Can I Have a Word or Two?

It’s Halloween time and I’m reminiscing when I was little and went trick or treating. You know when grownups would and will ask a child: “So what do you do?” And, children do a song or dance? I sang the little witch song and changed the word witch to (can you guess to what rhymes with witch—change the w to a b).

My sister was shocked and everyone laughed. In that moment — I realized the power of words.

I knew and realized in that moment just how powerful words are and the effect they may have on us. Most of all — words can incite us. Words can also invite us to talk or push us away not to talk and forever hold our peace.

My sister cursed like a sailor. I would curse at school as I tested out the words and expressions she used. Such as: #1 B#tc$ to describe best friends and sister Bonds. F#€|< it or f#€|< you when angry or frustrated. I went to school — testing out these words and phrases with friends but no grownup ever knew.

We test out words and expressions.

This brings me to another moment in time as I was teaching and all of us were outside on a field trip (giving a plug to the National Building Museum in Washington, DC). We were in the blue construction room: Play Work Build exhibit where my class aka engineers, architects and builders were building and constructing very cool creations and structures! One of my Fireflies as he was trying to fit a square peg into a circle and he was exasperated by all of his unsuccessful attempts (he kept persisting and showed a lot of resiliency!) and to everyone’s shock and dismay minus my own: he said, “Awww, f bomb, it’s not fitting!

All of the grown ups stopped and stared at us and looked very carefully at me. I was the responsible grown up for this class. I looked at my firefly that lights the night sky and who clearly just lit up this space like the Fourth of July. I got low and spoke low. I said, “I see you learned a new way to express exasperation and frustration. What word can you use instead of that one? I said, what rhymes with it?” He smiled and said, “Oh, shucks, oh muck, ohhh tuck, ohhh luck” we laughed. I took the stigma and the struggle away. Again, language can incite us. Language is explosive. Language (most of all — the connections in the brain) are also exploding for preschoolers at this time.

If we reprimand or dismiss, shut down or get shocked how do we model? If we kick out, put in detention, suspend or expel how do we teach?

Teachable moments happen each and every moment. Don’t overlook them or dismiss them. Don’t lock it up and throw away the key. Words are caged birds begging to be free. Teach with compassion, love and understanding.

Restorative practices, compassion, learning and justice is meant and intended not only for preschoolers. It is for all ages, stages and levels of life. Meet children, youth and grown ups where they are are and help them to where they are going.

Bonus: listen to some of my stories made up from my heart and brain.

https://podcasts.apple.com/za/podcast/the-story/id1505653221

Ego Sum. Tu Es.

Ego sum. I am. I am many things. You are. You are many things too.

I am a teacher and have been teaching for a decade. During my ten years, I have witnessed and experienced so much turnover in this field. Most of all, our children and families experience it. It feels like salt to an open wound. 

We leave due to financial, most of all due to lack of support and freedom to do the right thing for our students. Our children. I hear the following phrase often, “I close the door and do what’s developmentally appropriate for my students.” What does this mean? I dare you to read 3 books: Developmentally Appropriate Practice and Much More than the ABCs and the fable The Animal School written in 1940 BUT still applicable to today and if I have time I would love to read it. We’re so busy readying our children for the next thing that we forget to meet them right where they are. We need to ask, “Are we ready for them? Are we doing the right thing for children by putting our research into action?” 

An over reliance on test scores and teaching to a test is burning teachers and children out. How is it that standardized testing is linked to funding and performance? Relying solely on data and scores all the while telling our students you are more than a test. Meanwhile at private schools such as Sidwell Friends…project based and expeditionary learning are taking place. The right thing happens. I ask when you choose a school do you look at scores? Or do you walk inside to “get a feel” for the climate and culture. Instead of asking schools for our scores ask us how we’re feeling. Nationally: How are our schools feeling? What are our children showing us? 

Our schools are sick. This is an egregious problem! 

There is an article published by the Learning Policy Institute for policy recommendations.

To stem teacher turnover, federal, state, and district policymakers should consider improving the key factors associated with turnover: compensation, teacher preparation and support, and teaching conditions. Click the link below for some of those recommendations:

https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/teacher-turnover-report

I graduated high school in 2004 and that’s when the PSSA was rolled out in Pennsylvania. We were like guinea pigs. We were the first class where it would count. I was already accepted into college. I scored above average on English and writing but scored below basic in Math. I took the math part 3 times. I went to tutoring everyday. As a result, I would not get a seal on my diploma. My math teacher tried to help me cheat and I said, “No, that test is showing my strengths and it is not math!” She pleaded. I never changed my answers and it turned into a huge dilemma for my school as I threatened to call the news stations. I was adamant that that showed my abilities. I reflect on this thinking, if changing answers and fudging scores happened then then it most certainly is happening now. 

It is not okay and we are a part of the system. We need change. Change happens from within but we need better and effective policies. Teachers would stay and not quit when listened to. Children and families would want to go to school if we did the right thing that is appropriate. Each and every child, family and school is different. It’s time we did the right thing. Teacher turn over would stop and I’m sure teachers long and gone would no longer be turning and rolling in their graves at this catastrophe and what I believe is a national crises.

Teaching is an art form. So is learning especially life-long learning.

There are a lot of factors contributing to teacher attrition but by far the three major ones as mentioned are testing, fringing on teacher autonomy (creativity) and devaluing education. At some point we lost our way or have been lost and now are finally waking up. 

There is a bigger picture occurring. We are pushing children to get ready for the next thing meanwhile failing to meet them where they are and supporting them during their process of the next. Ever since NCLB and state standards and all of this testing. I feel and know this to be true: children are showing us and have been showing us all along what they need. We need to listen. Why can’t we have a style of learning and teaching that meets all.

Collaboration, connection, creativity and caring. When we care and children care then the rest handles itself. Instead emphasizing tests or scores, I want children to focus on connecting with another on a project that they care about. Find and issue and create a solution. There is so much learning in that one project alone that takes place and connects all subjects. Most of all, it connects our children.  It connects us to make an impact on our world.

Where is the Magic?

Who is magic? What is magic? When is magic? Where is magic? Why is there magic? How is there magic?

My first memory of magic was stepping on a magic rainbow puddle aka oil slick and the rainbow disappearing and spreading outward. My mom whispered, “Make a wish.”

I did. And, it came true.

I thought inside, “Wow”. Not only was the oil slick magical but my wish coming true held magic in it too.

My mom was and is magic. Real life. Today is her birthday. The numeral 26 holds such significance as well as the numeral 8. This is why this blog is published each and every month on the 26th at 8:26am in honor of my mother’s memory and legacy.

Today I stepped on an oil slick aka a magic rainbow and I made a wish and thought of my Mom.

I smile and still see where the magic is. It’s found in a rainbow puddle. It spreads outwards. It’s in me.

The More We Zoom Together, the Happier We’ll Be?

Wait. Will we be happier? Who loves zooming? Is it trueeee? I do, I do, I do, I do, ooooo in the reminiscent Kenan and Kel series when asked if he loves orange soda. Is zooming good for us? While yes, it keeps us connected does it aid in burnout and result in frustration? Is in-person real life interaction(ing) better than zooming?

Yes and no. Yes, as teachers, we see real life home environments and children in their first and most important learning environment. Then no, as we know children’s learning is play and hands on learning in the real natural world. However, technology is a part of our real natural world now isn’t it?

As an advocate for literacy, I must admit and say that I am now an advocate of digital literacy for children especially as they are growing and will turn into grown ups who need to be prepared for professions not even created yet and jobs that they indeed will make up themselves. Our future coders and developers must have the capacity of critical and creative thinking which is opened up through natural world and online digital learning.

Being able to see digital literacy and book literacy is incredible. Some students are using the chat feature to type and sound out words. Some are hacking banking systems. Seeing the stages of emergent reading and writing online is incredible aka as drawing.

Learning to Write and Draw happens in stages and now think of the following stages digitally accompanied by text and emojis.

  • Stage 1: Random Scribbling (15 months to 2½ years)
  • Stage 2: Controlled Scribbling (2 years to 3 years)
  • Stage 3: Lines and Patterns (2½ years to 3½ years)
  • Stage 4: Pictures of Objects or People (3 years to 5 years)
  • Stage 5: Letter and Word Practice (3 to 5 years)

Thank you to Zero to 3 for the above stages! For more go to:

https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/305-learning-to-write-and-draw

*Please also click on, see and take a closer look at the images above. My student sounded out Charlotte from Charlotte’s web as “sleet” and used emojis as symbols from the story. My student also did so much more up there. Coding. Lot’s and lot’s of coding.

If we use technology in meaningful ways our students will grow in book literacy and digital literacy simultaneously. Using technology in meaningful ways is necessary for children’s growth and development as they grow through the stages of life. They can use it to tell their stories and that is powerful in itself.

So, what else can you do to encourage children’s literacy aka the process of art and writing skills *creative and critical thinking*? Let’s add to the list: emails, messaging, creating videos, drawing digitally, podcasts, chatting, zooming and coding as these are all a part of our real lives. If we know children imitate us and watch as we do not as we say then let’s embrace it in meaningful and appropriate ways.

My Rock

So there was this little girl and she found a rock.

She held it in her hands like in a clasped hug. She loved this rock. She thought she found Gold and in a way she did. Well, she goes to her dad and said look you won’t believe what I found. She opened her hand and her dad was like oh you found a stone. That’s cool. Listen love, see how much you can get for it.

She said, DAD but it’s just a rock. No one WILL BUY a rock. Her Dad said just promise me you’ll try and when someone makes you an offer tell me. She looked back and said ok. She walked out of the house and into the street.

The first person she saw she showed them this rock and said, hey excuse me sir I got this rock and uh are you interested in purchasing it? The man looked at her and peeked in at the rock, shrugged his shoulders and said, I’ll give you $5.00. Her eyes went wide and said really? You’ll pay me for this rock. He said yea. She said ok hold on let me tell my dad.

She runs back to her dad. Tells him and he responds oh, ok keep walking and ask someone else. She said, BUT DAD he’s giving me 5.00 for a rock!!!

He said walk on. Get another offer.

So she did and the next person was inside of a pawn shop. She walked right in there and was like excuse me Ma’m I got this rock and I want to see how much it’s worth? The women peered over the counter took the rock out of the little girl’s hand. Looked at it and weighed it. She said I’ll give you 50.00 for it. The little girl was shocked!

She ran out the store told her dad and he said walk on.

The little girl said BUT DAD this lady’s giving me 50.00!! Her Dad said walk on and ask someone else. So she did. She walked into a museum right, a Stone Museum. This special stone place filled with rocks! She walked right in there, head held all high and said hey excuse me everyone, I have a “stone” and I want to see how much it’s worth. Well, the museum people carefully looked at this little girl, took the stone out of the little girls hands with gloves inspected it carefully, like real carefully. A gentlemen came over, and put even put on these special glasses and carefully chiseled a bit away on this rock/stone. You could tell these guys we serious about some stones. They were stone collectors and they genuinely loved rocks and all that. So, they started asking her a lot of questions of where she found it, how she cared for it, what it’s name was, who it belongs to, when she found it, why it was special to her. She thought about the last question a lot. She thought about how she felt when she first found it before telling her dad and before him asking her to get money for it. And she said well when I first saw it—it was the most different, the most original stone I ever found, that I ever saw before. I never seen a stone like it in my life. And, well, I held it like I’d never find another one like it. I cleaned it — I carried it and protected it.

They started asking her more questions about her stone.

The whole time they wrote down everything. After their conversation they placed this stone next to another stone in a special case. They walked around and admired it. They said look how it stands out in this case! They looked at the little girl and said give us a few moments we need to deliberate on this. We are speechless. After several HOURS — the stone collectors returned and asked how much do YOU want for it? What will be your highest and lowest that you’d take for it? The little girl again was in shock. She said hold on. She said can I have my stone back? I need to go talk to my Dad about this! They said okay.

They wrapped the stone in special silk and handed it to the little girl. The little girl held it. Clasped it. She ran to her Dad.

She said DAD the museum people — the stone collectors—you won’t believe this! — they asked ME how much it’s worth?!!

Her Dad smiled. He asked her, well how much? Cause that’s what matters most.

— What matters most is how much you think it’s worth before you even showed me it. Nobody else. Never settle. ((You know how much she got for that stone? Mannnn, amazing!))

Reading the Rainbow

I dream in rainbow technicolor. My dreams are vivid hues and shades where we are all connected as one. It’s not a dream. I am literally living this in my life. I’m thankful and full of gratitude.

Each color of the rainbow symbolizes something special.

June is pride month. Remember Stonewall. Always. It was a riot and uprising to be treated as human beings. Riots and protests are our language. It is the human language especially when no one is listening. Yea, they hear us but they are not listening and not taking action. This month I’m honoring the Black Lives Matter movement. Their lives matter too.

Remember that.

For advocacy work please go to:

https://www.momsrising.org/

https://www.childrensdefense.org/programs/cdf-freedom-schools/

https://naeyc.org

Hoops, Books and Alley Ways

“That hoop will bring nothing but drugs and crime.”

I replied, “No disrespect but we already have drugs and crime here.”

Unit 4. Washington DC. Our nation’s capital. We had prostitutes, guns, drugs and crime in our neighborhood. We also had amazing individuals come together to do something about it. We also had people go against the change. But we all well most of us, came together.

Most of all, we did something about it. Read previous blogs to find out.

You know what else we had? A very high illiteracy rate.

Research shows when you don’t have reading literacy or math literacy you most likely will end up in jail. And, guess what? It’s true and that’s why more jails are built. People recognize the power in book literacy and financial literacy.

We need to change the game of education and life. We need to be creative, collaborative, compassionate and chance takers. Most of all, we need to empower one another to be bold and daring.

Don’t ask permission – ask forgiveness.

For approximately 90,000 of DC’s adults, low literacy skills are a barrier to just about everything – completing their education, getting and keeping a decent job, and staying out of poverty (Washington Literacy Center).

If you want to find out more of how to help with illiteracy please click here:

https://www.washlit.org/#:~:text=For%20approximately%2090%2C000%20of%20DC’s,and%20staying%20out%20of%20poverty.

Do We Have to Wear a Mask? A Poem

As told to me by children.

“Do We Have to Wear a Mask?”

“Do we have to wear a mask when we go back to school?”

“The world is filled with germs”.

“Stay home!”

“If we go outside we will die.”

“You can’t see the germs with a magnifying glass!”

“You can’t see it with a microscope or even a telescope either.”

“How will we eat our lunch if we have masks on?! That’s so silly!”

“Do you want to see my mask?”

“I had to put it on when people came too close!”

“Our president is trying to kill us! He told us to drink chemicals.”

“When the germs go away you can come to my house for a playdate!”

“When the germs are gone you can come to my house, too.”

Moment of silence.

“Wait, will the germs ever go away?”

The germs have always been here. Good and bad ones. Like humans.

“You can can wear a mask and stay far away from me!”

“You can’t wear my mask and I can’t wear your mask.”

Moment of silence. 

Yes, we have to wear a mask.

We’re really good at this.

We always caught our coughs and our sneezes in our elbows disguised as capes.

Catch it in your cape don’t let it escape.

We always washed our hands and sang Happy Birthday simultaneously.

Now, we have another accessory of our superhero way of being.

A mask. It goes well with our capes everyone.

What Does Your Happiness Look Like?

Carpe Diem, friends. Recently, my college students wrote about a Ted Talk and also chose an article that casts doubt on it. A student chose one about happiness.

After the presentation I asked them, “What does your happiness look like?” My student from Catalonia asked me what mine looks like and told me that I should have a blog all about life especially social revolutions and happiness. I thought of John Lennon and then it got me thinking about my happiness and the moments when I’m really happy.

So what does my happiness look like? 

I told my students: “Mine looks like a plastic chair, really any chair or even the ground anywhere in the sunshine, lounging with a pile of books at my feet.”

Then I remembered when I visited my hometown after many years, I pulled out a plastic chair and books, sat in the sun and I saw my neighbor Frank.

When he saw me in my sister’s backyard doing that, he smiled and said, “I haven’t seen you since high school! And, you still love that. “It’s true and another fun fact is that I also love-love-love the little things like watching ants and wondering if a raindrop can be smaller than a mouse’s fingertips? Shout out to the poet ee cummings.

Another source where my happiness grows from is the kind of happiness working, growing and learning with children as they remind us of the small things. Each and every single day. They remind me to Live Life to the Fullest. To be in the moment. To remember that it is a process. We are all in a process of becoming. When we think we know, we have no idea.

When I was around 8 years old, my father gave me a book after he got out jail entitled: Live Each Day to the Fullest featured here in the image and that is exactly what I plan on and am doing.

The Art of Saying Goodbye

Would you give your most precious belongings to a stranger?

I’m not sure what you care about but think about it. Think about something you care a lot about and wonder whether or not you would give it away freely or with hesitation. Would you give a stranger your mother’s ring? Would you give your car? Would you give your cellphone?

Now imagine what that may feel like for a family when they arrive to a classroom or school for the first time where their child will be going. 
It’s not easy. Our families need hugs the most. During the day, when our children say they miss their loved ones we often remind our children that no matter what they are always in their hearts. I used to say no matter what they will always be back but a part of me feels like that is a lie. Because I remember when my mother didn’t come back. I remember the day my mother died.

Now I say, no matter what they are always in your heart. No matter what. It’s never really a goodbye. And, a great educator and now friend from Nigeria said, “We meet to part and part to meet.” It’s never really a goodbye. She had a finesse and way of saying goodbye without ever saying bye. In that moment, she spoke to and educated not my head but my heart and spirit. I pay that kind of thing forward. With love+light+hugs.

Lots of them.