You are currently viewing Creating Culture in a Cafeteria Classroom

Creating Culture in a Cafeteria Classroom

“Reel” Life Lessons for OST Success

When I was a little girl, my Poppa wanted to teach me the virtues inherent in fishing as a hobby; patience, perseverance, and pride. He took me out to the local lake as soon as he thought I was ready. I remember very specific parts of this day vividly.

It was a cold and drizzly Kansas morning. We almost didn’t go because of the weather, but the park had a floating heated indoor dock (LL1). I recall the yucky-but-determined feeling of tearing my first worm and squishing the wriggling muddy half down onto the hook (LL2). I was trying to shake that feeling off of my fingers (and out of my mind) all day.

And then there was waiting…

Life Lesson 1: You aren’t always dealt bright and sunshiny-perfect moments conducive for the work you have/need to do, but you have to find ways to make it work. “Adaptable and flexible” should be your mantra in Out of School Time environments.

Life Lesson 2: If you want to become better at something, you may have to do things you don’t want to do, are unsure about doing, or aren’t even capable of doing (yet). Be willing to turn on your blinker and change lanes to get where you are going.

I remember awkwardly holding onto the rod and horribly executing my first cast; then co-casting it over the water with the help of my grandfather and feeling proud about it (LL3).  I watched expectantly as the red-and-white ball-shaped bobber floated on the still surface.

More waiting…

Life Lesson 3: At times, you have to admit that you can’t do it all and you don’t know it all. Don’t be ashamed to rely on the help and expertise of others to help you succeed. That is why they are there. We grow tall by standing on the shoulders of giants, so it’s said.

If I leaned too close to the metal barrier of the dock, Poppa would hook his finger through the belt loop on the back of my pants (LL4). Irritated, I pulled away every single time, trying to peer down into the murky depths and will a fish to surrender itself (LL5).

Pretty-much all of the waiting…

Life Lesson 4: There will be people that try to inhibit your hard work or your drive. Sometimes it is because they know better and they want the best for you.  Sometimes it is because they are just plain negative.  You need to know the difference before pulling away.  Appreciate that most have your best interests in mind.

Life Lesson 5: Things won’t just happen for you because you want them to. It’d be nice, but it’s not realistic.  You know that! You have to put in some actual time and effort in to reap any benefits.  Genuine pride in a job well done can’t happen if you don’t do the work.

I distinctly remember becoming very bored and extremely frustrated when no fish were interested in what we had to offer (LL6). If I was going to endure the worm-ripping horror that was baiting a hook, the least a fish could do was nibble.

Life Lesson 6: Feeling some level of aggravation when things aren’t going your way is inevitable. You can’t control what happens, but you can control how you act and react. Adjust your attitude accordingly.

This is when I learned Poppa had brought along something special to make them bite, a secret powder called, “Guzz Wuzzle Dust.” Patting his chest pocket, he told me he had poured a little of the G.W.D in that morning “just in case the fish weren’t cooperating.” I was intrigued, especially to learn it was magical.

Then I was skeptical.

Poppa set to convincing me. He referred to his Cherokee background, rich with a family tree of successful fishermen who had created and used this dust for many years. I fact-checked him using an early ‘80s version of Snopes, which involved looking over at my Memaw for validation. She nodded and shrugged which, to me, was enough to prove he was legit.

I reached down to the bottom of his flannel shirt pocket to pull some out. I couldn’t see it or feel it. My trust wavered as I pulled the pocket open as far as it could go. I moved aside bits of dryer lint, getting right down to the seam.

Then, assuring me it was “right there” in my pinched fingertips, Poppa taught me the special words to say. They were the words… spoken for generations… by his ancestors (Cue 20/20 Hindsight Eye-Roll). I spoke them verbatim as I aggressively sprinkled the dust over the railing, “Fishy-Fishy in the water, You must do as I order.”

Almost instantly, there was a tug at my line. In no time, I had reeled in my first fish…and then my second.  Supper was on me that night. I was beaming with excitement. Every subsequent fishing trip had to include packing additional Guzz Wuzzle Dust in the tackle box and practicing those “ancient words.”

I started as an Afterschool Site Director in 2006. I had a lot of new skills to learn, including managerial responsibilities. I can’t pretend, for an instant, that I walked into the role ready-to-reel. I was quite eager and others thought I was ready for the challenge, just like when I was learning to fish. But this time, no one was going to keep me safe by holding onto my belt-loop. I had to make sure I didn’t fall over the edge by assuming too much or being too sure of myself.

The site-team was already assembled and working together for a month when I joined them. Some of them had even worked together the previous school year. I was working with some amazing people.  They were helpful and open, but I was still a new fish trying to swim around in their pond.

I quickly realized that I needed to figure out how I was going to build genuine relationships with these team members and foster true cohesion within an already-established group.

My eagerness turned into uncertainty and nervousness. I needed to remember the “reel” life lesson from my first fishing experience: I went home that day with TWO FISH. Poppa taught me that I shouldn’t give up and I didn’t. I helped my family eat that night. Even if that victory did all start as an elaborate magical-dust ruse, those two fish hanging on my chain were very-much real (and delicious).

I’d have to revisit my grandfather’s grit and refuse his ruse to be successful. I needed to find and navigate the delicate balance between personal and professional relationships with each member of the team.

And then there was waiting…

At first, I was awkwardly and repeatedly casting and recasting my line, baiting hooks. Sometimes I even found myself peering into the metaphorical murky depths, willing magic to happen.

More waiting…

Along the way, I sometimes felt like that Pokemon-Ball-looking bobber, just floating along, unable to go any deeper than the surface with any of them.

Pretty much all of the waiting…In the words of Norton Juster from The Phantom Tollbooth, “Time is a gift, given to you, given to give you the time you need, the time you need to have the time of your life.” Time was exactly what we needed to become a strong team. By learning about each other and earning each other’s trust and respect, we had an amazing school year.

Most of that original team has since moved on to other professional endeavors. Sometimes in your profession, you’ll have to “catch-and release.” I miss them often, but we still find ways to reunite with each other. Like I said, the biggest challenge through this was finding that personal/professional balance.

We went from co-workers/friends to friends/co-workers, to friends, to great friends. Needless to say, I learned some pretty valuable applicable lessons from that model of trial and error that directly correlate back to my first fishing trip.

Even though I had been playfully deceived by his Guzz Wuzzle Dust fairy tale as a child (like in the way adults convinced us of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy), I cannot thank my Poppa enough. Every lesson learned has required the patience, perseverance, and pride instilled by a long line of Cherokee fishermen.  I live everyday trying to be his ultimate catch-and-release.

That being said, you can’t rely on fairy tales and fishing analogies alone to improve yourself.  There are really great resources out there to help you become a better leader. Click here to read more about Creating Magic, the book that taught me leadership strategies and how guzz wuzzle led me to create a workshop called Lure to Endure.


Chaelyn Lombardo is the Site Director for the Middlesex YMCA’s Kids’ Korner Before and Afterschool Program at Macdonough School in Middletown, CT since 2006.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.