Chipping Away

This is the longer version of Adrien’s short documentary about an extraordinary group of young people and the United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) here in Lowell. Take a moment to see what overcoming adversity to hope and to dream about a future really look like. And then,if you are so inspired, support UTEC’s programs and efforts by going to their website.

The Joyless Pursuit of Excellence

Last Friday as I watched one of my favorite weekly shows (Greater Boston‘s Beat the Press segment), I heard panelist Margery Eagan describe the atmosphere at the Boston Globe as the “joyless pursuit of excellence”. In our local newspaper world, there is no doubt that the Globe is a superb paper and even when I don’t agree with their editorial positions, the articles are well-written and in-depth.

What I didn’t know until Eagan’s comment, was this phrase is commonly associated as the motto of (former) editor Marty Baron.

The more I considered this phrase, the more powerfully I was struck by its connection to the educational environment today. So often educators – and administrators – talk about the stress of preparing students for assessments, or adhering to standards of achievement. I  don’t know anyone really who isn’t committed to their students and to helping those children learn, yet we are all always feeling as if what we do does not measure up.

Even the joy of seeing a student who is (finally) “getting it” becomes overshadowed by the fear that it wasn’t on the time schedule thought up by some faceless bureaucrat in a faraway place well-insulated from actual children.

Certainly we all want to be excellent educators, and more to the point, we want our students to be excellent too. But as to joy? Those moments seem elusive.

I don’t have a solution except to become more cognizant that, along with the stress, we all need a lot more joy. I need to make my journey a more joy-filled pursuit of excellence.

Where dreams intersect

Several years ago, my husband Adrien was working in the corporate world as a software engineer.  For a long time, he had worked for large and small software companies and enjoyed both the work and the camaraderie…. and the pay wasn’t bad either.

But some time about five years ago, he had a moment when staying with his engineering job was overshadowed by the desire to do something more creative, to return to his early interest in photography. And so he did. It has been an exciting journey of hard work and worry and determination.

This past summer, he connected with the staff at UTEC with a proposal and a hope that he could explore creating portraits and a film documenting the UTEC program’s young people.

Capturing the hope and resilient spirit of youth who have had some tough breaks, but who are determined to break out of cycles of trauma generated from varied socio-economic factors, has been a journey of enlightenment. While we both were aware of UTEC’s existence, I don’t believe either of us knew the depth of this program’s impact.

These young people also have dreams and goals. How eloquent they are in the expression of where they have been and where they are going! I want my own elementary-age students – the ones who could easily take a misstep – to listen, to learn from you.

Serendipity has put these young people, so determined to overcome challenges, and Adrien, determined to tap into something more,  in each other’s pathways.

It is the place where dreams intersect.

To see the images and the film, click on the following links:

UTEC Portraits

Video “Chipping Away”



A Comedy of Errors

I traded in my lovely Sicilian surname when I married.  Tired of being referred to as Amy Pugloski, Pugsley or some other variant for the unable-to-read, I agreed to be a Bisson. Seriously, how could that get screwed up?

Over the years I’ve heard my name pronounced Bi-son (yeah, just like the mammal from the Plains), Bitchell, and several other fun and creative ways. For God’s sake people, it’s only 6 letters. Use the rules of phonics, you know, a vowel surrounded by consonants makes the short sound of the vowel. We’re not even trying to insist on the French pronunciation.

Last year, I needed a new faculty identification badge. So, despite loving how I look in those deer-in-the-headlight beautifully lit school-picture day shots, I filled out the form, sat on the stool and voila. Two seconds later, I was moving on to the next thing.

My picture ID came back with my last name spelled…. Bison. I can assure you I do know you to spell my last name. Accurately.

Of course, school picture day companies are gone by dismissal times so there was no one to complain to. Mrs. Bison remained locked in my desk drawer for the duration. No one here by that name.

This year, I gave it yet another shot. Again, paying close attention this time to my handwriting, I spelled my last name ever so carefully. B…i….s….s….o…n. Again, deer-in-the-headlight lighting, sit on the stool, badda bing, badda boom, “portrait”  taken.

How excited was I that I would have my very own, picture identification card hanging from its rightful place around my neck! That is, until I noticed my name. This time, with a nod to informality, my first name appeared on the ID. My last name – no, my last name didn’t make it.  This time I was Besson.

Good grief. And you thought I was going to write about politics 🙂


Power of Positive Thinking

Many (many) years ago, I read nearly all of Norman Vincent Peale’s Positive Thinking books. I read them during a dark time: I was struggling with the career for which I had trained (which turned out not to be a match); a spiritual life that was unfulfilling. In need of an epiphany, I ended up watching Phil Donohue where I learned about positive thinking and its impact.

Positive Thought has sustained me many times over the years. It helped me over a career bump. Eventually I found something fulfilling that I felt passionate about. It helped me through a scary illness. It helps me to stay away from the dark side, the part of me that would like to throw in the towel most days.

As a teacher, I’ve found Positive Thinking is a profound impact on my students and their parents, whether or not they know it is applied.  When I start a conference or when I am writing report card comments, I try to begin with something positive that the student can do. Doesn’t every parent want to hear something good – I know I always did.  Simply providing a laundry list of what a student can’t or won’t do is never met with any sense of partnership between parent and school and the resulting disconnect is hard to repair.

Our students, our families, and our selves – we all respond to positive thinking, positive talk. In our current educational climate, that is becoming more of a rarity, isn’t it?

But positive thinking is also a necessity. It is the essence of moving forward.