24 June 2008 09:32 AM


by Dr. Rick
Everyone has a list. Everywhere you look there are folks ready to share with you their five most important investing tips, their eight best recipes, their six ways to improve your tennis game, their twelve steps to recovery.

We like lists.

I am an unabashed “lifelong learner” complete with the occasional tweed coat when the weather cooperates. After nearly forty years in the education profession – teacher, administrator, curriculum developer – I’ve picked up a few pointers myself. Seems to me if you can’t pass on to the next generation what you’ve learned over the years in ten simple pointers, you’re either not focused or you’ve spread yourself too thin, which, come to think of it, may be the same thing. Multitasking is way overrated.

So here’s what I’ve learned.

1. Read as much as you can. Seems simple, doesn’t it? But reading, so I hear, is becoming a lost art, like conversation, writing, and using your indoor voice when you’re, well, indoors. Read just about anything, although it’s always a good idea to challenge and stretch yourself every once in a while. Books, magazines, and, newspapers are good, especially if you want depth and analysis. Parents, let your children see you reading. Let them see that reading is something everyone does, not just students. Show them that when you need or want information, you read to get it. Show that when you want to perform a task for which you’re unprepared, you read to prepare yourself. (Putting together that new bicycle is a good example.) And best of all, show them that you read for the pure pleasure of reading. If our bodies become what we eat, our minds become what we read. Keep a balanced and sensible reading diet.

2. Organize yourself. Our lives are complicated and insanely, scurryingly busy. We can control some of that busy-ness by organizing ourselves. My students used to complain that they’d spent “two hours” doing a relatively simple homework assignment. When I’d ask them to tell me about it, they’d invariably, often without embarrassment, describe an hour’s search for their books, pens, highlighters, or the scrap of paper on which they’d sort of written the vague outline of the assignment. Simple planners, “study buddies,” and especially a regular routine for homework would work wonders. Being “spontaneous,” is cool and romantic, but change your morning routine by just a few minutes, and see how it affects your whole day. So much for coolness and romance.

3. Be patient and humble. This doesn’t mean put off until tomorrow or adopt a surrendering meekness. Instead, it means you recognize that good results may mean taking your time and learning the details, as almost all non-miraculous achievements do.

4. Be persistent and assertive. No, this isn’t in direct contrast to #3. It’s entirely possible to be persistent and assertive without sacrificing the benefits of patience and humility. (Rosa Parks comes to mind.) If you believe in something, work for it with steadfastness. Persistent doesn’t mean pig-headedness; assertive doesn’t mean aggression. Civility counts, and the Golden Rule still applies.

5. Be ready to compromise occasionally. The world is full of people who take inexplicable pride in “never giving up.” The landscape of politics, business, and everyday life is littered with people who “fight to the death” with little to show for it except funerals for their ideas. Sometimes we even make heroes of these poor folks. (Die Hard movies are one example. Entertaining, you bet, but you try living like that!) The truth is that real life requires give-and-take. Just ask your spouse.

6. Share, and conversely, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Independence is a good thing, of course, but so is interdependence. Everyone needs a little help now and then. (Remember your algebra class in high school?) It’s all well and good to “try, try again,” but sometimes we need to ask for help. I’ll admit I’m a slow learner on this one but every time I’ve asked for help from people who have more experience, training, or talent in a particular area, I’ve received it happily and generously. People don’t mind, even welcome, helping others. The secret is to ask for help early, before you’ve dug yourself into too big of a hole. And when people ask you for help, give it graciously.

7. Communicate clearly and fairly. This is a hard one for some people. It’s easier to yell than to talk. That’s why the world, and the media, are filled with yelling gasbags. But, the simple truth is that the more we talk and listen to each other the fewer obstacles we encounter on our way to getting what we want. In school, teachers aren’t mind readers. We need students to tell us where they’re having difficulties. Parents who communicate with teachers about their children’s needs and strengths are doing everyone a favor – teacher, parent, and especially student.

8. Pay attention. Hear what others are saying. Watch what they do. In schools, students give clues to their needs all the time, and it takes a special teacher to heed those clues. The same is true in life. Be alert to what people are saying in words and action. Atticus Finch was right when he told Scout to walk around in other people’s shoes before judging.

9. Balance. “Life’s a Balancing Act” reads a beloved chotchke a good friend gave me years ago. It hangs in a prominent place in my office for everyone, including me, to see daily. Count the number of times a day you’re faced with an either-or decision; you’ll be amazed at how often it occurs. The simple fact is most of life’s decisions are a balance of two or more ideas. In education, for example, we spent years fighting the Whole Language vs. Phonics circus, when in fact there’s benefit to each side’s argument. Anyone with any common sense can see that. But the battle raged on, and kids got caught in the middle, as they do in all adult battles.

10. Be grateful - every day. Create a regular time in your life to reflect on the good things that happen to you. Make it a regular routine. If you’re paying attention, you’ll see right away that gratitude probably doesn’t get the attention it should. This makes for great discussion and writing in schools, but it’s a habit that goes far beyond the classroom walls for both kids and adults. You decide for yourself who gets the gratitude.

What are your lessons learned over the years? Share them with me and with others.




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