AA Big Book
Image via Wikipedia

I run a school for troubled teens, founded by my parents and based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, a program developed in the 1930s by and for men and women mostly over 30  who were addicted to alcohol–not the troubled teen girls and boys at my school who are mostly not addicts though many have abused substances.   What could those old-timers have to say to kids today?

My office is where the principal’s office would be in a traditional high school. It opens onto a large main office and in the front there is a small waiting/reception area. A few weeks ago I came out of m office to see one of my most volatile students–no history of addiction–just a very angry, disruptive, intractable 15 year old sitting in the reception area when he should have been somewhere, anywhere else.   Based on past experience I could assume that someone had told him to do something he didn’t want to do, or had told him not to do something he was already doing and he was angry.  We had been through this before.  Once again we worked through all the things about the school and his life that he didn’t like.   We worked through all that and the conversation was winding down.  I knew he would get up now and go back to class. I was reviewing this student’s recent history in my mind.  His act-outs were becoming more frequent.  I was questioing our effectivness when, out of the blue he says,

“You want to see something neat?”

“Sure”  I say.

“It’s page 417 in the Big Book.”   he says.

I am surprised. I wouldn’t have thought that this particular student would have read the AA Big Book at all, never mind taking it to heard.  I retrieved a copy and began reading page 417. The student followed along reciting with me.  Another surprise, he has memorized the passage.

It starts,…  acceptance is the answer to all my problems…..when I am disturbed it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation–some fact of my life–unacceptable to me…Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”  He forgot to mention that I was the chief critic. I was always able to see the flaw in every person, every situation. And I was glad to point it out…

You can find the entire passage on page 417 of the 4th edition.   It was brilliant. Exactly what this student needed to hear.

One of AA’s many slogans–you have to give it away to keep it.  The student gave me a great gift that day.  He reassured me that the 12 steps are relevant–that today’s troubled teens can read that old book and allow it to teach them how to live.

He also convinced me I need to get a new copy of the Big Book. When we first opened to page 417 and started reading, I was startled.  I had never read that passage before.  How could that be? I consider my self fairly well versed in the AA Big Book. I went home to my copy.  Perhaps it had been too long since I had read my BigBook from cover to cover I thought. I couldn’t find the passage.  I looked on page 417 and 471. Then on 317. Nada.

Turns out this really wonderful passage on acceptance only shows up in the 4th edition of the book. The copy that I use all the time is the 2nd edition.  Here I have been treating the Big Book like a Bible–frozen in time. But AA and the 12 steps aren’t like that–they change, grow adapt and are relevant still.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]



by Rita Argiros on May 30, 2009

Dog trainers use the old-fashioned term “drives” to talk about dogs’ basic personality or temperament.  There is social or pack drive, fight drive or defense, prey drive, food drive, sex drive.  Neurologists and contemporary animal psychologists don’t use the term “drive” much any more. Instead they will refer to parts of the brain–the amygdala is involved in flight or fight. It also plays a role in excitement.   When a dog is hunting, chasing, fighting, playing tug, retrieving, the amygdala is in play producing the feelings of excitement, fear, agitation and anticipation.  The thalamus plays a role in regulating attention and arousal.  When you are calmly focused on something, your thalamus is hard at work.  That crazy dog jumping all over you trying to get you to play with him?  His amygdala is all fired up.  Scratch your dog’s ear in exactly the right spot. Notice him feeling every move you make, calmly absorbing your attention. Thalamus all the way.

I am over simplifying.  Whenever we perform any action many parts of our brains are involved.  But I have found that my dog-training  students benefit from the simple model: thalamus (calm/focused), amygdala (excited, possibly angry or fearful).

We train working-line dogs for Search and Rescue.  None of them are made to be pets.  In a pet home, all our dogs would be like Marley. Our dogs have full access to the emotions(drives) of the amygdala. From that follow behaviors that most pet owners dislike. They bite, tug, chase and bark way more than any pet owner could tolerate.  Although they are terrible as teens, they can turn into absolutly phenomenal adult dogs.  The secret is balance.  We work on both sides of the equation–thalamus and amygdala.  We balance a 10 minutes session of focused and controlled obedience with three or four minutes of intense ball play.  Done correctly, over time, my terrible teenage GSD will become a dog who is energetic, intense, confident and capable of self-control.

Lucky working dogs are born balanced, high drives–they are capable of intense activity and intense focus.  They don’t have excessive amounts of fear. Nor do they have too little fear.  They are neither too clingy nor too independent.  Around other dogs, they are confident, neither overly submissive or a bully. With a dog like that, all the trainer has to do is keep the pup in balance as she matures.  But most dogs and most people have a natural tendency to be stronger in some areas than others.   So we  adjust the training regimen to enhance the weaker parts.

Lucky kids are born with balanced temperaments.   The rest of us start out as colicky babies and go on from there. Addiction, ADD, ADHD, Tourettes, truancy, social phobia, poor impulse control, and emotional outbursts of all sorts. The mechanics are much more complicated in humans but the path is the same:engage the student using things that he or she is already good at and likes doing while teaching the lagging skill.

Every semester students at my school apply for a number of internships.  I’m part of the team that makes those assignments.  I also supervise the student assigned to dog-training.  At the start of this past semester,  I thought I already had this semester’s intern picked. The student was bright, affable, good around the dogs and seemed extremely interested.  It was common knowledge around the school that he was next semester’s dog training intern.

Much to every one’s surprise, I didn’t pick him.  Over the semester it became clear to me that he lacked balance.  This student’s assets are intellect and charisma. He has untapped leadership potential, but I noticed a certain lack of enthusiasm for the actual work of dog training–the mundane, routine details. That’s not the end of the world.  Part of growing up is learning how to stay on task to completion.  But until he get’s into the habit of getting right down to work, and working until the job is done,  he is going to need more structure and supervision than I have the time (or the temperament)  to supply.   The dog-training internship wouldn’t have helped. It is a very independent job. Lots of contact with animals. Not much chance to work with other students and not enough direct supervision.

I found him another internship where he will be leading other students and working with a supervisor with aproven track record of developing a solid work-ethic in similar students.  That is the plan anyway–like all good teachers and all good dog trainers, I have sufficient confidence in my ability to read kids and dogs to make decisions like this.  But I am also a realist. It might not work. I am painfully aware of the limits of my perceptions.  Here I am fumbling around with the language of psychology and neuroscience. My predecessors used the language of good and evil, sin and virtue.   Someone will, no doubt, come up with an improvement on my approach before too long.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

{ 1 comment }

Image by beachblogger42 via Flickr

Sexual addiction, compulsive sexuality, cyber-sex addiction are all out of the closet now.  At our school, we have been using the 12-steps for more than 20 years to help students with this problem.  Not caring if the issue is best classified as an “addiction” or as another aspect of obsessive compulsive disorder, it just made sense to us, that anything that feels as good as sex does has the potential to make your life unmanageable.

Turns out this hunch supported by the latest in neuroscience and psychology.

Orgasms,cocaine and amphetamines, impact that same receptors and neurotransmitters.  And, research shows that the younger you are when you first try drugs and alcohol, the more likely you are to develop dependency.

Psychologists who study human sexuality note that, like Conrad Lorenz’s geese, humans have critical developmental periods where they develop life-long responses.  Some of this imprinting occurs in early childhood.  If you have a good relationship with your parents, you are likely to be attracted to similar looking people.

A lot of this imprinting takes place as we discover sexual pleasure.  Then, chance associations, traumatic experiences, objects, adolescent experimentation may set patterns we carry for life.   While many people get away with those experimental incursions into the worlds of porn, many of us end up in serious trouble.

Addicted or dependent on pornography, aroused by objects or rituals, we find it difficult if not impossible to form meaningful and fulfilling sexual relationships with other people.

Nobody is saying that every teen who experiments with pornography is going to have trouble.  But for certain populations of teens, already at risk, the risk of trouble is higher.  Sex addiction is associated with early childhood trauma, and with all the factors that predispose a person to OCD.   You often will find people who have sex addiction, have other addictions or may be classified with a personality disorder.

Our understanding of the relationship between the brain and sex addiction will continue to develop and as it does, I will continue to refine what I teach to my students but the basick outline will remain the same. Cyber-sex and pornography are nothing to fool around with and that the 12-step model can be used for this problem too.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

{ 1 comment }

I did an experiment in my Living Skills class the other day, a little free association. I wrote words on the board and asked students to write the first thing that came to their minds.  Then we compared answers. Predictably many–but not all– the students made the same associations.  Both the commonality of answers and the few odd-ball responses intrigued and disturbed my 15 year olds.

I said “yellow.”  Several students said “green.”  One student said “duck.” Nobody said “submarine.”   If you “get” why that’s funny then you are probably a lot older than my students.

I used this exercise to continue our discussion of the brain.  They’ve learned about neurons and neural networks.  The associations they make reflect their neuronal networks. They aren’t all the same.  What implications this has.  The teacher speaks and the students understand. That’s the way its supposed to work.  It often doesn’t because  understanding really means making connections and for that to happen the maps in our brain need to match pretty closely.

I don’t  know what is worse–a complete mismatch between the students’ cognitive map and mine, or that maps that are just slightly “off.”  Certainly the later is the cause of much mis-communication, argument and strife.  When a student is completely clueless, at least there is a chance the hand will go up and some version of “I don’t understand” will come forward.

Image by Brian’s Tree via Flickr

I am going to greatly simplify a recent conversation that illustrates this.


Several staff have come to me about a female student that I work with, complaining that her behavior is rude, arrogant, and disrespectful.  When I ask for more details, I usually find out that the student has “barged into my office,”  “interrupted in the middle of the conversation” or “took it upon herself” to make a change or fix a problem without permission.

If this student was younger or a new arrival at The Family Foundation School, I think the staff would be more tolerant. But she has been here for several months, is 17 years old, generally well spoken, takes good care of her appearance, is lively and out going.

If you ask her about any of the specific situations you can sense her frustration.  In each and every case, she feels both justified in her actions and mystified by the criticism.

The conversation

We spent some time working with the words “rude”, “arrogant” and “disrespectful”.   We needed to find out what those words meant to her first, before we tried to explain the perceptions of others.  I needed to build a bridge from her understanding to the common understanding of those words.  Explaining the perceptions of others

“Rude” is the best illustration.  To my student rude=unnecessarily and intentionally, impolite.  That is a distillation of about twenty minutes work, reviewing events and having her explain why she felt the people who criticized her were unfair.  When I made the connection rude=thoughtless.  The light bulb went off.

How do I know?  We were examining her most recent encounter with a staff person that she respects.  This was the “barged into my office” scenario.  The second the word “thoughtless” came out of my mouth, the student turned red, starting with her ears and throat and extending to her entire face.  She had no difficulty doing the next right thing; going to the staff person in question and making an apology.


The cognitive work we did to get to the new equation rude=thoughtless required that I not act on thoughts I was having like, When will she stop blaming everyone else for her problems? and remember my living skills students–communication depends upon making connections between similar mental maps.

The most common mistake I see is that we start from the wrong end. The bridge must be built from the student’s point of view outward.  If your student says she doesn’t get it, dive in and figure out what she does get. See if she has any wrong ideas and correct them. Then work out to new knowledge and new understanding.  Too often, we just repeat our explanation, possibly with some variation in example or modality.  Sometimes that works–a connection is made.  And when it doesn’t work we are likely to blame the student.

The same principal applies to misbehavior.  In this case,  I began with her point of view.  Many therapists would say that I “validated” her experience or reality.  Perhaps. But the relief I senses from her, didn’t seem to come from validation as much as from connection, that is, mutual understanding: she of me, and me of her.

I would see it that way. I am sociologist, not a psychologist and, for me, connection is everything.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

{ 1 comment }

Dogs and other animals are sometimes used in Solution-Focused Therapy. That is where I came across these principles. I am fascinated by them. They can be applied well beyond the therapeutic setting.  Think about solution-focused management or solution-focused teaching as you read them. And give me feedback.  I am especially interested in stories where these principles have transformed bad situations.

  1. If something’s working, do more of it.
  2. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
  3. If it’s not working, do something different.
  4. Small steps can lead to large changes.
  5. The solution is not necessarily related directly to the problem.
  6. The language requirements for solution development are different than those needed to describe the problem.
  7. No problem happens all the time. There are always exceptions that can be utilized.
  8. The future is both created and negotiable.

Recently I have been working rule # 6 Re framing the behavior of several students from  “attention seeking” to  “explosive.”   Which I think, better captures what it feels like for those students while still doing justice to the way their behavior impacts others.

My examples come from the residential setting I am most familiar with.

His family visit is postponed due to a family emergency and he storms out of the office, punching and kicking lockers on his way down the hall.  In the dorm at night, she accidentally puts her foot on her roommate’s bed.  Roommate asks her to move her foot.  Instead, she puts both feet on the bed, on and off, on and off until staff are called. Then she starts to scream and cry alternately, claiming its roomate’s fault for correcting her.  High drama ensues, everyone looses sleep that night.

Certainly their behavior attracts our attention.  Very likely, on some level, the explosive or disruptive student knows that.  But  his or her thoughts immediately preceding the outburst probably have absolutely nothing to do with getting our attention.  In one case,  my student acts out and then routinely runs away. She doesn’t want to be with people. She will often seek out one of the dogs for company.  She shows all the remorse of an alcoholic back from a bender.  Telling her to “stop being attention seeking” just isn’t going to cut it.

The language requirements for solution development require we shift focus from the student’s impact on others, to a focus on the student’s thoughts and feelings. And that we focus on the events and environment  that preceded the behavior.

The student needs to learn self-control.  How are we going to help her with that?

The student may have some long established ideas about life that need to be challenged.  What are they and how might we address them?

Most of the time the outbursts are defensive.  The student is afraid and her amygdala has taken over.   This is key.  Forget about all the other problems they have (well actually, all the other problems they cause you). None of them are going to get addressed as long as the student is reactive and fearful.

Location of the Amygdala in the Human Brain Th...

Location of the Amygdala in the Human Brain

Be careful here.  You don’t need to go into a long laundry list of past traumas–to explain why she is soooooo afraid and defensive. That will only set the student up as a victim.

Instead, focus on what can we teach her so that the rest of her brain can get control.  She needs a few seconds and she needs to be able to shift her attention.  There a lots of solutions to be discovered mutually, in conversation with the explosive student. But this conversation needs to be focused on the present and the future, not the past.

I will also look at what training or instructions I can bring to the staff at my school so they are better prepared to disarm the bomb instead of pushing the trigger.

One last warning–parents, staff, and peers may resist this work.   They are used to the language of the problem–their problem.  Your so-called “attention seeking” student has caused havoc and people are mad.   They have a list of all the ways she needs to change:  He is arrogant. She is self-centered. They lie.  They want change, now!

Understandably, asking those who have suffered with the explosive child to alter their behavior, even temporarily, may feel like “giving in.”  Why should they change?  They aren’t doing anything wrong! That is when you turn to rule # 3; if something is not working. Do something different.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


Tracking is Easy in March

by Rita Argiros on February 11, 2009

The Woods at 1am (b&w)
Image by criana via Flickr

Runaway student becomes lost

March 2005.  Year 2 of my campaign to reduce the number of students who elope from the school, or at least keep them safer when they do leave.  It’s been a slow slog through the mud of tradition and inertia.  For about 15 years students had been leaving the The Family Foundation School.  More than 75% are back in 8 hours or less.   People viewed running away as part of the experience, part of the process for the 40-60 students every year who leave.  Most don’t have a plan, they get mad and impulsively run off campus.

Over the years, the few students who had got into serious trouble, didn’t get into trouble near the school.  It found them after they’d made it back to the cities and suburbs they called home.  I could get people to admit that there was a chance of injury in the woods that surrounded our campus, but I guess people felt the chance was slight enough.

I don’t want you to get the idea that we did nothing when a student took off.  We had adequate procedures. We called the state police, sent cars patrolling the roads and villages in our area.  And, by year 2 we were also routinely following the higher risk students into the woods. Several staff were doing just that when I left the campus at 4:30 PM on my way to take my EMT practical exam at the Hancock Fire Station.

[click to continue…]

{ 1 comment }

Great Swamp Winter
Image by Joseph Hoetzl via Flickr

It’s an early spring day in 2003.  Tom, the shift supervisor at the school (we call them the Senior Floor Person or just, “senior floor”) calls me.

“Amy Nusman just called. She’s driving up with her boyfriend to look for Chris.”

Christopher Nusman is 16.  He left the school yesterday at 3 PM and hasn’t turned up yet.  That’s a little unusual.  Most of the time parents hear from their students the first day, but not always. I couldn’t be more specific than that.   Back then, I couldn’t even tell you how many students run away each year and although I felt some unease every time we had a student out there,  I share the Family Foundation School culture and thought that sometimes running away with just part of the process, to be expected, something that we “deal with.”

As usual, we sent cars out to patrol the immediate area and the route into Hancock, the nearest town.  I couldn’t tell you if that was effective or not.  We didn’t keep track.

What I did know was that the general opinion among employees was that driving around didn’t work.

“The kids just dive into the bushes when they see a car. Its a waste of time.” was the commonly expressed sentiment.

There were also a smaller group of staff who liked the excitement of chasing after our students.  I was uneasy around both responses.  But the truth is that although I identified these feelings, my focus was elsewhere.   That would all change in the next few hours.

We had notified the State Police and faxed them all the information they needed to start a file.  Last night an officer stopped by to take a report. That is also routine. The police have picked up many of our students in the past.

Our relations with them are just “OK.”  They saw us as something between a nuisance and something to do to fill up a slow shift.   A few times, when I have dealt with the officers directly they have asked why I don’t put a fence around the campus.  And when I explain that that we see ourselves as a step down from that sort of facility. They give me a strange look.

This is the background noise in my head when I respond to Tom, “Why is Amy coming here, now?”  I’m tense.  Tom’s unspoken message is clear:  There is a problem.

“When Randal called her last night.” Tom begins, “He said we saw Chris run down toward the swamp.  That the swamp was dangerous, Chris could easily get stuck.  I think he said something about being lucky to make it across.”

I’ve got the picture now.  Even back then, before we start to do formal risk management at the school, I am known for my tendency to focus on doom and gloom.  My personal motto has always been Hope for the best. Plan for the worst. I tell you this so you will understand Randal better because even I think that Randall has a tendency to over dramatize.  I am besides myself now thinking about that poor mother–no wonder she is on her way up here.

“Well did anyone actually see Chris go into the swamp?” I ask.

“No, but he was heading that way.”  Tom says.

I am thinking to myself. If Randall  really thought the kid was in danger, why didn’t he call me?  He calls me when the toilets overflow……” I keep that to myself. Instead I say, “What else did Amy say?

“Shes gonna search the swamp herself. ”  Tom tells me. “She’s made up her mind.”

“Well, can you blame her?  She thinks Chris is frozen to death, or drowned or stuck in quicksand.”

“You aren’t going to let her, are you?”

“How am I going to stop her?  When will she get here?”  I say, shifting the subject back to something I can control.

“About 11”

“OK–I’ll be down to school before that. I’ll go out and help her look.” and I hang up the phone.

When Amy arrives I apologize for Randall’s insensitivity.  I tell her that he has clearly exaggerated the threat but that I will go with her to search the swamp to be sure.

All the shift supervisors were men and they were very concerned that Amy and I be safe.   You can imagine my emotional response to that, “I can take care of myself, thank you.”   But, sorting out the truth from the gender battle, I decide not to argue when another senior floor person told me very authoritatively that he was “taking us out.”

Truth was, in recent years the only times I had been in the woods I stuck to marked trails.  I’d never hunted and I wasn/t that familiar the school’s outlying property.

It was in the 40s when we left the school but colder last night.  If Chris spent the night in the woods, he must be cold now I thought.

[click to continue…]

{ 1 comment }

Pathological learning

by Rita Argiros on January 30, 2009

My dog Ripley is addicted to a large blue plastic ball.  Too large to pick up, she will push is around with her nose until her nose is bloody and swollen and she is exhausted.

Jolly Pets Push N Play Jolly Ball, 10 In. (Colors Will Vary) ImageWhen you first see this, it’s funny.  As it goes on it becomes disturbing. I let her have the ball once or twice a year. I am working with my students.  Each time a student quickly recognizes what we are looking at.

“That’s addiction” one will explain.  “Look at that.  She’s obsessed”

And they are right.  When Ripley has that ball, she is gone. There is a crazed and absent look in her eye. She doesn’t look like she is playing or having a good time. When she is finished, she looks exhausted, not satisfied.  Compare this to how she behaves when she has found the subject when we are search and rescue training and wins her toy. Then she prances around parading her toy like a trophy.

But wait a day, or an hour,  and show her the ball and she will jump up and bark repeatedly. Her eyes will shine and anticipation of a huge reward.  She must remember the thrill of the fight with the ball and be unable to forsee that she can’t win.  Neuroscientists like Steven Hyman now talk about all types of addiction as “extreme memory” or “pathological learning”

 My students recognize themselves in Ripley. “That’s what I was like with computers,” says one.

“That’s me on oxy” says another.

Computers, oxy, meth, food, gambling, sex, anger, alcohol, whatever–the basic mechanism is the same. Whether it happens after just one or two exposures, or develops over a long period of time.  In those of us who are vulnerable, the end is the same–ADDICTION.  We have created an indelible, emotionally charged, learned response to a certain behavior or substance.

One day Ripley got the ball away from me outside. (We usually do this at the gym).  The school is on a hill, so the ball rolled away from her. It is fast. She is fast. I’m not. Before I knew it she was 100 yards away from me and we were moving away from the campus.  The students helped me get her back.  Everytime they would get close they would call her.

Ripley is a well trained Search and Rescue dog.  These were students who worked with her daily.  She would normally respond. She paid them absolutely no attention whatsoever.  When we eventually got her and the ball back. One said “Now I know what my mother must have felt like when I tuned her out.”

That is extreme learning. It happened the very first time I put that ball down in front of her.  Something about the way it moved triggered the pleasure or attention circuit in her brain, triggered a release of powerful neurotransmitters (the brain’s personal stash) and rewired her brain. On the spot. From that day forward, Ripley’s brain is different.  If I want to keep her attention, keep her off drugs,  we must avoid the big blue ball.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


Cold Spell
Image by diathesis via Flickr

“What sort of knucklehead runs away on the coldest day of the year?”  I said to no one in particular when I got the call at 10 AM.  Two boys had taken off from the chapel and were heading north west thought the woods.

It was a rhetorical question.  I love all the students at The Family Foundation School where I work, and I know that many of them act impulsively.  I wasn’t really surprised.  Just worried.  The remark was my way of letting off stress.  These kids could end up in serious trouble.  I knew that because I’m in charge of risk management at the school. I’ve been studying student “elopements” (as they are called ) for the past 5 years, and I am the human half of a K-9 search and rescue team along with my partner, Ripley.  Most of the SAR work we do is at the school.

Similar remarks would be made be everyone involved in the search all that day.  What struck me as funny at the time was the typical response.  I counted at least 5 people including myself who corrected the speaker–  “Actually, I think it’s the second coldest day. I’m pretty sure yesterday was even colder.”

What was this? Amidst all the events of the day, why were we compelled to correct one another and get this one thing right?

None of these editorial comments carried a trace of one-up-man-ship or know-it-all-ness.  And the person receiving the information —today isn’t as cold as yesterday— didn’t seem upset either.  On any other day, little exchanges like that can foster a slightly irritating background noise at work. This was different. For some reason,  the fact that it was 2 or 3 degrees warmer today than yesterday was important to all of us.  Perhaps we were trying to reassure each other that it could have been worse.


Rita and Ripley

We tracked the two students throughout the day.  My team took the first and the third shifts.   At about 3 PM  we followed the boy’s tracks to a rail bed that proceeded down a corridor.  The Delaware river was on one side and mountains on the other.  The corridor came out just outside of Hancock.  We estimated they were about an hour in front of us and we sent people to intercept them and we caught up with them at the Hancock House Hotel.  They had made it out of the woods on the second coldest day of the year, but not safely.  Both were under dressed. One had on only sneakers.  He had to be admitted to the hospital where he was treated for frostbite.

Again, a weird mixture of responses.  Many expressed gratitude that it turned out as well as it did, and sympathy for a boy who will now have feet sensitive to cold for the rest of his life.  Others were less forgiving.

“Serves him right,”  my student-intern said that night as we were squaring away our gear. “He should have frostbite.  Who runs away on the coldest day of the year?”  I let the comment stand.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]



by Rita Argiros on January 5, 2009

further adventures in dog training
Image by hangdog via Flickr

If you write or teach you sometimes have to go for quite a long stretch without much feedback–good or bad–about your work.  You hope that you are having impact, that you are an influencer, but it can be hard to tell.

Today, I walked into the classroom where I teach Social Problems and the blackboard hadn’t been erased from the last class.  On it I saw an outline for a keyhole paragraph.  It was all about working dogs and dog training.

The outline was solid. I was thrilled.  I wanted to know who was writing about dogs and asked my sociology students if they knew. They recognized Kurt’s  handwriting.  He teaches 10th grade English and has no personal knowledge of dog training or working dogs.

Later, when I saw Kurt near the mailboxes, I asked him which student was writing about dogs, assuming that he was working with a single student’s assignment.

“They all are,” he said. “The entire class is writing about  working dogs.  They love this assignment. They all know so much about the subject already.  They have a lot to say.”

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]