Monday Musings… Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, It’s Back to School We Go!

Well, throngs of people, young and old, will be putting on their newly-purchased outfits, slinging their name-brand backpacks over their shoulders, and carefully choosing their seats in their classrooms. Their energy, both nervous and excited, will permeate the hallways on this ominous occasion of the First Day of School.

The First Day of School is a unique day on the calendar. There are few events it seems, that unite everyone at the same time regardless of ethnicity or religious practice. And so, people of all different walks of life and beliefs, walk through those doors to be educated. We can even include the home-schoolers, who must at least walk through their bedroom doors to go to the washroom, grab some breakfast, and buckle down with their books.

But, as we watch the prospective students line up at the starting gate in September, we know that not everyone will finish. Why is that?

Walt Disney actually gives us an answer. In 1937, in the midst of the Great Depression, he created the classic animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. The story’s focus may appear to be on the fair maiden, but it’s the characteristics of the seven height-challenged men that really tell the tale of how one can cope in the midst of economic and personal hardship. Essentially, Disney introduces us to seven types of people: Happy, Grumpy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey, and Doc. They are in every workforce, in every classroom, and very likely in every family :) But, let's focus on the classroom.

Happy comes in with a wide smile, eager to please, excited over even the most mundane presentation of material, and eagerly participates when asked. He takes copious notes and is even willing to share them. He’s ready to learn.

Grumpy is either a front row or back row dweller who keeps the teacher on their toes, pointing out the spelling mistakes on the power points, complaining about the room temperature or noisy fan, saying the course is boring, and that they detest group work because nobody appreciates their ideas. Grumpy feels entitled to show up late or not at all, but still expects to ace the tests. If he fails, because of his own lack of effort, he will appeal the teacher's grading on the basis of it being unfair.

Sleepy shows up, finds a comfortable seat, and nestles in for a long winter’s nap. Gone are the days when these types wanted to be clandestine. They see it as their human right to nod off wherever and whenever they want. I’ve never quite been able to figure out why they just don’t stay in bed. But, maybe they've read the studies that show that you indeed can learn while sleeping. Doc must have sent him the link. (See: )

You’ve gotta feel for Bashful, who’s crippled with social anxiety. These are the ones that desperately want to avoid eye contact with the teacher and are terrified that they will be asked to participate. Often, in adult ed, they don’t show up unless it’s test day, preferring to get the notes from a willing classmate (like Happy) and stay within the protected walls of their own domains. Two problems exist though: the best learning happens through classroom interaction, and eventually, said person may want/need to enter the workforce where they will come face to face with people, and that will be an even greater challenge.

Sneezy is the one you and the rest of the class wish would stay home. Why can’t Bashful and Sneezy trade places for a day? Sneezy has conditioned me to the point that I have a boatload of hand sanitizer at my disposal (on my desk, in my car, book bag…). Bring on the sales Bath and Body Works! I’m a great customer. Note that Sneezy often goes by his nickname, Sniffy, when the allergy or cold and flu season hits. You can count on Sniffy to inhale approximately every 15 seconds, not that myself or the other students are counting, well, except for Grumpy who announces to the class that “someone needs a Kleenex”!

Dopey, well, thanks to Bill C-45 there’s bound to be more of them than ever in the classroom this year ….

And finally, there’s Doc, the A+ student who either works incredibly hard or who is the ‘natural’ I spoke about last week. Doc could probably teach the course, but he shows up eager to dig into the curriculum and contribute what wisdom he has.

So, which of these Dwarfs is going to be successful? And if they don’t pass, is it solely due to the label they’ve been ascribed? Is there anyway to get all of them to cross that finish line?

Heigh-ho! There is!

Solution #1: You’ve got to dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig the whole day through. The key to finishing well is persistence - the ability to harness enough energy to keep going and get the job done. No procrastination. This is Sleepy's issue. He may need some caffeine to help him here. Better yet, he and all students, need to learn better sleep habits!

Solution #2: Have the right tools. It ain’t no trick to get rich quick if you dig, dig, dig with a shovel and a pick. To keep that momentum going, you’ve got to have the support and equipment to do the job. There are steps on the education ladder for a reason and the higher you go, the more advanced your tools need to be. Nothing will make you want to give up faster than digging with your bare hands, when you could have asked for the shovel and the pick. Don’t be afraid to ask, Bashful! The teacher wants to give you what you need to be successful.

Solution #3: Keep your eye on the goal. There’re a million diamonds in that mine just waiting to be found, but you’ve got to dig. It may seem impossible, the work too hard, and you grumble that all you’re ever finding is gravel. But keep digging, because there’s a reward coming that can improve your future, and change your life. Don’t lose sight of your dream, Grumpy!

Solution #4: You’ve got to dig everything in sight. This is right up Doc’s alley. He’s got a voracious appetite to learn and his motivation to dig and discover more gems encourages his fellow dwarfs to do the same. This is all about the process – successful students dig every day, often finding new ways to dig, not leaving any stone un-turned as they prepare and practice what they're learning. They don’t settle for mediocre hauls. They are going for first place at the end of the day and the end of the year.

Solution #5: When you don’t know what you’re digging for, change course! Not everybody is like Doc. You see, Dopey was chillin’ and dug up rubies instead of diamonds. He turned and confessed to Doc that “we don’t know what we dig them for.” When you lose focus or interest, as Dopey tended to do, it’s hard to stay on track. But maybe that’s a sign that you were in the wrong mine field to begin with. Choose a different path and, if it fits, pursue that to the end, with sober resolution.

Solution #6: Simply put: learn to enjoy digging. Now, Happy has no problem with this and he will undoubtedly finish. To dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig is what we like to do, he chants! It’s the idea of choosing your attitude to believe that “there’s a diamond of knowledge to discover” in each and every class. Whatever you’ve learned may be a fragment of what you were hoping for, but it’s a gem of information none-the-less that, who knows, may make you rich in wisdom down the road. Remember that digging (the process) is the means to the end (finding a million diamonds).

Solution #7: Sing all the way home. Whether they found all the diamonds, or rubies, the Dwarfs put in a good day’s work. There’s value in that and realizing that tomorrow is a new day, an opportunity to try again and learn something new. Sneezy, in the movie, actually doesn’t dig, he hauls the diamonds through the mine in his cart. Maybe it’s all he could physically do that day. But at least he showed up for the shift and was productive. When you’ve worked hard and seen results, no matter your role, you too will be singing your way to the finish line.

The excitement from Tuesday will be long gone by the end of September. Even Happy and Doc will have their rough days. But if all students, regardless of their Disney designation, dig deep daily with passion and persistence and an attitude of gratitude, they'll be singing all the way home to the finish line.

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