Monday, March 17, 2014

Revisiting the Dearth of Women Leaders: A Book Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an important book. It's a good springboard for discussion. I'm sure many people also disagree with Sandberg, but at least she brings it up bravely. She didn't have to. But I'm glad she did. In my own naivete, I also thought in my youth that I would have an ideal marriage and career. That everything would be split down the middle. But that is certainly not so in reality. A working mother is disadvantaged in many aspects (going on maternity leave, for one, and being the "more primary" caregiver between both parents). There is not a day that I also don't second guess my own choice to be the breadwinner and a working mother. It was my own mother-in-law who taught me about being a working mother: "It may not be ideal, but we do what we need to for our families. Go with what works, not what society dictates." This isn't a direct quote but it sounded that way to me. Go with what works. And for us, this is what works: that both of us are full-time corporate employees. We would love to be business owners but, alas, we haven't found the right business. On top of all of that, we also homeschool. No, we don't try to have it all. But we made some choices and we're sticking by them. I'm really glad to have a partner who is a an equal partner. And I have my father-in-law to thank for the example he set for his son.

What I realized from this book was: I owe it to my daughter to let her see the choices she has. She ought to know that if she wanted to be a leader, she could. Her gender should never be in the way of that. If that makes me a feminist then go ahead and call me one.

Sandberg doesn't just tell her story. She relates her story to the numbers. Despite the progress in women's equality, there are still less women leaders than one would have hoped to see in this decade. In the Philippines, I am a beneficiary of those rights that were conferred on women. And we do not lack in women leaders (though they have cropped up only in the last thirty years): we have had the beloved Corazon Aquino as our first woman president, followed by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whose administration was hounded not by her gender but by allegations of corruption. In the Philippines, there have been some indications of equal opportunity... not just in leadership but also in corruption (Imelda Marcos, and now, the famed Pork Barrel queen, Janet Lim Napoles). I count myself lucky that I belong to a society that promotes the development and empowerment of women. There are still indications of a culture of machismo and double standards. But at least, women still feel safe on our streets. This cannot be said of some other countries. But is it enough? Our bill for reproductive health is still languishing in the Supreme Court. There is still a long way to go and a lot of room for improvement.

I personally believe that if we had more women leaders, globally...we would have less wars and more prosperity for everyone (and not just a small percentage of the population). If women think communally...that is a true advantage for all and not just for women.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Teaching Character #3: Story Reading Feedback Time, My Final Project

I'm very happy to share my final project for my Teaching Character class (Relay Graduate School of Education via The assignment was to put together a macro structure, an advance planned recurring activity for students that will tackle both an academic subject or extracurricular activity as well as a character strength like grit, social intelligence, optimism, etc.

In this case, I chose a homeschool activity for my son: story reading feedback time. We take up Language Arts every Friday. Apart from IXL activities, I ask my son to also read a chapter book. He has just started the transition from picture books to chapter books and it's been a real test of grit. So, I chose to make it a point to discuss not just the comprehension of the chapter book so far but also to discuss the challenges that he has gone through while reading a long story and how he demonstrates stick-with-it-ness during the reading activity.

The feedback activity is also a good time to start applying what I've learned so far from the Micro Moments lessons (constructive feedback --> growth mindset --> character behavior language loop). I want him to see for himself what grit looks like and how to identify that he's in the middle of demonstrating grit.

Our first session will start this Friday. :-)

Note: I am taking a 4-week class called Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms (offered by Relay Graduate School of Education via as part of my endeavors to enrich my homeschooling experience. 

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Teaching Character #2: The Power of "Yet" and The Metaphor of My Left Hand

Week 2, Micro-Moments, was really helpful in my homeschooling. It made my "teachable moments" so much more deliberate:

B: I think I'll remove the arrows in my Amusement Park map.
Me: Why?
B: Because there are labels for each ride, anyway.
Me: I think you did a good job of putting arrows in your map [constructive responding].
B: It really helps?
Me: Yes, it does. It helps the user of the map know where to go after one ride. I really like the effort you put into the map [growth mindset]. Putting the arrows in shows a good strategy for helping someone go over your project [growth mindset]. I think you're still capable of doing a better map by making it more colorful and attractive [critical feedback].
B: Okay, Mama, I'll keep working on it. [character behavior language: grit].
Me: That's great!

I was really excited to explore the power of "yet" in the Engage section of Week 2 ("I don't know how to do that...yet"). The two exercises I chose were:
1) Doing a mail merge on MS Excel
2) Sign my name with my left hand

The first one was relatively easy to learn. It was the second exercise that really fascinated me.

Here's my first attempt.

Practice #1: Shaky start
I researched right away and I found a Wikihow post that looked really helpful. The link is here. The first thing I did was create dotted lines of the alphabet (lower and upper case) and I tried tracing the lines. It wasn't as easy as I thought. Below my attempt is my own daughter's handwriting after she saw how much hard work I was putting into the exercise. I observed that my own persistence rubbed off on my kids and they started writing exercises on their own.

Here's my second attempt:

Practice #2: Included shapes

This time, aside from writing the alphabet, I added some shapes to trace. I thought I showed some progress. I remembered that line from the video where Dr. Carol Dweck says, "This is hard. This is fun!" I had a thought: I must be growing.

Practice #3: Tracing and Coloring

After tracing basic shapes and practicing letters, I graduated to tracing my right hand (apparently, pushing the pen/ pencil against 3-D contours will help guide the left hand). I also tried coloring in shape with my son's crayon. The result: not bad!

Practice #4: Sentences
I then started to write real sentences (I used "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" because it uses all the letters of the alphabet. I started to get the hang of it.

Practice # 5: Copying a paragraph
Using my son's science book, I started copying a whole paragraph. This was hard work. You can see from the picture that towards the end of the page, I was already struggling (my handwriting is starting to get shakier!).

Practice #6: Original poetry
My last practice I consider the opus of my left hand exercise.

Here's the text:

Left Hand
This poem was handwritten with
my left hand, a literal exercise in
a different frame of mind.
Each line trembles even when I
know where it is supposed to go.
It has nothing to do with my steadfast
will or body of knowledge -- only muscles
now,  muscles and time.

My left hand became the metaphor for my own growth mindset. Anything can be learned. Anything can be mastered. But the other half of will (and capability) is the work itself. There is no replacement for the work that needs to be done.

This was a really valuable exercise for me. It put me in the shoes of my own kids (and students). Writing (as in literal writing with one's hand) is hard work. It's not something that comes to you overnight. It needs practice. It needs time. And there's no going around it. "Yet" is a powerful word. It provides optimism and reassures you of future capability. That's something I'd like to inculcate in my kids.

Note: I am taking a 4-week class called Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms (offered by Relay Graduate School of Education via as part of my endeavors to enrich my homeschooling experience. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Teaching Character #1: I Totally Underrated Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence

When I looked at the list of 24 Character Strengths, I ranked Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence at #14. When I got back my VIA score, it was my #1 character strength.

That said a lot to me. It means that I have a character strength that I don't recognize as something important for my kids to have (at least as part of the top 10). When I watched the video on character strengths, I was amazed that "Love" ranked #1 among teachers and administrators (I got this as #5 in my character strengths) but ranked way below that when they were considering what character strengths their students should have.

I am led back to the idea of education as real learning...and not the output of a society that is driven by productivity (and profit, if I might add). It has to do with individuals and unique ways of seeing the world. It has to do with appreciating what is beautiful in the world and what makes myself and others happy.

I'm humbled by my own VIA score. It shows me what kind of person I am and not the person I wish I could be. My leadership strength was at #22!!! But I ranked high in gratitude, fairness, hope, and love of learning. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's a snapshot of where I am right now.

I'm very happy to have gone through this exercise. And I'm really grateful for a guide in terms of character strengths which cut across religions and politics which I can apply not just to my children's education but to my own continuing education as well.

Note: I am taking a 4-week class called Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms (offered by Relay Graduate School of Education via as part of my endeavors to enrich my homeschooling experience. 

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Treading the Path of Wise Women, A Review of Lorna Kalaw-Tirol's Coming to Terms: Writings on Midlife by 15 Women

Coming to Terms: Writings on Midlife by 15 WomenComing to Terms: Writings on Midlife by 15 Women by Lorna Kalaw-Tirol
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book. On a whim, I picked it up during the Filipino Reader Con last December and I made it my nightly read because I think it was designed that way. The book is made up of essays and I liked lingering on each one. I realized something too. I wanted to read a book on midlife because I am fast approaching midlife myself. I thought, why not read a book by wise women? Each contributor is an amazing woman and I look up to the editor as well. As I was reading through the very intimate stories I realized a gap between generations. The women in the book were talking about their empty nests and grown children. What are they talking about? I'm going to be in my forties soon but I have a toddler and a son who is just in Grade One. Then I realized: they married younger. I married later than my own parents. They married at twenty-five which was the convention at the time. I married at thirty and had my first child at thirty-one. My second child at thirty-five. Most of the women who contributed must have married at around the same time my parents did. At forty-five, they had children who were already in their twenties, off to college.

But I learned something from each one. Some of the more memorable essays had to do with: 1) a swan (the model of a woman of grace and independent means), 2) freeing oneself up to the universe, 3) learning to let go of my husband and children (this was the story of a widow which tore me up. I cried and cried and it took me a few days before I could go back to reading her essay again), 4) learning to let go of my career (this was the essay by Tessie Tomas which really touched me...since I'm a workaholic myself). Each woman gave me a gift to guide me through the coming years.

Reading Coming To Terms made me think of life beyond my forties. It made me think of legacy and the love I am leaving behind. Because that is the most important thing...not accomplishments, not monetary means, not even bringing up my children well. The most important thing is to love and let go. I have no trouble with the love part. It's the letting go part that I'm still muddling through. And I'm so blessed to have read each essay that imparts so generously what it is to live a full life.

Thank you so much to Ms. Kalaw-Tirol and all those who contributed to the book. I am treading the path that you once walked on....different stones, different streams --- but all leading to the same place of enlightenment.

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Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Woman Who Could Be in Two Places at the Same Time (A Short Story)

Road, picture taken by the author.

Stella was a woman who could be in two places at the same time. She managed this feat exactly only three times during her life. The first time it happened was purely accidental. She had woken up one Sunday morning before anyone else in the apartment. It was still dark. So, she brewed herself some coffee. She wasn't annoyed at all that she had risen earlier than usual. She was glad to be alone at such an hour, the husband and kids still asleep. Finally, she had a few moments to herself. She filled up her cup and sat by the window of the apartment, the one facing the east. The sky was starting to lighten with the dawn. She watched it turn a dark blue and then different shades of violet and pink and then finally she saw the sun rise. That and the aromatic black coffee made her feel a sense of peace she hadn't felt in years. At that moment, she looked at the horizon.

The distant mountains there were sometimes blue or sometimes purple when she found the time to look at them. But this particular morning, she wanted to be in the mountains. It was a very pure longing. And then she found that she was in the mountains. She was just in her fluffy bedroom slippers, her nightie and a silk robe hurriedly thrown on. She hadn't even combed her hair yet. But indeed she was along a mountain road at dawn. She could see the city below, in the valley, and lower hills. She wasn't too startled at first. It was like a dream. She still had her coffee cup in her hands. She just walked along the road feeling the morning breeze and feeling blessed for this amazing gift. She was surrounded by trees. No one else was on the road. But then it began to sink into her consciousness: the disorientation. How was she supposed to get home? And who was going to cook her family's breakfast since the maids were on their day off? It was this mounting panic that totally destroyed her peace at finding herself in a faraway mountain. And this was what catapulted her back to her apartment. She stood up and looked at the horizon again. Was that real? she asked herself. She tried thinking of going back to the mountain but nothing happened. She knew it wasn't a dream. Her bedroom slippers were wet with dew. But look at the time! she found herself dismissing what happened and she flew into a whirl of breakfast preparation so the kids could have some scrambled eggs and fried rice as soon as they woke up.

Stella thought about the mountain incident several times. She wondered why she was given that gift or power or whatever it was. The thing was, she couldn't control it. It wasn't for a lack of trying. When she found out her daughter had a high fever while she was at work, she sat down at her desk, looked at her daughter's picture and willed herself to be by her daughter's side. But nothing happened. Apparently, it wasn't due to a pure longing only (what she thought had triggered the incident). She ended up filing for a leave to take her daughter to the ER. Vanessa, her daughter, had malaria.

The second time it happened was completely accidental as well. Or at least Stella thought it was completely accidental. The family was on a road trip to Baguio when in the middle of the trip, right smack in the middle of Tarlac, her three year old son, Carlos, started to cry. When they left at dawn, he had been asleep. But now, he was wailing inconsolably and ruining the trip for everyone. "What's the matter, Carlos?" Stella asked him from the front passenger seat, twisting her body around so she could see his face. "Mama, I want Booboo! I want Booboo!" Booboo was the name of his little stuffed toy T-Rex from his favorite Ninong Danny. It was his favorite toy and he even slept with Booboo. There was going to be no peace for everyone for the entire trip! But instead of feeling upset, she looked into Carlos' face and saw real sadness, a loss that could not be borne. She held his hand and thought for a while. She asked her husband, Bobby, to stop the car so she could console him. She held Carlos tightly in her arms and fully felt his pain, closing her eyes. She opened her eyes and she was back at the apartment. She went into the kids' room and saw Booboo on her son's bed. She picked it up and put it in her handbag. She closed her eyes again. She could hear Carlos wailing again. "Carlos, look what Mama has in her bag?" she asked him. Carlos looked at her incredulously. She opened her bag and handed him his Booboo. A look of utter adoration was on his face. "Ay naku, Stella, why didn't you say you had it all along?" Bobby said irritably when they went back into the car. Honestly, she couldn't explain it so she just smiled. And they went on to have a wonderful time in Baguio.

The last time it happened, she had finally figured it out. Stella was fifty, driving down the Skyway, Southbound, on a trip to Alabang to visit a friend. Out of nowhere, an out-of-control bus, probably running at 120 kph, tried to cut her off. To avoid it, she swerved to the left, hit a cement island marking an exit, slamming into a wall. At that point, she knew her time was up. Strangely, she felt calm even as she felt excruciating pain shooting all over her body. All she could think of was Bobby. It was exactly 10:15 in the morning and she knew he was in a meeting in his office in Makati. She enters the office and sees his assistant, Tina. "Mrs. Eusebio, how nice to see you!" Tina greets her. "I need to speak with Bobby, please." Tina tells her his meeting got delayed and she could just go right in to his office. She enters and sees that he's staring at his computer monitor with a frown. "Honey!" he says in surprise, "what are you doing here? I thought you were on your way to Suzette's." She smiles at him and gives him a hug. She smells his familiar cologne and she just wants to hang on for another five minutes but she knows she can't. She looks into his eyes and says, "I love you, Bobby. That's all." He looks baffled but she steps out knowing that she's at least said goodbye. In her last moments, she realizes that her gift can only come to her in moments of absolute peace and absolute connection to another person. And she realizes that her three moments of this gift were all worth it.

(c) Justine C. Tajonera 2014

Friday, January 03, 2014

By Hand: A Meditation on a New Year of Gifts

Drawing by the author, May 3, 2009

By Hand

If I follow this line, will it lead anywhere?
If I start at the root, will I capture the outline of the tree?
If this is not beautiful, can it still be art?
If I ask you to read this, would it be enough?

If I start with black, will I end up with purple?
If I make fifty lines, will the next patch be eighty lines?
If I make a curve here, will the next shape be linear?
If I make downward strokes, will I then make upward strokes?

If I don't think, will the drawing draw itself?
If I breathe deeply, is it meditation?
If there are no words, is it a poem?
If these are the leaves, is there a tree?

When was the last time you made something by hand? I drew the drawing above in 2009. This was significant to me. I had just lost a baby. It was an ectopic pregnancy and I was on maternity leave. I remember painting, too, after my first miscarriage in 2005. For some reason, the loss of life spurred a very deep need in me to create something with my hands. It was an expression of grief. And hope.

I thought back to this because I mentioned on Facebook, today, that I wanted to go back to an artisanal life: a time when we enjoy well-made things (not mass-made things), well cared-for things, things that last for lifetimes. It's not about a consumerist life but a life that combines art and work...when work is finally not something that has to do with money but something to do with full self-expression and service to others. Then no one would have a job, just a vocation. Then everyone would have a gift to give to life and life would only have abundance to give back for every gift. Then everyone would know everyone in their community...because you would know the person who sewed your clothes, the person who wrote the books you read, the person who cooked your lovely meal, the person who repaired your chair, the person who grew the tomato in your salad, and so on and on.

I come to this as I prepare for life in 2014. I want this to be a year of gifts. Below is a video of Amanda Palmer's TED talk on the art of asking. It's the other face of giving. Because one does not give if one is not actually asked. That's the beauty of a gift: it is given from the heart...not out of obligation but out of appreciation.

I imagine a life, a world populated by gifts that people give to each other. A life that needs no copyright because each one is unique (and uniquely gifted). I imagine a world where we recognize the gifts given to us, freely, by the earth. I imagine a world full of gratitude for all these gifts. I imagine each person, each creature of God alight with gratitude.

So here's to your 2014 (and mine). May it be the beginning of a new age of gifts.

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