Treasure Each Day

Over 20 years ago, I represented a low income African-American single mother in a federal housing discrimination case that went to trial.  The defendant was a particularly nasty man and one of his attorneys behaved unethically as the case headed to trial.  My client was a religious woman, and read Psalms in her Bible throughout the week long trial.  Each day when I asked her how she was doing, she said, “I’m blessed.”  At the time, I found this truly remarkable, as she had lost a child in a house fire in St. Louis before moving to Madison where she experienced housing discrimination.  Clearly, she knew something that I did not about treasuring each day, and the jury agreed, awarding her with a $95,000 verdict after finding the landlord liable for discriminating against her.

A few days ago, I was reminded of how important it is to treasure each day when my wife and I received the shocking news that our dear friend, Rick Radner, who introduced us 35 years ago, passed away from a sudden heart attack.  He left behind a loving wife, 3 children, brother and sister, and a funeral home packed beyond its seating capacity full of friends and other family members.  Shortly after I heard this devastating news and made arrangements to fly to Detroit to attend the funeral and provide what comfort I could to his family and be amongst friends, I turned to my 17 year old son, and said, “This is why you should treasure each day.”

2015-01-richard-radnerI had known Rick since high school, and we remained close friends for 40 years.  We talked regularly, including just a few days before he died, and shared our philosophies of life, constantly learning from each other.  Rick and I attended each other’s children’s Bar Mitzvahs as well as each other’s weddings, and took 2 incredible hiking trips, one with 2 other dear high school friends to visit my family in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, in Mexico and then traveling by train to the unparalleled beauty of the Copper Canyon, exploring its beauty.  Some years before that trip, Rick and I embarked on the most arduous hike either of us have ever taken, descending to the bottom of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a National Park in southern Colorado.  The climb is so steep that there are no trails, and there were a number of times when I questioned whether I could take the next step without falling and injuring myself.  But, somehow each of our survival instincts kicked in and we found our inner strength and persevered.

1024px-BlackCanyonBefore I left for his funeral, my wife recalled that no one made her laugh harder than Rick.  He used to call my wife a “leaker” because he made her laugh until she cried.  This memory made it all the more touching, when his sister Nancy recalled Rick’s own wonderful laugh during her beautiful eulogy and even gave the standing room only crowd attending the funeral a rousing imitation of his hearty laugh.

Towards the end of Rick’s funeral, the Rabbi quoted the Psalms 34:13-15 to describe Rick beautifully:

Who is the man
Who desires life
Who loves all his days
To see good

Guard your tongue from evil
And your lips from speaking deceit

Turn away from bad
And do good
Seek peace
And pursue it

May Rick’s memory be for a blessing.  May those of us who remain on this earth remember that our lives are fragile so we must treasure each day.  For me, that means devoting myself to my family, my friends, my communities, and playing my small part in making the world a better place.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems contact him through his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Facilitating Parental Involvement: Critical to Student Achievement

Much has been written about the need for parents to support their children in order for them to succeed in school. Indeed, a meta-analysis of parental involvement studies conducted by Harvard researchers concluded that:

parental involvement has a significant impact across various populations…not only does voluntary parental involvement have an influence, but parental programs do as well. Therefore, schools should adopt strategies to enhance parental engagement in their children’s schooling… [T]eachers, principals, and school counselors should familiarize themselves with the facets of parental involvement that can help the most, so that they can guide parents on what steps they can take to become more involved. These include time-intensive parental involvement activities such as reading to one’s children and communicating with them, and subtle involvement activities like parental style and expectations. Given the substantial influence of parental involvement, educators should consistently encourage parents to become more involved in their children’s schooling.

However, I am not a professional educator.  I am a professional advocate and on the side, I put a tremendous amount of volunteer time into supporting the delivery of high quality education in my son’s school district.  Among the ways I do that is by leading the East High Band Parent Group and the Madison Eastside Lakers Blue Line Club, both of which serve to supplement the school district’s limited funds to provide quality music and athletic programs.

In addition to raising funds, these groups also facilitate parental involvement in their children’s education.  Recently, the Blue Line Club hosted Parents’ Night between periods at my son’s team’s hockey game.  Although we do this every year, as we gathered by the door to the rink at the end of the first period, I started questioning the value of introducing every player and team manager with his or her parents.  I knew this was going to take a long time and make a late school night go even later.

But then, I paid closer attention and noticed a few important things;

  • Parents who had not attended their child’s game all season were there;
  • Divorced and step-parents joined together to celebrate their child; and most important
  • Parents of teens who sometimes tussle with each other were smiling from ear to ear.

11089_411999475623015_8487210258891577875_n After all the introductions had been made, we posed for a picture with the magnificent East High Pep Band in the background.  There were so many of us that the photographer had to go to the other side of the rink to fit us all in.These are the parents whose involvement are critical to the success of their children. 10668732_412000385622924_8621041119132149062_oWhile the Harvard researchers are absolutely right about the need for schools to work hard to involve parents, my own experience leads me to add that parents must also support each other with efforts such as this to facilitate their involvement in each other’s children.  As the saying goes,

it takes a village to raise a child.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems contact him through his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Soul has no Color

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I am re-blogging this post.

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Last night, my wife & I had the privilege of watching the incomparable Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, 72 years strong, perform an incredible concert.  Her opening act was comedian Jonathan Slocumb, whose job was to pump up the crowd for Aretha.  In honoring the Queen of Soul, Slocumb reminded the Wisconsin State Fair crowd, which came from all walks of life, as depicted here, that Soul has no Color.” 

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The comedian’s profound statement, which he based on one’s soul being internal, and therefore not based on skin color, reminded me of my 9th grade Social Studies teacher, who happened to be an African-American teacher in a high school filled with mostly Jewish students.  When it came time for her to teach the section on race, she started by saying that she hated teaching that topic and though she would follow the curriculum by teaching us about the…

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Applying the 10% rule to Systems Change

Last week, I wrote about how the 10% rule helps to overcome obstacles, specifically related to physical training, and in my case, running.  As promised, this week’s post discusses how to apply that rule when seeking systems change.

Of course, this rule is easier to apply to physical challenges.  In the running example I used last week, I simply increased my distance 10% at a time until in 8 steps, I had doubled my distance. Systems change, however, is not always as easy to measure.

In reality, applying the 10% rule to systems change is a recognition, that in all but the most unusual cases, it takes a step by step, gradual approach, in order to accomplish genuine systems change.  Indeed, those who expect systems change to happen in one fell swoop, are as unlikely to accomplish their goals as those who think they can run 10k without gradually building up the strength and stamina to do so.

Perhaps the best way to describe how this approach works is to set forth the steps taken over many years to pass Act 125, Wisconsin’s law eliminating the use of inappropriate seclusion  and restraint of children in public schools.  Of course, given the complexity of the issue, some of these steps overlapped each other and occurred simultaneously and repeatedly.

  1. Represent school children in numerous cases around the state to bring legal actions against school districts and abusive educators who used inappropriate seclusion and restraint on children.
  2. Expose stories of abusive seclusion and restraint use on school children in the media.
  3. At a time when only 6 states had laws prohibiting the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint on school children, analyze those laws and develop a model law for Wisconsin.
  4. Find a legislative sponsor for the model law.
  5. After years of being unable to get a legislative hearing on the bill, collect dozens of stories, team with other groups, and publicize them in the widely released Out of Darkness….Into the Light: New Approaches to Reducing the Use of Seclusion and Restraint with Children.
  6. Organize witnesses to tell their stories of seclusion and restraint at Senate hearing.
  7. After Senate Education Committee refuses to vote on bill, create Wisconsinites Concerned About Seclusion and Restraint Facebook page as an organizing tool.
  8. Work to develop a consensus bill with key stakeholders.
  9. Obtain unanimous legislative passage of seclusion and restraint bill.
  10. Get Governor to sign bill S-R bill signing1
  11. Monitor the bill’s implementation, including media exposure of problems.

These steps took place over a period of nearly 15 years, and of course, the problem as indicated in the last step, is not completely solved.  But the 10% rule clearly demonstrates how using this gradual approach, Wisconsin advocates were able to achieve fundamental systems change.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems contact him through his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Overcoming Obstacles-10% at a time

For reasons that are not clear to me, I learned to hate running as a child.  I ran a mile when I had to do so for gym class in school, but that ended in 10th grade.  Yet, I enjoyed many sports that involved running, including baseball, basketball, football and soccer.  So, my hatred of running was purely focused on running for the sake of running.

I have stayed physically active and fit my entire life, including biking and swimming, but for decades, I avoided running like the plague.  In my 40s, I played Ultimate Frisbee, which involved a tremendous amount of running with very few breaks.  Although exhausting, I was able to play competitively with much younger players often less than half my age. But, I still hated running for running’s sake.

Given that I am a strong bicyclist and swimmer, about 10 years ago, friends suggested that I compete in triathlons.  I consistently rejected these suggestions since I hated running.  But, as my advancing age made competing with teens & twenty-somethings in Ultimate Frisbee more challenging, it dawned on me that I could run if I put my mind to it.  Then I discovered the Sprint Triathlon, where the run portion is 5 kilometers (3.1 miles).  I decided it was time to get over my fear of running so I could compete in a triathlon.

Before my first run, I got in my car to measure a 5 kilometer route from my house.  Keeping in mind that I had never run more than 1 mile in my life, and had not run a mile since 10th grade gym class, my fears lingered.  But, off I went.  Sure enough, before I got to the end of the block, despite being in  very good physical shape, I was huffing and puffing and not sure I could run the whole distance.  I told myself that if I got too tired, I could always stop or walk, but fortunately another part of my brain told me not to give in so easily, and slowly, but surely, I was able to run the whole distance.  After a few months of training, I successfully completed a Sprint Triathlon on Father’s Day, 2007, just shy of 48 years old.  I proceeded to compete in a Sprint Triathlon in 2008 and 2009, and by that time friends suggested that I move up a level to compete in an Olympic Triathlon.

I knew I could easily bike 30 miles and swim 3/4 of a mile, but my fear of running stayed with me and I did not believe I was physically capable of doubling my running distance to 10k (6.2 miles).  Then, I found a book called, The Runner’s Body, which taught me the 10% rule.

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The 10% rule is a way to increase your speed or distance without injuring yourself or taking on an impossible task.  It is quite simple.  In my case, since I was running 5k (3.1 miles), I simply increased it 10% at a time.  So, I increased from 3.1 miles to 3.4 miles, building to 3.7, then 4; 4.4; 4.8; 5.3; 5.8 and in 8 steps I was running 6.2 miles, the Olympic Triathlon distance.  I competed in Olympic Triathlons in 2010 and 2011, and since then have moved on to bike racing, now that I have effectively conquered my fear of running.

The 10% rule allowed me to overcome my fear of running and build my endurance in a safe and relatively easy manner.  Next week, I will discuss how the 10% rule can apply beyond physical activities when engaging in systems change.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems contact him through his web site: Systems Change Consulting.