Friday, September 21, 2007

Who says you can't go home?

I went home twice in the last two weeks. First, I went back to my old high school, did a presentation for the entire student body and received two standing ovations. I spent the rest of the day in three classrooms building on points from my ninety-minute program. And, I had a blast! I needed to be in that gym that day. I fed off of the energy from the students and everything just clicked. I had them laughing one minute and just like that you could have heard a pin drop. I took them on a long roller coaster ride, and based on many conversations I had that day, and the following weekend, I made a difference. That's the whole idea. I only have students long enough to plant the seeds, then I turn them back to the teachers to nurture them.

Then, last weekend I went home again and watched the high school football team win their first game of the season in impressive fashion by a score of 26 to 12. After the game, I asked the coach if I could go into the locker room. I gave a very short pep talk and congratulated them on a well-played game. There was a lot of positive energy in the room, the kids were pumped, as was I, and I entered the locker room for the first time since the night I got hurt in 1971.

After the locker room cleared out, I sat and talked to the head coach, Dennis Hale, and a longtime assistant coach, Don Kuiper. Coach Kuiper was actually one of the assistant coaches when I got hurt. He has spent close to 40 years teaching and coaching in the Worthington school district.

They showed me a new type of offense they were running called, "The Wristband Offense." I had never seen a team play that style of offense before. I have to say it looked pretty complicated. It was very impressive to watch their team play an entire game without huddling and watching the kids read the plays from their wristband.

We went over their scorebook and analyzed what had just happened. I was curious to know how many more plays they could get in without running a standard offense where the team huddled after every play to call the next play. They were able to run 78 plays while their opponent only ran 54. With that kind of play count advantage over the course of the year they will certainly have a dramatic advantage over their opponents. Besides that, it was fun to watch. Their offense was spread out all over the field. They threw the ball 38 times for more than 225 yards. That's a lot of passing plays for a high school team to run in a single game.

Another one of the highlights for me that evening was talking to several students who approached me and thanked me for my presentation the week before at Worthington High School. I know how difficult it can be for a teenager to approach me sometimes. It's not that I'm not approachable; it's just not something many young people have an opportunity to do because speakers aren't usually around a school a week later.

That's one of the reasons why I like to spend an entire day in the building when I visit a school. I truly believe a major part of my success comes from the fact I don't just go into a building, do my presentation and go on to the next building. I believe a lot of learning takes place in the classroom visits that follow my assembly program.

The classroom visits allow me time to do a couple of experiential exercises that build on very important points I make in my assembly. It also gives students an opportunity to ask questions they might not otherwise get to ask in a large assembly in a gymnasium or auditorium. When classrooms are connected to the Internet, I like to take kids to my website and show them pictures of my accident, my hospitalization, my van and several other cool things. It’s all about those “teachable moments.”

It’s not true; you can go home.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Fairmont TARGET Workshop

Mark Hernes runs the Fairmont TARGET Group at Fairmont High School in Fairmont, Minnesota. I spent six hours on August 29th with about 100 student/athletes of his leadership group. He has a program that covers ninth through twelfth grade. We spent a six-hour day in a hot church and had several amazing experiences.

I put together a leadership packet of about twenty handouts, and did several small group and large group exercises. I'm only going to discuss one of the exercises.

One of my favorite exercises is having a group line up by birth date without speaking. They need to figure out alternative ways of communicating and sometimes that can be a difficult task. No matter the size of the group, usually someone thinks they are on the right spot only to find out later they are not. With these young leaders, everyone was exactly where he or she needed to be. They got creative and communicated by writing their birth date down and using hand signals. However, no one pulled out his or her driver’s license. When I asked them about it, several replied, “I don’t have one.”

To which I smiled and replied, good reason then, huh? Rarely is it, especially in a group that large, does everyone gets to the right spot.

The next part of the problem is they need to multiply their birth date by their birth month. They are supposed to line up by smallest number to largest. Then I give them more directions on how to break a tie. The first tie breaker is they add up all of the numbers in their home telephone number, and the largest home phone number goes first and works its way to the smallest phone number. If there is still a tie, the second tiebreaker is their home address. The smallest home address goes first to the largest last. In a group this size, we had several ties. Two of the tiebreakers went to the second tiebreaker.

As soon as I started giving all of these directions to the entire group, inevitably people start panicking and looking for a calculator, or paper and pencil, even if they are not involved with a tie.

They scored 100% on that part too. I was impressed. This is the first time I have every done that exercise in a group that large when everyone got to the right spot. Oh yes, this time they are allowed to talk. What usually happens is they lose their focus; start talking about all kinds of things and make mistakes.

What stuck me about this exercise was watching several of the leaders take charge and direct people where they needed to be. That’s when I know the person running their program is teaching leadership skills. Mark Hernes is running a good program and I commend him for his efforts.

That exercise was representative of the whole day. Kudos to Mark, his staff and especially the student leadership in his TARGET program!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

First Day of School 2007

Another school year has just begun, and what a first day I just had. I spent the day at Lincoln Secondary School in Esko, Minnesota, a small town in Northern Minnesota on Interstate 35, about twenty miles south of Duluth. I had fun with the students doing three short programs for their seventh and eighth graders, ninth and tenth graders, and juniors and seniors.

Then the real fun began. A middle school math teacher by the name of Russ Davidson approached me to thank me and I asked him if he would like me to visit his classroom. With an abbreviated schedule for the first day of school and classes only running about 20 minutes, I watched a middle school math teacher teach with more passion than I have seen in a long time. The three classes I sat in on were seventh and eighth grade transitional math classes. He quickly went through his expectations and requirements for the year, handed out textbooks, and then gave the students to me.

I showed them how to do slant or lattice multiplication, did a fun math exercise that will only work this year, and spent my short time sharing some of my beliefs about how important a good education is to them.

The two of us fed of each other’s energy and had a learning experience that was just amazing. I think I got as much out of the experience as anyone.

Russ has spent his entire life, except for four years away at college, in Esko. He grew up there, and got his first, and only, teaching job thirty-five years ago in his hometown. He shared stories with me about his family, grandchildren and plans for the future. Under Rule 90, Russ is planning to retire at the end of this school year and move with his wife of 37 years to Florida. When he leaves, Esko will have a hard time filling his shoes.

The passion he puts into his classroom was obvious the minute I entered the room. He got excited just handing out textbooks!

The fun thing for me was it was completely unplanned. My contract stated I would give three large group presentations and be done at 1:00 PM. Whenever I visit a building, I like to spend as much time as possible with students because I can get more done. I would love to be a fly on the wall in his classroom tomorrow to see what his students have to say about their experience today.

Sunday, September 2, 2007


On August 24th, I spent the better part of the day attending a workshop in St. Paul put on by Advocating Change Together (ACT). ACT is a grassroots disability rights organization run by and for people with developmental and other disabilities. Among other things, ACT is working to help make people with disabilities lives' better by teaching them skills to make them better self-advocates to take charge of their own lives.

To paraphrase their flyer, the objective for the meeting was: "Do Metro Area self-advocacy groups want the metro region of Self-Advocates Minnesota (SAM) to work together as a team? And, if we do, we need to define the structure, strategies and players."

I spent close to four hours watching people with various levels of developmental disabilities make some incredible decisions based on very rational thought processes much of society doesn't think they possess. Therefore, "We" need to make those decisions for this group of people. They proved to me in that short time society is not giving credit where credit is due!

I was very impressed with several people who were obviously making many, if not all of the decisions they needed to live their lives to the fullest. It was a fun experience.

I was especially impressed at the end of the workshop when it came time to vote on the object of the day; only one woman needed clarification on the question put before them. I had been interjecting some of own thoughts and suggestions throughout the meeting; so, I tried to explain the issue in a little different language I believed would make it easier for her to understand.

Then she understood the question and voted with the rest of the self-advocates to make the motion unanimous. By the way, the only people who were allowed to vote were the individuals who had disabilities. The staff members from the various organizations were not allowed to vote. After all, the workshop was about self-advocacy.

The crowning achievement for me was when they asked for two volunteers to plan the next meeting and get their new project off of the ground, one woman shot her hand right up and eagerly volunteered. She was ready to go! Almost immediately, another woman also volunteered.

I immediately told them how impressed I was they were taking on that new responsibility, and they were demonstrating exactly what the workshop was all about, self-advocacy. They both got huge smiles and thanked me for the compliment.

I'll be watching to see how their new leadership group develops.