clearly missing.  The driveway seemed so empty. There was no bright red accent against the side of the white garage. What had we done? I almost cried. Maybe when I’d seen Morgan’s car in the driveway every day, it was like having a little piece of her at home with us. I know the car needed to go.  I just never knew I was so emotionally attached to that old red Beemer.  


Don’t Help, Teach!

This is going to be a short, but hopefully powerful, post.

We had a fantastic learning session with our Staff Developer from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project this week. She worked with kindergarten, first and second grade teachers, coaches, literacy staff, and administrators.

In all three sessions, she stated:

You are not here to help children.  You are here to teach them.  You must support students in their productive struggle.

There is no question in my mind that we jump in to help students too quickly.  It’s probably because many of us became teachers so that we could help children.  It feels good to help others.  But as I wrote in my last post, sometimes being helpful is actually quite harmful.

I’m going to continue to work on ways to build student and teacher independence.

Here’s to supporting the productive struggle!




Helpful Problem-Solving or Enabling/Controlling/Crippling Interference?

“I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world.”

I’ve always loved this quote by Rainer Maria Rilke. I’ve tried to live by it.  My interpretation being to give your love and caring to as many as possible, reach out when people need help, do things to make the world a kinder, better, gentler place.  But recently I’ve seen a different side of this interpretation in both my personal and professional lives.  

I’m a problem-solver.  If someone has a problem (or I perceive that someone has a problem), I try everything in my power to fix it. I perseverate on solving the problem. I lose sleep over it. I spend hours trying to figure it out (even when it’s really not mine to figure out.).  My intentions are good, but the impact isn’t always positive.  My adult daughter does not need me to remind her what to pack for her trip to Italy, or advice on how she should handle a medical situation, but there I go, sending her an email with a packing list and some articles from WebMD. My husband does not need me to find a rental car for him, but there I am, on the computer, looking up rates and hours, planning when to drop him off, and figuring out how I’m going to manage my own chores.  

The bright side of being this way is that I’m helping others, and that feels good! The dark side of being this way is that the very people I’m trying to help are probably being harmed by my actions.  Isn’t it possible that my daughter is thinking that I don’t believe she is capable of figuring things out for herself? She is, by the way, more than capable of taking care of herself.  Is this the reason my husband sometimes lacks the ability to be proactive and get things accomplished?  Is it because he knows I’ll take care of it?  And then there is the impact this has on my own life.  People don’t think I need help.  No one tries to fix my problems (I probably wouldn’t let them anyway.), but the truth is, sometimes I need and want a little help too.

This same issue plagues me as a Literacy Coach.  Where is the balance between helping teachers and enabling them or making them feel as though they can’t do things on their own?  We spend a lot of time talking about building agency in students.  Am I building agency in teachers?  Am I setting teachers up in a way that leads them to greater independence, or am I solving problems for them that they are perfectly capable of solving on their own, and therefor setting them up to be less proactive, less confident, and less energized.  In a recent coaching cycle, I decided to work with teachers on putting together some tools to support small group instruction.  Originally the plan was to find some planning time to work together to create these toolkits.  We don’t have a lot of coverage available for teachers, so I set up an optional Toolkit Making session during lunch/recess.  That went over like a lead balloon.  I get it.  Teachers are incredibly busy.  So what did I do?  Of course I did.  I spent hours making their toolkits for them!  I printed all sorts of charts and mentor texts, found strategy samples online, and put everything together in nice plastic sleeves.  The teachers were thrilled with them and so thankful.  But when the next unit comes around, will teachers go forward and build their own toolkits? Have I set them up for independence?

I want to rethink my interpretation of Rilke’s words.  Instead of trying to reach out in widening circles to help others, maybe it would be more powerful to try to be the source of the widening circles- the rock thrown into the lake – the object that starts the ripples, and then sit back and watch as the circles widen and grow around me, creating their own energy.