November 1, 2015
Michael Cunningham, the award-winning author of The Hours, has a new book out; a new spin on fairy tales called A Wild Swan and Other Tales. He was interviewed on NPR this morning and was describing himself as the irritating child who demanded book after book to be read to him before going to sleep and then when the fairy tale was wrapped up and everyone lived ‘happily ever after’ he would ask, “Why?” Why did the princess want to marry such a mean guy? Why did the witch really want to eat little kids? What is up with that?
I have never met Michael Cunningham but I like his style. I relate. He asks difficult questions. He complicates things. Through his interview I kept being reminded of someone else who did a ‘spin’ on fairy tales, Stephen Sondheim. I loved the musical, ‘Into the Woods.’ Seeing it was one of my favorite nights at the theater (and in therapy at the same time.) The night I watched it, in the first row, I was on my way ‘into the woods’ myself. I was 20 years old and literally one night away from getting on a plane and going to live in Italy for my junior year abroad adventure, which turned out to be both a magical and dark experience. Junior year abroad wasn’t all just Act One and dreamy. It was Act Two too, aptly titled, “Ever After.”
What does happen after ‘ever after’? I think this time of year in schools, and in all organizations, things become a little dark. Not only are leaves dropping off trees, but everyone is just slithering to the winter holidays. Six weeks to go. Yes, there is that ‘respite’ of Thanksgiving in America, but for some of us, that too isn’t a fairy tale of pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce.
I think as it becomes darker earlier, I find folks becoming a little impatient. The rolling out of the initiative isn’t going so smoothly. The evaluations need to become more focused. It’s harder to be tolerant. Couldn’t everyone just do their jobs? Ellen Moir created a terrific graphic of the phases a first year teacher goes through. In November we are right in the middle of disillusionment. Smack dab at the bottom of the curve. I don’t think it is just first year teachers who are feeling low. Maybe the sugar rush of Halloween has left many of us in the slump. What does on do in Act Two?
I leave you with some solace in the ‘ever after’ phase of the year from one of my favorite ‘professional melancholics,’ Parker Palmer. (Don’t you love his self-description?) You can read the whole of Parker Palmer’s reflection on Autumn here but here is just a spot of comfort. “When I try to fabricate a life that defies autumn’s diminishments, I end up in a state that’s less than human. When I give myself over to organic reality — to the endless interplay of darkness and light, falling and rising — the life I am given is as real and colorful, fruitful and whole as this graced and graceful world and the seasonal cycles that make it so.”
Here’s to complexity and paradox. Happy Autumn.
If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to call me, 650-868-1916 and we can Face Time, Skype me at jenniferabrams, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set up a time to talk voice to voice. I look forward to hearing from you!
So many things to read and watch, so little time…
- Sherry Turkle’s article, Stop Googling. Let’s Talk. Check out this research. “Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.” Yowza.
- One of the best articles I have read about being other-focused. How not to say the wrong thing. Just read it. It’s important.
- My colleague, Jennifer Bryan, from Team Finch Consultants, is doing terrific work to help us all feel comfortable in our skin. They have a great TF Research Project video regarding their work on gender expression and how to talk about it in schools. Their work has always been absolutely amazing, and in light of last week’s elections and referendums across the country, absolutely essential.
About Jennifer Abrams
Jennifer Abrams considers herself a "voice coach," helping others learn how to best use their voices – be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague and supervising an employee. Jennifer holds a Master's degree in Education from Stanford University and a Bachelor's degree in English from Tufts University. She lives in Palo Alto, California. Jennifer's latest book is Swimming in the Deep End: Four Foundational Skills for Leading Successful School Initiatives. Her previous publications include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicating, Collaborating & Creating Community and Hard Conversations Unpacked – the Whos, the Whens and the What Ifs. She has also created a Corwin Press e-course by the same name.
Work with Jennifer
Praise for Jennifer
Decades of Experience
A thousand things are unspoken, implicit, buried in our educational lives. The invisibility of issues enforces the ineffective status quo. Change–personal, educational, institutional–requires that we speak OUT LOUD about what we know and believe. Jennifer Abrams brings decades of experience and years of training across the world to this usually overlooked essential act of finding our effective voice about what matters around learning.