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Blogging Essays

Here Are The First Five Reasons Why I Love Sensei Steve’s Class

Before you start reading about the topic of this post, I want to mention that all the classes at

Hoover Karate Academy

 are taught by well-trained, committed teachers who care about their students.  I wanted to focus on one class in particular, but that is no reflection on the other classes whatsoever.

Sensei Steve Turoscy, Jr. is a fighter.  I don’t mean that he is simply an excellent martial artist and an instinctive fighter.  I mean that Sensei Steve has overcome a number of challenges in the time I have known him, challenges that less-motivated human beings would have considered too difficult.   He has an internal locus of control that is inspirational.  He will not be held back by his circumstances; instead, he wants everyone to know that he is going to overcome them, and that if you find yourself in the same kind of situation, you will overcome them, too.

You have to aspire to inspire before you expire. Sensei Steve

Reason One: Everyone Is Welcome

I started Sensei Steve’s class as a white belt, after Sensei Kristie told me about the class and said I should try it out.  Others told me it was a very difficult class and that I should wait, but Kristie convinced me that I would be fine.  Therefore, I showed up the following Saturday morning at 8:00 AM, hoping that I would not be turned away.  On the contrary, I was welcomed.  I was also told to do what I can, and encouraged to continue to improve instead of expect to be able to do everything the first class, or even for several classes after that.  If I remember correctly, I was the only one wearing a white shirt that day.  Everyone else was a black belt.  Although that was intimidating at first, by the end of class I felt better.  I have been attending that class as often as possible since then.   Since then, too, other white shirts have joined the class.  They feel just as welcome, too.

Reason Two: You Are Always Challenged

When I think back to that first time and about how little I could actually do, and compare it to now when I can do so much more, I think it’s that Sensei Steve and the other students do not accept that a challenge is insurmountable.  What they do believe is that practice is the only way overcome internal and external obstacles to your progress.

Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can't get it wrong. Sensei Steve

Reason Three: You Never Know When Sensei Will Break the Routine

We have a format that combines PT, traditional martial arts, and fighting, and there is a certain rhythm to the class.  You never know, though, when Sensei Steve will say he wants to try something different.  He’s very creative, too, so those “different” things could be almost anything.

Our current schedule is:

– First Saturday: Regular Class
– Second Saturday: “Creative” Class
– Third Saturday: Regular Class
– Fourth or Last Saturday: Technique Class

Still, you never know if that regular class is going to turn into something you weren’t expecting.  Sensei Steve can add something much more challenging when he is in the mood.  He is also an observant teacher and knows when to change the routine to accommodate those of us whose achy joints and bones just can’t handle the regular routine that day.  He has also been very kind to me personally, allowing me to modify as I must when doing some things.  The point is: Sensei does what every good teacher should do.  He reads the room and acts accordingly.

We often have more students join us the fourth / last Saturday of the month for Technique Class.  It’s a great class!  It gives us a chance to work on the techniques and kata that we need to know for our next test.  I wish more people would come to the other classes, too.  I’m sure they would find them enjoyable.

When I was training somewhere else, our classes were all the same.  It was cookie-cutter curriculum that had to be followed by every teacher, handed down from corporate headquarters to the franchise owners.  It was boring.  So, it’s special to me to have teachers be able to try something new to get their point across.  Additionally, Sensei Hoover is not one to sit back and let the curriculum get stale.  He is constantly thinking about it, it seems.  Changes to the curriculum happen all the time, in the hopes that our techniques will become more effective and efficient.

When you come regularly to a Saturday class at the North Dojo, you learn so much – about yourself, about the practice, and about dozens of absolutely wonderful people.

Reason Four: He Has Welcomed My Son into Class

My son is 15 1/2 years old, and this class is for adults.  However, when he started working last May, I asked Sensei Steve if my son could come to class so he wouldn’t miss training on a Saturday.  He agreed without hesitating.  Recently, my son has been a regular in class, and in just the short time he has been coming regularly, I have seen a change in my son, both in practice and in spirit.  He works very hard in that class; as a result, he is stronger, a bit more confident, a bit more strategic in his practice, and a lot more skilled as a fighter.  My son has always been my best teacher, but now he is my teacher in martial arts class, too.  Being able to train with him on Saturdays (as well as on Tuesdays) has been a blessing.

He isn’t the only young adult who has been able to train with us on Saturday, and those who do are special kids.  They are bright, talented, and mature.  We who are able to train with our children have been given a special gift.  Sensei Steve would be the first to tell you about how much that gift meant to him while he was training with his own son, also named Steve, who now teaches at the West Dojo.  One day, he told Lucas and I about how important those years were to him.  Having seen the senseis interact, I know they were special to his son as well.

One of my favorite stories comes from another Mom who trains on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  Her daughter often trains with us on Saturdays now.  She says that at times she will think of a technique or a kata and struggle to visualize it properly.  Usually, her daughter is on the bus going to school when this happens.  So, she will call her daughter and ask her about it, which always leads to her daughter asking her in an exasperated voice why she is thinking about that now when she has work to do.  Nonetheless, her daughter has the answer!   Training with her child has added a complexity to their relationship, and another stretch of common ground upon which they can stand together.

How cool is that?

Reason Five: Class Starts at 8:00 AM

For the longest time, my workday has started at 5:00 AM when I first shuffle down the stairs to make coffee.  Some days, I do start working at about 5:15, but more often, I am trying to wake up and ease into my day.  Therefore, a class that starts at 8:00 gives me a chance to sleep in a bit (till 6:00!), but still get in a class early enough in the day that the rest of my day is mine to do with what I will.  That usually involves a nap!

Because of the early hour of the class, my son is able to attend and still go to work on Saturdays.  He loves that.  Those of us who go to that class all agree that it is an ideal time, for any number of reasons.

Come in at eight, punch your ticket, and the rest of the day is yours. Sensei Steve (paraphrased)

These are just some of the reasons I love Saturday’s 8 AM class so much.  I’m sure that my classmates have many more to contribute as well.  Please leave a comment using the form below.  Thank you for reading.

Categories
Education Essays Teaching

We Owe Our Children Everything

Our children do not come to us in a dream and ask to be born.  Instead, we make a choice to bring our children into the world.  They owe us nothing.  We owe them everything.

That does not mean that they are allowed to walk all over us and demand every wish be fulfilled.  Rather, we owe them every opportunity to practice becoming honorable, loving, conscience-bearing human beings.  We owe them our patience and kindness as they struggle through the learning process that every human must go through to truly understand their purpose and place in the world.  We owe them our willingness to be their role models, and to practice ourselves, every day, what we expect them to adopt for themselves as they journey toward adulthood.

We owe them their education in things such as the six “selves” philosophy that our martial arts dojo espouses: self-awareness, self-confidence, self-control, self-defense, self-discipline, and self-respect.  When they violate our right to one or more of those, we owe it to them to help them understand those actions are not acceptable.  When they violate their own right to one or more of them, we owe it to them to help them understand that those actions, too, are unacceptable.

We owe them the opportunity to learn deeply, think critically, and to take risks.  We owe them the chance to fail, but to fail productively.  We owe them the chance to feel unconditional love, not only from their parents, but from everyone around them.  We owe them the chance to love unconditionally, to forgive, and to express frustration.  We owe them the right to have their own voice.  We owe them the right to make an argument, to win it if they have done their part effectively, and to lose it if they have not.  We owe them the right to experience disappointment, to express disappointment, and to find the joy in overcoming it.  We owe them the opportunity to learn to accept disappointment from others, too, but we owe them the right to protection from needless heartache.

We owe them the right to expect us to respect them, and to learn to respect us and others, who also have the right to expect respect from them.

Children do not ask to be born.  We parents make a choice.  From then on, till death do us part, we are forever in their debt.  Someday, they will be in debt to their own children.  If we have done our job right, their children will feel as loved, cared for, respected, challenged, and important as we tried to help our children feel.  If we have taught them well, and they have learned well, we can all truly be the positive change we want to see in the world*, working with one precious child at a time.

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*Although Gandhi didn’t actually say “be the change you want to see in the world,” what he did say that inspired that sentiment is so profound that I included it as the featured image for this post.

Categories
Education Essays Learning Teaching Writing

Writing across the Curriculum

Freshman year of high school was terrifying.  People seem incredulous when I tell them that, of all the years of schooling I have had, that year was the hardest.  After all, it was high school.  What could be so tough about that?

As my Grandmom used to say with a huge sigh, “Well…!”

The first problem was that I was not prepared for the workload.  Coming from a public middle school into this rigorous public high school that wanted to weed out those who weren’t able to handle the curriculum, I found myself suddenly overwhelmed by the amount of work they made us do.  By the time I turned fourteen in October, I thought I was going to lose my mind.  It didn’t help that our school President, Dr. Pavel, said to us during orientation, “Look to your left and to your right.  One of these people, or more, will probably return to their home school at the end of this school year.”  Yikes.

The second problem was that I was expected to do things I had never done before, like write papers and essays.  In elementary and middle school, we did not do much writing.  I think we did book reports in fifth grade, but I could be mistaken.  It wasn’t that I was a bad writer.  I actually enjoyed writing for my own purposes, but did not have the tools I needed to create the papers and essays the teachers wanted.  In other words, I didn’t know how to meet their expectations.  That was scary.

Enter Dr. Kreider, my World History teacher.  She is still my academic hero; I haven’t met a teacher like her since.  The best gift she could have given us hurt like hell: The chance to practice writing.  Many of us almost wrote our hand off.

OK, not really.  But it really did hurt.

Dr. Kreider did three things for us, actually.  First, she managed every student a copy of the New York Times every school day.  Second, she made us keep journals in which we reacted to topics covered in class and NYT articles.  Third, she responded to everyone’s journals over the weekend, and not just with a “Nice job!” either.  Oh, no.  We would get paragraphs back.   If we almost wrote our hand off, she must have thought she should, too.  I do not know how she did it, but I do know that she loved her kids.  She loved them enough to embrace writing across the curriculum with gusto.   Dr. Kreider actually did research in the area, I would learn later, and delivered papers about the positive effects of students learning to read and write in all content-area classes.

Fast-forward 30 years to my son’s freshman English class.  His teacher listened to the students, slack-jawed, as they told her that none of them knew how to write an essay.  Admittedly, this is her first year teaching freshmen in a long time, so perhaps she simply lost perspective.  In my opinion, however, it just shows that some things never change, but they need to quickly.

Rewind 26 years to English Composition class.  Typically, we would write an essay, peer review our classmates’ essays, and then create a final version for the teacher.  I remember being appalled by the writing I reviewed.  My red pen dashed across the page until I think there was as much red on the page as blue or black.  Some classmates appreciated the help.

Others, I was informed one day while riding the 66 bus home with my friend Susanne, were terrified to give me their papers to review.  I asked why.

“Because you are so mean, Heather,” she replied, quietly.

“I’m just trying to help!” I responded, indignant.

“Perhaps you could try helping with a different color ink and less sarcasm,” she said, emboldened by being right.

I sulked, as I usually did when I was wrong about something.  The next day I went to the college store, purchased a green pen, and resolved to restrain myself.

Situations like these are why the creators of the Common Core State Standards focus on literacy and writing – in other words, on communication in all its forms.  The fact is that many students need more opportunities to write their hands off (and yes, I’m an advocate of writing on paper before writing electronically).  They need to write in each content area class, not just English.  Social Studies teachers – like Dr. Kreider – have excellent opportunities to have their students write informatively, persuasively, and creatively.  Science teachers can enforce good communication skills, as well as proper grammar and style, in lab reports, responses to essay questions, etc.  Even math teachers can post intriguing problems and require a constructed response (Aside: Where did that term come from?  I’m not crazy about it.).  My son’s math teacher has done that, using a discussion board online to help the students think through Algebra II problems using critical thinking and standard English.  Technology teachers can incorporate writing skills into their projects.  PE and Health teachers can ask students to produce works that show critical thinking.  Vo-tech teachers can ask students to write about their projects and what they have learned from doing them. Any teacher can incorporate critical thinking and effective communication skills into their curriculum.

Again, why are the creators of the Common Core State Standards so keen on ensuring that communication skills are practiced across the content areas?  I am sighing now as I write, “Well…!”  Here is a another reason.

The students’ inability to communicate effectively, both when writing and when speaking, continue when they enter adulthood and the workforce, unless they are given the chance to overcome these challenges in school.  The potential for knowledge sharing is greatly diminished when a person cannot get their ideas out of their heads and onto paper, the screen, or during a meeting.  Opportunities for innovation are lost, as well as opportunities for employees to advance in their careers.

As teachers in a corporate setting, we find this inability to be most problematic when working with the SME, the subject matter expert. Often, SMEs have difficulty explaining what they do.  They express frustration, often punctuating it with, “That’s just the way it’s done!  Watch me.”  Being unfamiliar with a technique, we can watch all we want, but we will not be able to reproduce their efforts without spending more time than we have to spare trying and failing, or researching.  We cannot ask the SME to teach others, since they cannot teach us.  If we do, we just waste everyone’s time.  That invaluable knowledge remains stuck  inside the SME’s head.  No one else can benefit from it.  We educators feel that is a terrible loss.

Great communicators are not born, contrary to popular opinion.  They learn their art the same way that we all learn something that intrigues us, by watching, listening, and trying.  As Vygotsky said, all learning is social, and it is within the community that we progress from a state of not knowing to mastering something under the tutelage of one or more more knowledgeable others.  It is important that we learn from those who can explain.

I have heard time and again: “I’m just not a good writer / speaker / teacher.”  What they mean is, “I don’t have the talent to be a good writer / speaker / teacher.”  Talent is irrelevant.  Communicators such as  Hemingway, Jobs, Socrates, Shakespeare, and Twain made it look easy, natural.  In fact, they practiced.  Their first efforts were, most likely, awful, not awesome, and what I mean by “first effort” is each and every time they chose to create something new by rearranging the letters of their alphabet.  I’m sure that even Socrates had to practice on someone, perhaps Plato.  Ask any of my writer friends and they will tell you that they have “killed trees” trying to get their message “right.”  What makes the great communicators different from the rest of us is commitment, perseverance, and grit.  Somewhere along the line there was their Dr. Kreider there to push them, even if only in their minds.

I applaud any teacher who embraces “Writing across the Curriculum.”  For those who aren’t English teachers, it seems like a daunting addition to their curriculum, although it does not have to be.  There are plenty of resources on the web that will help these teachers figure out where it makes sense to include a writing or speaking component into their current plans.  Explore the NCTE and ASCD websites for more information.

Happy New Year!

Categories
Essays

What is the value of an internal training team?

This post is speculative, based on opinion and observation, and full of educated guesses.  If that is all right with you, please continue reading.

What’s in a name?

Calling a training team an “internal training team” boxes the members into a corner and restricts their role within the organization.  It gives others the impression that the team is only to be used for training colleagues, when in reality, that team could do more by also interacting with customers or employees of those customers.  Therefore, renaming the team would increase its value in the eyes of fellow employees.  Putting team members in front of customers would increase the value of the team outside the organization.  It would also help them do their jobs back in the office, by providing an important perspective with which to develop curricula – that of the customer.  Helping them to assume leadership roles within the organization would increase their credibility and their chances of keeping their jobs should the economy tank yet again.

We trainers know that we are the first group of employees considered when the management decides to downsize.  In one company I worked for years ago, we were called “overhead” and considered expendable.  Fortunately, we managed to make it through the RIFs (Reduction in Force) each time because we did more than train fellow employees.  When we put on the second and third hat, we increased our value.  Instead of being “nice to have,” we became employees they “must have.”

My advice: Consider calling the team something that truly reflects their value within the organization, and consider diversifying their duties so they are not training all the time.  Let them use their skills to interact with employees outside the classroom, and with customers outside the office.  Then, expect them to reflect on those experiences and use them to build curricula that will resonate with colleagues and customers alike.

How much does it cost to retain an employee?

You spend months training a new hire – and then they leave.  How much money have you wasted?  This happens all the time.  Either the employee decides the position is not a good fit, or the company decides that the employee is not a good fit for the position.  Either way, thousands of dollars were spent for nothing.  If the company had had a more rigorous new employee training program (which I will not call ‘onboarding’), the situation might have resolved itself much differently.  Management might have had enough information to decide to part ways with the employee much sooner, for instance.  Alternatively, the employee could have performed better, given the proper training and support, and everyone would be happy.

Trial by Fire

Unfortunately, many small to medium-sized companies do not have such a program, and probably don’t have an internal training team, either.  That has been my experience, at least.  My colleagues and I refer to these first few months in a new job as “trial by fire.”  I’m sure many others do also; we certainly did not invent the phrase.

There really are many new employees who find themselves in a cube with a computer, phone, office directory, and a list of “Who to Call for What.”  They have a basic understanding of what is expected of them, but hardly enough information to start working.  Unfortunately, they are expected to start moving earth without having any idea where this tunnel is going to lead them.  Perhaps someone has given them some URLs, a few printed manuals from 1995, etc., but other than that, they are on their own.  After a few days, if the employee hasn’t bolted from the office screaming, they usually stay.  They are bleary-eyed and miserable, but they slog through while they keep their resume up-to-date on LinkedIn, Career Builder, and Monster, just in case something (anything) better comes along.

Does that sound familiar?  Come here, I’ll give you a hug.

Peer Training

A slightly better approach is to conduct peer training or on-the-job training.  Companies that do not have training programs for new employees often rely on veteran employees and managers to train others.  I’ve found the following problems with that approach.

  1. The veteran employees, although highly skilled and considered SMEs (Subject Matter Experts), have no idea how to share their knowledge with someone who is new to the position.
  2. The manager does not have a lot of time to devote to one employee, so the employee sits in a cube and pretends to look busy or studious while the manager runs off to help other employees.
  3. Neither the SME nor the manager have a curriculum to guide them as they train the employee.  There could be gaps in knowledge transfer, or they could be confusing the new employee by not teaching things in the proper, logical order.
  4. Neither the SME nor the manager know how to teach someone.  They aren’t trainers and have never received training on, well, how to train.
  5. There is an important part missing in this approach: the orientation.  Humans need the big picture to understand the more detailed aspects.  What I see instead is that the employee is immediately immersed in details.  By the end of the day, she’s more confused than educated.

 Bring in the Team!

Let’s end this post on a positive note.  There certainly is a way for managers and SMEs to train new employees, and they should be involved in the process.  First, however, the manager and SMEs should consult with the training team and develop a training plan that makes sense.  Some of my colleagues are very good at this, as they want more than anything to see the new employee succeed.  They need that new employee to succeed.  As soon as they receive an acceptance from the employee, I turn around and they are at my desk.  They want to put a plan together that includes formal training, peer training, and self-study.  They work closely with the employee during that first week on the job, teaching them the logistical things they need to know, introducing them to teammates and other employees, and establishing the training plan with them.  Gradually, they release the new employee into the wild, often entrusting him or her to the care of those in their team while also keeping a close eye on them.  Those that are successful often learn to request training on their own when they realize the training they need. I have seen it work, and it is something beautiful.

The managers and SMEs that make the new employee process work have a few things in common.

  1. They are tireless advocates for their employees.  One refers to herself as “Momma Bear, when it comes to my people.”  No argument here.
  2. They think things through and incorporate their experiences into new paradigms of thought and action.
  3. They take full responsibility for the success or failure of their team.
  4. They truly love what they do, and want everyone else to love their jobs too.

The Cycle Should Never End

Imagine how good such a program would be if the training team truly understood the objectives and goals of the team in question!  That brings this post full circle then.  Invest in the training team by sending them outside the organization to learn the customer’s perspective.  Require that they reflect on those experiences and incorporate them into their training programs.  Require that managers and SMEs work with the training team to develop plans for new employees.  Encourage all peer trainers to consult with the team prior to taking on new training tasks.  Stop calling them the “internal training team” and find a title that truly reflects what they do.

What would your title be?