Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Assignment

By George M. Graham Jr.

Mom finished cooking and set the table like she did every night. Dad and I joined her, and we all sat down to eat supper. Tonight was not much different than many other nights in the 1950's, except that I had something that I needed to say. I had an assignment to complete.

Today, I work as an administrator of the special education program for our school district. As part of my responsibilities, I often provide staff development for teachers, administrators, and parents.

Often times in my presentation, I talk about the importance of the example we set for children. I remind folks there are always little eyes and little ears watching and listening to everything we do and say.

I will often ask the members of the audience to raise their hands if one of their teachers had a positive impact on their lives. Typically, just about everyone in the audience will raise their hands.

We as educators and parents have a bigger influence on our students and children than we often realize. They pay very close attention and mimic what we do and what we say.

If you don't think that this is true, then take the time to observe your own children for a few days. It will probably surprise you to see and hear some of your own idiosyncrasies being repeated in your children's actions and verbalizations.

As I get older, I realize how many of my own parents' habits I have acquired. I see it in the things I say, how I say them, the actions I take, and even the things I believe.

Laurie Beth Jones states in her book, Jesus, CEO, "Teaching is educating the mind and preaching is educating the heart." Some of the educators who had the most impact on my life certainly understood and practiced this concept of teaching and preaching. One particular teacher who comes to my mind, who was a magnificent example of this, was Ms. Morrison.

Ms. Morrison was a petite lady, probably less than 5 feet tall. If the truth were known, most of the students in our 6th grade class were as tall, if not taller than she. She always wore her hair in a tight bun on the back of her head and usually had a pencil sticking out of it. If you remember the television program, The Beverly Hillbillies, then Granny on that show will help you to have a "mind picture" to visualize Ms. Morrison.

She was a strict disciplinarian! In fact, many students referred to her as "old battle axe." Of course, this nickname was used only when she was not around. No one was brave enough to even think about saying something like that within her hearing distance. We were smart enough to know we didn't want to tangle with her - not if we wanted to survive.

Although Ms. Morrison was small in stature, she was big in heart. As she educated us in the "three R's" (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic,) she preached to us about doing the right things in our lives.

One day, she was giving us a "good talking to" about our mothers. She said that most of us did not understand or appreciate how much our mothers did for us. She told us we should be more thankful for what our mothers did and let them know how much we appreciated them.

With that, she gave us a homework assignment. She told us, "After you finish eating supper, you are to tell your mother thank you and let her know how much you appreciated the meal she prepared."

I should point out that in the 1950's things were much different than today. Families actually sat at the table together and ate supper without the interruptions of all of our modern technology. Families would enjoy each others' company and talk about the day and what was happening in their lives.

Supper was now coming to a close. It was time for me to complete my assignment. I just knew if I didn't complete my assignment Ms. Morrison would find out. You see, Ms. Morrison was also a member of the same church we attended. She knew my parents well.

I knew this was going to be hard for me because I was very shy and bashful. I had never said something like this to my mother before. I had never even heard my dad say anything like this to my mother. I wondered how she would react. I wondered what he would think.

As I started to push away from the table, I finally gathered up enough courage to say, "Thank you for supper tonight, I really appreciated it!" There, I had said it and completed my assignment. However, something was wrong. There was a dead silence.

I looked at my dad and saw that he was looking at my mother. I turned to look at her and saw that she had small tears running down her cheeks. My words of appreciation had brought tears to my mother's eyes. That one little gesture of saying thank you had melted my mother's heart and touched her in a special way.

I don't really know why it touched her so much that night. She may have had a really hard day. She may not have felt appreciated for what she did on a daily basis, like Ms. Morrison said. It is difficult to know for sure.

What I do know is that from that night on, I endeavored to say, "Thank you, I appreciate it," whenever my mother prepared a meal and so did my dad!

This is one little example of the influence Ms. Morrison had on me by "teaching to educate the mind and preaching to educate the heart." Every one of us probably could tell a similar story of how our lives were impacted by the example or words of another.

I am grateful and thankful for the difference Ms. Morrison made in my life. It goes beyond me, though. Because of her assignment, I was able to influence the lives of my mother and father in a positive way. I feel confident the other students in my class probably had similar success as well.

Who would have thought that this assignment would have had such an amazing impact. Thank you Ms. Morrison for giving us the assignment!

This article is dedicated in loving memory of my mom and dad,
George and Betty Graham.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Perfection At the Plate

Rabbi Paysach Krohn

This true story has been attributed to Rabbi Paysach Krohn. It appears in his book, Echoes of the Maggid, published in 1999.


In Brooklyn, New York, Chush is a school that caters to children with learning disabilities. Some children remain in Chush for their entire school career while others can transfer into conventional schools. At a Chush fund-raising dinner, the father of a Chush child delivered a speech that will always be remembered by all who attended.

After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he cried out, "Where is the perfection in my son Shaya? Everything God does is done with perfections. But my child cannot understand things as other children do. My child cannot remember facts and figures as other children do. Where is God's perfection?"

The audience was shocked by the question, pained by the father's anguish and stilled by the piercing query. "I believe," the father answered, "that when God brings a child like this into the world, the perfection that he seeks is the way people react to this child."

He then told them the following story about his son Shaya:

One afternoon, Shaya and his father walked past a park where some boys whom Shaya knew were playing baseball. Shaya asked, "Do you think they will let me play?"

Shaya's father knew that his son was not at all athletic and that most boys would not want him on their team. But Shaya's father understood that if his son was chosen to play it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging. Shaya's father approached one of the boys in the field and asked if Shaya could play. The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said, "We are losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning."

Shaya's father was ecstatic as Shaya smiled broadly. Shaya was told to put on a glove and go out to play short center field. In the bottom of the eighth inning Shaya's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth inning Shaya's team scored again and now, with two outs and the bases loaded with the potential winning run on base, Shaya was scheduled to be up. Would the team actually let Shaya bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shaya was given the bat. Everyone knew that it was all but impossible because Shaya didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it.

However, as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shaya could at least be able to make contact. The first pitch came and Shaya swung clumsily and missed. One of Shaya's teammates came up to Shaya and together they held the bat and faced the pitcher waiting for the next pitch.

The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward Shaya. As the pitch came in, Shaya and his teammate swung at the ball and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shaya would have been out and that would have ended the game.

Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond reach of the first baseman. Everyone started yelling, "Shaya, run to first. Run to first." Never in his life had Shaya run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman who would tag out the still running Shaya.

But the right fielder understood what the pitcher's intentions were so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman's head. Everyone yelled, "Run to second, run to second." Shaya ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home. As Shaya reached second base the opposing short stop ran to him, turned him the direction of third base and shouted, "Run to third." As Shaya rounded third the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, "Shaya run home." Shaya ran home, stepped on the home plate and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero as he had just hit a "grand slam" and won the game for his team.

"That day," said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, "those 18 boys reached their level of God's perfection."

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Dare To Do Your Best: See It Big, But Keep It Simple - Part II

By George M. Graham Jr.

In a previous article I wrote “When we are dealing with any of life’s challenges, we should strive to maintain a positive mental attitude, with high expectations—see it big. Additionally, we must keep in mind that in order to achieve any worthy goal, we must take one step at a time to accomplish it—keep it simple.”

I also talked about utilizing what I call positive, practical practices in order to help address basic wants and needs in helping individuals to be successful. Mastering these positive, practical practices sets the foundation for us to build upon in order to improve ourselves.

In my last article, we began looking at some of the positive, practical practices that parents can incorporate with their children in helping them to be successful in all domains of life. This article will continue to explore some of these practices that are foundational.

An important positive, practical practice is to ensure children are getting a nutritious, healthy diet. It is imperative that children get the proper foods that will help their minds and bodies grow and develop! Children will benefit from eating healthy foods such as fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, fish and fish oil (those with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids), and nuts and seeds, just to name a few.

There are those who recommend that whenever possible, it is best to endeavor to purchase organic foods. This is another topic where there are differences of opinion. However, there is indication that the chemicals that are used to deter insects from attacking fruits and vegetables as they grow, could have a negative impact on our bodies. There is evidence that toxic chemicals affect the central nervous system which includes the brain.

There is a strong indication that sugar, processed foods, and preservatives can have a negative impact on your child’s physical and mental health. Research documents the effects of sugar on children’s behaviors. Parents should consider removing, or at least cutting back on sodas, candy, cakes and other processed foods that may have a lot of chemical preservatives.

Diet does have a very strong impact on the brain and other bodily functions. Again, the research documents that some children will develop allergies to food additives which can cause allergic reactions like hyperactivity, difficulty in concentrating, and difficulty in staying focused. These are just a few of the possible symptoms that can develop from toxins, chemical preservatives, and food dyes.

While we are on the topic of healthy diet, I would like to point out the importance of drinking water as well. Water plays a major part in all of our body’s functions. When we are appropriately hydrated, we think more clearly, we are better able to fight off sickness, and our body’s systems can function more properly. Research on the brain indicates that one thing that can help students to perform better on testing is to hydrate the brain. Drink plenty of water!

Unfortunately, students with disabilities often suffer from low self-esteem. Another positive, practical practice is that of helping your child to develop a healthy self-esteem. Children need to know that they are loved and accepted just as they are. They need to know that they have within them everything they need to be successful.

Parents should teach their children to think positive thoughts about who they are and what they can be. One of the best things that children can do for themselves is to develop a positive mental attitude. Parents can help their child to do this by first setting a good example by the way they act, speak, and live. By setting a good example, children will have a role model to follow. If a parent has any doubts that their child does watch and listen to their example, I recommend that they take time to observe how their child walks, talks, and acts. It can be a real “eye-opener."

One way parents can help build their child’s self-esteem is to never be critical of the child and never be sarcastic towards their child. Criticism and sarcasm will only hurt and destroy a child’s self-esteem. Also, do not try to compare them to someone else, especially their brother, sister, or another neighbor’s child. Each child is an individual. God did not make us to all be the same! Being different is what makes each of us unique and special.

Children need to feel good about themselves and who they are. They need approval and support from their parents. Wrap your every thought, action, and word in love for your children. When they see it, hear it, and feel it, they will experience your love, approval, and support.

When you take time to think about and compare the lifestyle of today’s families to that of families of 25 to 30 years ago, there are certainly many amazing differences. One of those differences is that children today are surrounded by multi-media to include such things as computers, cell phones, video games, e-mail, texting, and multiple televisions in the home.

Of course there are advantages to having availability to many of these different technologies. Unfortunately, there are some disadvantages as well. One disadvantage is that children today are not getting outdoors and getting the benefits of fresh air, sunshine, and exercise. As a consequence there is a national trend towards obesity, and part of this is due to our sedentary lifestyles and not getting sufficient exercise.

Therefore, another positive, practical practice that parents can employ with their children is to ensure they are taking time to enjoy the outdoors and getting exercise on a consistent basis. Exercise helps to build strength, endurance, and flexibility. It promotes and develops gross motor and fine motor skills. It helps the blood to circulate throughout the body by taking much needed oxygen to the brain.

Not only does exercise help to make you healthier physically, but also it contributes to being healthier mentally and emotionally. Exercise can provide relief for built up stress, frustration, or even anger. It is amazing how a brief walk out in nature has a way of soothing the soul.

In bringing this article to a close, I would like to share one more positive, practical practice that parents can utilize to help their child. The importance of children having the opportunity to socialize and interact with other children, as well as adults, cannot be overemphasized enough. Children need this interaction in order to be able to develop appropriate social skills.

This can be accomplished easily enough by getting the child involved and participating in community programs, team sports, scouting, or through activities at a local church. Children, just like adults, need attention and need to be recognized. Being accepted by others outside of the family can help to provide children with what they need to develop self-confidence and appropriate social skills that they will utilize the rest of their lives.

These are just a few of the positive, practical practices that parents can implement with their children. Certainly there are many more that can be helpful as well. It is my hope that these suggestions will be helpful, even if it’s just for the purpose of stimulating the thinking process.