Birthday Orchids

One of my hobbies is growing houseplants. In addition to their beauty, they help keep our indoor air clean and fresh all year long, even through a long winter of closed windows. Over 20 years ago, I started raising orchids. Orchids are not only extraordinarily beautiful, but they pose significant challenges in getting them to rebloom. They need special fertilizer since they are epiphytes with aerial roots that do not obtain nutrition from the soil, so they are planted in bark to imitate their natural habitat of growing on the bark of trees in the jungle. Of course, as with all plants, finding the right location for the proper amount of sunshine is also very important.

When our son was born 19 years ago, we bought an orchid to celebrate and put it in his bedroom. The next year, that orchid rebloomed, and I realized that Josh’s bedroom was an ideal location to grow orchids. Sure enough, at least one orchid has rebloomed during Josh’s birthday for all 19 of his birthdays.

Here are the orchids blooming in his room on his 19th birthday.

My wife, Sheryl, does not believe in coincidences, and in this case, I agree that it is no coincidence that orchids have bloomed in his bedroom every year on Josh’s birthday. Sure, I take good care of my orchids. But, Josh has also bloomed every year as he has grown and matured into a young adult studying abroad at the Technion in Haifa, whom we and many others admire, not only for his many talents and accomplishments, but for the caring attitude and empathy which pervades the way he sees the world and interacts in it. So, even though he is far away this year on his birthday, his spirit remains a part of his bedroom, and I believe that contributes to the continued annual reblooming of his bedroom’s orchids.

When parents raise their children, they always hope for the best, but ultimately, as their children become adults, they must acknowledge that their now adult children must make their own choices about how to live their lives. We raised Josh as a critical thinker in the hope  that he would make good choices. Now, on his 19th birthday, we receive much joy from thousands of miles away as we watch him make good choices living and learning in a foreign land. We wish him many more years of successfully navigating life through making good choices as an independent adult while I continue to care for the orchids in his bedroom so that they rebloom every year on his birthday, as a beautiful reminder of our beautiful son.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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Motivation: the Key to Success

Whether you are a parent, a teacher, an employer, or in any other position where your goal includes getting others to achieve success, an often elusive key is discovering the motivation that will create an environment for success.

In school, how students’ teachers provide feedback to students can make a huge difference in their students’ success. Sometimes it does not take a huge change in behavior. For example, in a recent study, 7th grade students were asked to write an essay about a hero. In addition to providing typical feedback, researchers added one of two sticky notes to the students’ papers. One note blandly stated, “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper.” The other note said, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them” Then the students were given the option to revise their essays.

As reported in the Atlantic,

The results were striking. Among white students, 87 percent of those who received the encouraging teacher message turned in new essays, compared to 62 percent of those who got the bland note. Among African American students, the effect was even greater, with 72 percent in the encouraged group doing the revision, compared to only 17 percent of those randomly chosen to get the bland message. And the revised essays received higher scores from both the students’ teachers and outside graders hired for the study.

The researchers

concluded that students were more motivated to take an extra step academically when they perceived their teachers’ critical feedback as a genuine desire to help rather than as an expression of indifference or disdain toward their racial group. To further test that hypothesis, Yeager and Cohen surveyed students’ trust of their teachers going into the study and found that the encouraging note had the largest effect on a subgroup of African American students who had previously reported trusting their teachers the least (as measured by survey questions such as, “My teachers … have a fair and valid opinion of me”).

Parents, teachers and employers often find that procrastination is a huge barrier to success. Once again, finding methods to motivate people to move out of a state of procrastination is the key to their success. We must account for emotions in order to motivate people to achieve success. This often means that simply providing someone who is stuck with a rational explanation for why it is better to move forward will often not succeed. Motivation requires finding what will improve the person’s mood. It is not the same for everyone and is often elusive, but if found, the likely result will be improved performance.

Motivation_and_Emotion_Scrabble

Sometimes, providing a reward will help to reinforce the positive motivation that is necessary to accomplish one’s goal. Once again, however, the reward required to motivate someone will vary with the individual and the task to be accomplished.  What is clear, however, is that simply punishing someone for failing to accomplish a goal is unlikely to provide the motivation necessary for success.

Finally, positive peer pressure is often essential to motivate success. It is often the case that the last person someone who is stuck wants to hear from is their parent, teacher or boss. Even if the parent, teacher or boss tries to convey a positive message, it is often perceived negatively. That dynamic changes if the person who needs motivation is encouraged by peers to move forward.

Of course, this all sounds easier to accomplish than genuine motivation often is, but one thing I have learned in 18 years of parenting, and over 30 years of teaching and managing employees, is that sometimes even showing your child, student or employee that you are searching for a way to motivate them, will help the 2 of you find that elusive key to their motivation.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

A Parent’s Final Cheer

For 13 years, I have been cheering my son on in his athletic activities. It started in kindergarten with youth soccer. Youth hockey began in 2nd grade. By high school, Josh played on the soccer team in the fall, the hockey team during the winter, and ran on the track & field team in the spring. While I was unable to attend every game and meet, I attended all that I could, and brought my enthusiastic cheering to every sideline for hundreds games and races.

Now that Josh is about to graduate high school and move on to the adult world, his participation in youth and high school sports ended yesterday with his final race in the 300m hurdles at the State Regional competition last night. While I am sure he will find avenues for competitive sports as an adult, it is unlikely that I will be able to attend most of those events and cheer him on.

I have previously written about how well run student athletic programs help to improve high school academics, and how appreciating staff support for their students’ athletic endeavors provides critical support to student success. But today, I write about why I cheered so often, for so many years, and the parental fulfillment that culminated after yesterday’s final race.

I learned a long time ago that the opportunities to vocally root for your child’s success do not present themselves as often as most parents would like. After all, we do not attend school with our children, and observe their successes and failures. While we can attend parent-teacher conferences, it simply is not the same as being an eyewitness to your child’s performance and through your presence and cheers, inform your child that he has your unconditional love and support. While Josh’s athletic schedule could sometimes be dizzying and often hard to fit into my busy schedule, I simply made the choice not to miss those many opportunities for such a public declaration of love and support for my son’s endeavors, as I knew that one day those opportunities would no longer be available, and they could never be recaptured if I missed them.

Track meets are very different than hockey and soccer games. They take hours to complete and the races tend to be very short. Last night was no different. I arrived in the pouring rain around 4:30 PM, and waited until Josh’s 300m hurdle race started almost 3 hours later. The 300m hurdle event is a grueling race. Josh is the only hurdler on his team. It starts across the track from the stands and I did my best to soak up every second of the under 1 minute race.

Fortunately, my zoom lens helped me get a good view of the start.IMG_2601

When they came around the bend, I could see the tremendous effort it takes to stride over each hurdle. IMG_2603It did not matter that Josh was not in first place, since both he and I are used to appreciating his effort regardless of whether he wins the race. As Josh finished the race, every one of his facial muscles revealed that he was giving it his all. IMG_2604

It had been a long day, and Josh would take the team bus back to school, so after his race, I texted him my congratulations on a race well run, let him know I was heading home, and told him to text me when he was ready for me to pick him up at school.

It was nearly 10 PM when Josh asked me to pick him up. Anyone who parents teenagers knows that parental appreciation is not always freely given as teens struggle to find their own place in the world and declare their own independence. But last night was different. First, Josh sent me the following text before I picked him up:

You’re the best. Thanks for coming to see my last high school race even if it wasn’t [a] good sporting event.

Needless to say, that appreciation warmed my heart. Best of all, it continued when Josh got in the car. He thanked me for cheering him on ever since kindergarten soccer and for being such a dedicated parent. When we got to a stop sign, we hugged in the car. I have probably forgotten many of Josh’s hundreds of sporting events. But I will  never forget that hug.

Thanks Josh for giving me so many opportunities to cheer you on. I have every confidence that you will succeed as you move into adulthood, even if I am not there to cheer you on. Just listen inside, I will still be cheering for you.

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