Monday, October 21, 2019

Failure Leads to Success

Marissa and her beautiful smile.
Last week I had parent-teacher conferences with some of Marissa's teachers at her new school. She's doing really well in most classes, not so well in a couple. I met with two she was doing well in and two she was not doing as well in to get a sense of how the classes were going. Two of her classes allow all students to either re-take tests or re-submit written work. And when I spoke with both teachers on the hows and whys, I was so impressed. Their purpose:

What's the point of failing if students don't get a chance to succeed?

One teacher told me about his frustration he used to feel when he would grade an essay, return it to students and then watch them throw it away on their way out the door. To the students it was just another piece of homework that they didn't do well on, would learn nothing from and would go on to submit similar work the next assignment.

Now he allows students to re-submit essays with corrections as many times as they would like. Why? So they can learn from their mistakes. From learning how to properly cite a source to using verbs consistently, when students correct their own mistakes they tend to remember what they had done wrong and hopefully do better in future assignments. It's like having work edited by an editor — as a freelance copywriter, what a gift that would be to have a skilled editor review my work before I turned it in to a client for "grading!"

Same with Marissa's math teacher. Once a test is graded, the test is returned to students and they review it, then are given the chance to re-take the test at a later date. What's the point of finding out after the test that you did the math wrong if you don't have the opportunity to learn how to do it correctly?

Would we have any world-class gymnasts if the first time a gymnast tried the balance beam she fell off and wasn't allowed to get on it again? How are students supposed to learn these subjects when they get tested on one area, fail, and then move on to the next unit?

This is not about getting better grades, it's about actually learning the material, and I really like this approach. It takes work and re-work to get better grades, and that's when learning takes place.

Once upon a time in my career, my agency won a large client and I was asked to be the account director on it. It was an honor and big confidence booster to be chosen for this...and also a massive responsibility. It was daunting and I was afraid of failing. And fail I did — the first campaign we did for them we came in over budget by nearly six figures due to the number of small but costly blunders that had occurred along the way.

I was the director, I was given the task of picking up the phone and telling the client what we were about to invoice them. Gulp.

Because I had informed them all along the way of every mistake — and the ways in which we would NEVER let that mistake happen in future campaigns — they were understanding and expected the overage. They paid the invoice in full, with the understanding that this would NEVER happen again. And it never did. I made sure of that. Because I had been allowed to fail on that first campaign, we went on to have a long, fruitful relationship with them for years and they never had a surprise invoice again; our work was done exceptionally well with outstanding results. Now, if anyone ever asks me about a time I succeeded in my career, I tell them this story because my failure became my greatest success.

Back to those pesky parent-teacher conferences...

More importantly than Marissa's work or her grades, she is a good student in class according to her teachers. She speaks confidently even if she isn't sure of her answer, helps other students or asks for help when needed, and adds a spark of humor and light to the classroom. She is friendly to everyone she meets; her face lights up with a smile when she greets teachers and her fellow students.

No matter what grades she earns, those qualities make her a success already.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Trials and Tribulations of GPS

Last night I took Lindsey and a friend of hers to a counter-protest in downtown Minneapolis. I'd heard and read that traffic was going to be challenging. All the roads around the Target Center were closed to make room for the protesters, we had to get down there around rush hour, so leave extra time or plan alternate transportation.

My plan was to park in a ramp far away from the action and walk to the Target Center. That way we would also be away from all the traffic and could leave downtown relatively easily. It didn't exactly work out that way.

We parked in the first ramp I saw and I dropped a pin on the map to note that I had parked there. We walked to the Target Center no problem with just a few quick turnarounds when we first made it out of the ramp. I hate it when pedestrians exit parking ramps on different sides than where you entered, I always get a little twisted around at first.

We went to the protest, had a great time, ate dinner at The Local (also a great time), and then headed back to my dropped pin....which looked nothing like the ramp I had parked in. We found a staircase, went up a flight and looked around. No car, and not familiar surroundings.

So we went across the street to another ramp that looked more like the one I had parked in. Nope, no there either.

We all remembered coming down a blue staircase that was marked "2B," because we were laughing about "to be or not to be." The staircases we were trying were marked by a letter or a number, not both. They were also either purple, orange, brown, or a variety of other colors, not blue.

What. On. Earth.

Lindsey, Ava and I walked from ramp to ramp in a four-block radius for nearly an hour before Lindsey finally collapsed after yet another staircase. "I think my feet have had it, Mom," she said. It was now way past Ava's requested time to be home and getting late to be lost in downtown Minneapolis.

I ordered a Lyft and decided to try to find my car the next day. The driver told me how he always takes his parking stub with him when he parks because it has the ramp address on it, that way he always knows where he parked. This told me two things: 1. That's a really smart idea and I should do that in the future. 2. He's lost his car before or he wouldn't do that, so I'm not the only numskull who's done this.

We went home and I slept fitfully, wondering if I'd remembered to lock my car, if I had anything valuable in there, if someone had broken into mind went wild with catastrophizing. My brain is good at that.

As soon as my sister got off work the next morning she came over to my house, had a little breakfast, and we went back downtown to search for my parked car. Both Google and Apple maps marked my car in the same place they reported it the previous night, so I was interested in seeing where they hell it was and how many ramps we'd have to check before we found it. Kristi drove the same route into downtown as I had the previous night, hoping we'd come across the ramp from the same direction and it would jog my memory.

We found it immediately — the first ramp we checked. The ramp was under construction and the previous night I had gone in on a side that was dark and had many roped off spaces. The pin had dropped on the opposite side of the block, where it was well-lit with multiple ways in and out, which was why the ramp didn't look familiar to us when we searched it the previous night. Plus it was divided into two separate parking areas that did not connect. No wonder we hadn't found it the previous night.

Kristi and I left and were driving our separate ways when she called me.

"You're gonna laugh," she said.

After I'd found my car, she set her GPS to get out of downtown and head back home. After exiting the ramp, the GPS system was having her take all kind of winding side roads, not the main roads of downtown. It was making her turn this way and that, and she couldn't figure out where it was having her go until it gave her a detour for Cedar Lake Trail. Cedar Lake Trail? That's a bike path! It thought she was biking so it was having her take the less traveled streets of downtown! She pulled over, re-set it to know she was driving, and it safely and quickly directed her out of downtown and back on her route home.

"Some day we'll laugh about this," we said last night when we were taking the Lyft home. I already am.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

She Can't Drive 55

Lindsey behind the wheel of her dream F150 at the State Fair this summer.
Getting your license sure has changed a lot since I was 16. When I was learning how to drive, my classmates and I were handed the DMV driver's handbook and put in a simulator where we goofed around for an hour a day for one week. I tested for my permit after that, then I did two or three behind-the-wheels with Mr. Berceau, our biology teacher, and eventually took my driving test. I'm sure I did lots of practice hours so I could pass the test, but had the opportunity to do more when I failed my test the first time I took it. Oh well.

Lindsey had to complete 30 hours of classroom training before she could even get her permit. After that, she needs six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction with a certified instructor, then 50 "practice" hours with an adult. Which means, a parent. Which in our house means me, because we all agree that Wayne would not have the patience or composure needed to be the parent with a new driver behind the wheel.

These 50 hours should be a good mix of neighborhood, highway, daytime and nighttime driving. The night time driving is mandated — 15 hours required. There's a handy little app called "Road Ready" that can track all of your practice drives and awards you badges based on the kind of driving you do.

I had forgotten how much driving is habit. Deeply ingrained, instilled habits that experienced drivers forget to teach. Like, when you back out of parking space, you need to begin turning the wheel in the direction you want to go before you take your foot off the brake. If you don't, you end up doing what Lindsey did one Saturday afternoon, which had to be quite amusing to passersby. She parked, backed up, re-parked the car in the same spot, backed out, re-parked, backed out, until I finally realized she wasn't turning the wheel in the opposite direction before taking her foot off the brake.

She has tried to take the car out of park before she's started it. She's almost gotten out of the car before realizing she hasn't yet turned it off. She's mistaken the gas for the brake and vice versa. (But realized it quickly and corrected her mistake.) These are all deeply ingrained habits for people who have been driving for years, and they all have to be remembered by a new driver every single time.

It's so fascinating to see these habits build upon themselves. Things that were difficult to remember are becoming habit. Neighborhoods are now a snap, and now we're moving on to highways, then freeways. She's building her skills and her confidence and is always careful.

Posing with my car with her student driver sticker...and damage done in an unrelated incident.

This brings me to the title of this post.

The first time Lindsey drove down France Ave, the main street in our neighborhood, she felt like she was flying. She checked her speed and discovered she was going 20 — 5 miles under the speed limit. When we hit four-lane roads that are 40 mph, she dutifully pulls into the right lane, knowing that everyone else will be speeding around her in the left-hand lane because she's only doing 35. And she drove on a highway for the first time this week, telling me she felt like she was driving a spaceship, her elbows locked as she gripped the steering wheel, eyes fixed on the road. A semi-truck passed her on her left and she was like "Whoa!" She may have hit 55 for a minute or two, but most of the time she was being passed by a parade of vehicles.

This experience is making me realize how much trust we all have in others when we are passengers. I have to work hard to keep  my mouth shut and not point out every little hazard that I see when Lindsey is practicing. She sees it, she's slowing and signaling appropriately, she needs to not rely on me to point this stuff out because I won't always be with her. It takes a lot of trust to be quiet and let her learn.

Let's just say she and I are out of our comfort zone, but getting comfortable there.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Finding Her Religion

About a month ago Marissa asked if I could start taking her to church.

Those of you who know me know I am not a church-goer. Explaining why is a long, winding road with many philosophical points, none of which I will bore you with because this isn't about me, it's about Marissa.

We have never been a church-going family with the exception of Christmas Eve service. When the girls were younger we had beginner Bibles for them and told them Bible stories, and they got great enjoyment from watching Veggie Tales. (Marissa only recently made the connection that Veggie Tales tells Bible stories using animation and silly songs.)

This summer Marissa asked me to take her to church, but on Sunday mornings she always said, "Nah, I'd rather sleep in." Now that school has started, sleeping in until 8 to be ready for church at 9 is sleeping in, and she asked if we could start attending St. Stephen's, an episcopal church in our neighborhood.

I think part of what's encouraging this is that she realizes she is not educated about religion. Many of her classmates at Eagle Ridge are coming to the high school from Catholic or Lutheran schools. In her humanities class, they relate many of the classical works they are reading to Bible stories...which Marissa is not familiar with. She's curious, and I'm happy to encourage this curiosity.

And so we go to church. This past week we bought her a Bible so she could begin reading the stories herself. After reading much of Genesis she talked to me about the creation of the world, how God decided he had made a mistake in creating humans and sent a flood to destroy all but Noah's family.

After the first time we went to church I overheard her telling her dad all about it. "We get on our knees on these little things with cushions on them that you pull out, and we confess our sins. I don't know what sins are, but it's really cool." The last couple of weeks Wayne's come with us as well, and has seemed to enjoy the service also.

I go because Marissa wants me to. The church is stunningly beautiful and the people kind and welcoming. I'm really proud of my kid who is inquisitive and open to new experiences.