Leading from Within: From the Classroom to Leadership

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

“Courage is simply the willingness to be afraid and act anyway.” –Dr. Robert Anthony

Once a preschool teacher, I recently began my work as an assistant director.

Based on what I have experienced and researched so far I learned that it’s best to have one foot in and one foot out of the classroom. It’s like taking a pulse of the place and people as a collective. Just like with students it’s checking in and meeting them where they are, learning from them and working together. As I reflect on what will soon be almost a complete year as a school leader, I pause and take a deep breath. Two words: growing pains.  It takes a lot of hard work, working smart, collaboration and most of all courage to lead.

In my heart I always wanted to be an educator. Given the privilege to serve others is what is in my being…it is in my genetic make up, my DNA, my blood. It’s in my soul. It’s inevitable. It’s unavoidable no matter where I end up or what I do in life.

I have a vision. I still consider myself an educator and learner first and foremost. With this in mind, I enjoy keeping a pulse of our program. I look forward to saying hi and good-bye to everyone each and everyday. I look forward to seeing how others are truly doing and how they are feeling. Think: Mr. Rogers.

I believe every single person in this world deserves high quality and equity in education no matter where they are or where they’re from. I live to push everyone to realize and grow into his or her fullest potential.

There are 3 major takeaways and reminders since stepping and growing into this role:

  1. Being in Classrooms

Educators should never forget what its like to be a child/student. I take this perspective as I think about myself…I promise never to forget what its like to be a teacher. It’s similar to when I think and reflect on my experiences growing up…I never want to forget where I came from. My experiences made me the person I am today.   I work to spend time in classrooms not eyeing every little thing. I see the little things but I focus in on those little moments. The good things, the kinds of things that remind me why we are here in the first place to care, guide and challenge our children. In return to be challenged and learn from each other, families and children.

  1. Understanding, Empowering and Empathizing with Others

Taking time to understand other’s points of view. Perception is reality. Taking time to truly understand where others are coming from is important to me. It’s like two people looking and gazing at a work of art but feeling and seeing something completely different. I work and take the time to listen in order to understand why they are seeing it the way they are.

  1. Connecting, Building and Maintaining Relationships

I saved the best for last. When eating something delicious I like to save and savor the last “best” bite for last. Relationships are at the heart of our existence and being. No one wants to listen, be with or work with a person who does not genuinely care about them. Working to know everyone on a personal level is vital. I think about it like this: great teachers get to know their students and families. Knowing your people is important. Asking them how they are doing, creating outings and go to them. Work should not feel like work. You should want to be there.

Looking at leadership from several perspectives, I share some of the interesting experiences with Jill. I have taught 4th to 12th grade prior to taking my seat at the administration desk. I strongly believe that once you are an educator, you are an educator for life. A leader in a general sense must LEAD. To lead, one must possess the ability to listen and collaborate. As a leader in the field of education, you must possess other special skills such as high emotional intelligence and understanding the people you work with. I say “work with” because a good leader leads by taking part in the team.

On a daily basis, I am a very busy person. However, I enjoy taking the time to talk with my teachers, greeting children and families, squeezing in a little time to sit on the floor and play with children. This is not my main role of course but the classroom is where the action is. I remember my days being in the classroom and asking, “Who came up with this policy or regulation? Have they thought about this or that? This is unrealistic.” It seemed more “drop down” policy or rule rather than “well thought and realistic”. I have been in the trenches of teaching. I have faced many challenges and learned how to over come them and how to figure out a way to reach the goal. I am a firm believer that people like us make the best leaders. Why? Because we have been there and we have not forgotten what it was like. And we know and realize how it is now.

A leader approaches situations collectively and with a solution finder attitude. No matter what sector you work in, there are always going to be challenges, hardships, problems and negativity. A true leader gathers the team around, brainstorms together, takes everyone’s ideas and feedback into consideration and moves forward. There may be times when failure is inevitable. A leader knows what to take away from it as a learning lesson and shares it with the team trying to figure out how to avoid falling into the same situation again.

I enjoy empowering the people I work with. The stronger they get, the stronger I become. It is a cycle and a positive one. We grow together. I find coaching the most effective and enjoyable way to raise the bar for everyone. Seeing someone achieve makes me happy and gives me the biggest satisfaction. Just because I am no longer in the classroom does not mean I cannot influence what happens in the classroom. Better yet, now I can do it for more than one classroom at a time. I can establish a culture of doers, go-getters, problem solvers, communicators, and collaborators.

The most effective leaders are effective because they respect the mission, vision and the employees of their organization. They set the tone, establish a shared goal and produce a plan involving everyone. They are the role models. They get up regardless of how many times they fall. They are persistent, strong and have confidence not only in themselves but also in their teams. True leaders are inspirers and cultivators.  True leaders have courage.

courage

 

 

 

Advertisements

When its Time to Fly Away From the Nest: On Raising Independent Children

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

How are you raising your child? What is important to you? If you don’t have any yet what first materializes in your mind when you think of how to raise a child? We almost always think about safety, health, well-being, education, success, opportunities children will have to be well-rounded. We want them to ultimately be a good person.

What about independence?

One of the most important things in life is to be self-reliant. Children who are independent and rely on themselves grow to be more successful and happier. Of course, during the early years they are highly dependent on parents and other adults in their life including teachers. From feeding, diaper changing, dressing to reading, doing homework and taking them to basketball games or ballet lessons.

Then something happens when you least expect it. Like, clockwork. They reach a magical age when they are a bit more independent. This is the warm up time for adulthood. They make choices, they don’t cuddle with you that much, they ask you to drop them off a little further away from the school gate. They are capable of doing some chores, being in before the streetlights come on and you feel that they need you less.

Different types of parents raise different types of children. Seems like a no brainer right?

If you are a controlling parent and you do not give your child the opportunity to take responsibility, to do chores, to share his or her thoughts, to make choices and decisions, chances are you are disabling your child. In fact, these types of children grow to be adults with the potential at making poor decisions, blaming everyone else for their mistakes and in need of reassurance in order to feel happy and gratified.

On the other hand, parents who respect children’s wishes, seek their feedback, ask what their thoughts are helping children grow to be happy, responsible, self starters, capable and competent in taking care of their needs. This is a collaborative and positive relationship rather than controlling. As always, it is paramount to have a well-balanced style.

Here are some ways to raise independent children:

  • Provide guidance instead of telling them what to do
  • Give options instead of making the choice for them
  • Listen more
  • Show affection and love
  • Show empathy
  • Catch them doing good and reward for big accomplishments, not for every little thing.
  • Provide encouragement
  • Give them responsibilities and hold them accountable
  • Appreciate and acknowledge their efforts and verbalize it
  • Never make fun of their shortcomings and or mistakes
  • Set limits and clear expectations
  • Understand that they will make mistakes
  • Help them enjoy their success and admit their mistakes
  • Let them know that you are there to provide safety but eventually they need to fly away from the nest to explore the bigger world and test limits

 

 

Lighting up Creativity by Keeping the Magic Alive: The Power of Creativity in Children and Grown ups

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

lightbulb

Creativity=Magic. It comes down to being present in the moment and wanting to be there even in the difficult times with children and families in order to create an awesome learning experience. It’s about doing the right thing for your students, families and yourself and having the courage, confidence and creativity to thrive. I think even if you have the most up to date technological school what is at the heart is caring and nurturing teachers, families and children. A person can have a school anywhere in the world even without the best of the best but it comes down to educators, families and children. When you walk into an awesome classroom you immediately want to be there: it feels warm, accepting, safe and fun. You don’t want to leave. You feel it. To be a part of something like that is incredible.

Inspiring Ways to Spark Creativity and Ingenuity at School, Work and at Home

  1. Visit a museum to look and admire art and/or living/dead things. Admire some bugs together or face a fear of creepy crawly bugs. Marvel at the fragility of a butterfly. Bring a hands on activity for you and your child to recreate what you see together. There are awesome and free museums, our national zoo and the sculpture garden in DC to explore. Not to mention the reopening of the Renwick with the exhibit Wonder. http://renwick.americanart.si.eduskullswonderbuginsectzoo
  2. Give them real tools to copy you and put stuff at their level. Children may not always listen to and/or follow our advice or even have a hard time learning limits but I do know I am 99.9% sure children imitate what they see. Whether we call ourselves role models or not we are that for children. Be who you want your kid to be.aub
  3. Invite children to your workspace. Bring them for a day in the life of your work. Ask working family members to volunteer some time so they can visit their work too. Make it fun and interesting. Play make believe with them.  After the work experience ask them what they think about your work? Ask them their opinions and ideas. They are our future. Before you know it they will be grown ups.   Help them think of ways to think outside of the box and change the status quo. This leads to changing the world.

experiement

  1. Offer open-ended art materials. Don’t buy into commercialism all of the time. Many toys on the market inhibit creativity. They have certain limited functions. Cardboard, paper, (large paper), wood, paint (mixing primary colors to make colors), clay, chalk, crayons, pastel, collaging, mixed media arts, journaling, art journaling, photo journaling, dancing, singing, sports (recreational and organized). The list is endless. Harness whatever it is they love and let them run wild with it. Let them be in the moment making a mess. Be in the process with them.
  1. Read good books. You know what we’re talking about. The ones you like. And, read many genres. When children grow, they will appreciate this exposure and become literate awesome global individuals of the world. Teach them not to just read to read but read to understand.
  1. Make up stories together. Illustrate them too. If your children love this let them do it and appreciate it. Show them the process of publishing. And, as we are changing into the world of self-publishing show them that too. A great source of inspiration is Stephen King’s On Writing.
  1. Go on adventures. A lot of them. Take a trip somewhere. Take planned and unplanned ones. This way you show a planning process and spontaneity. We need both of these in our lives. Without a balance we get dull. Keep that gleam in your eye. This carries into old age. Keep the magic alive.
  1. Show how technology rules but does not rule you. Don’t always be on your phone. Be present in the moments. So many of them you can’t recreate or get back. Show how technology rocks. There is a thin line between our real lives happening now in the moment and technology.
  1. Eat cereal and watch cartoons together in your pajamas.
  1. Visit places to discover how things work, are made and so much more.
  1. Ask them. Ask yourself. Find out what your child loves to do and let them do it. Find out what you love to do and do that.
  1. Give your time.

 

 

 

We Need Help! Understanding Mistaken Behaviors to Help Children

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

Tell me and I will forget.  Teach me and I may remember. Show me and I learn.

-Benjamin Franklin

Often times, adults forget that they were once children. We all forget something sometimes. When grown ups listen and are present in the moment with children, children teach us how to be one again. Children notice when we are present in the moment and are intuitive of who we are and will act accordingly. Grown ups often set high expectations for children that are unachievable, unrealistic and age inappropriate. How many times do we hear an adult judging a child’s behavior without having all of the facts and details? Most of all, hearing an adult labeling a child without trying to really know or understand the child or his/her family. Most of us hear and experience bad days our children and students’ have. It hurts to see a child being labeled without an understanding or an attempt at understanding his or her challenging behavior. When we are attuned, we pay attention to the facts and details. Some of them are:

  • Child’s age
  • How they learn
  • Who they are
  • What interests them (what do they care about?)
  • Type of family or household he or she comes from
  • Limitations and other special situations of the child
  • Temperament
  • Capacity
  • Ability
  • Cultural differences

When we envision the world we want peace and happiness. This is unrealistic. This is the same for a classroom of preschoolers! We are human. Our classrooms are filled with humans. Humans are filled with feelings, thoughts, ideas and emotions. We are all so very different and are all in a process of becoming during childhood and even throughout adulthood. Remember this when a child spills something, “talks back”, makes a mess or cannot control his or her emotions. Do we want statues and followers? Or do we want leaders, movers and shakers?

In the Little Prince, the narrator has a hard time comprehending grown-ups in the same way I believe grown-ups have a hard time understanding children. A huge lesson and quote from this story is how “Grown ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: What does his voice sound like? What games does he like best? Does he collect butterflies? They ask: How old is he? How many brothers does he have? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? Only then do they think they know him.” The lesson is ultimately summed up by “Children should be very understanding of grown ups.” Likewise, grown ups should be understanding of children (and this can count towards each other as well). Understanding, connection and building a strong reciprocal, caring relationship is key without judgment or labels.

littleprince

However, adults can be quick at judging and labeling the behavior and child; as hyperactive, aggressive, slow, incapable, apathetic, troublemaker, bad, disrespectful…the list is long and goes on and on. While these labels are extremely hurtful to the child and his or her family, it is also damaging to his or her self-esteem, personal growth and sense of self worth. In reality, they are children who lack experience in that particular area, they do not know the difference between right and wrong therefore they make mistakes and false judgments. Nine out of ten children do not know any better. Children are learning and in a process of becoming. They are not motivated and challenged enough. Especially when they are labeled, constantly told that they can’t do something coupled with consequences right away. 

Like any other human being, children want to be a part of a group. They want and need the sense of belonging. They want to be understood. They want to impress others especially the ones in their immediate circle such as family members, friends and teachers. They want attention and a lot of it! They develop skills and behaviors according to their social relationships. Sometimes, they act like a super hero because it is cool to save the world, fly or to destroy the enemy. How about a child who is coping with a family member’s death, his dad’s violence at home, or being bullied? How about a child who does not get enough sleep because parents work long hours and it is late by the time they go home to eat and do homework? Imagine what can happen when a child lacks experience to deal with frustration, fear, and inability to identify and or control feelings.  Imagine a grown up in your life whom lacks coping skills as well. Children grow into grown ups.

Often, adults misunderstand these challenging interactions and behaviors. At times they are not understood at all. In the end, the child is punished in the learning and developmental stages. Rules and setting limits are necessary but a constant power approach is not. What can we as adults do to understand each child, let it be in our homes, in a classroom or a school? Patience, understanding, compassion and guidance are four significant constructive corner stones of forming a relationship with a child. It is trying different ways to reach him or her where he or she is. Then guiding children where they are going. Giving opportunity and support to children is crucial in developing their self-esteem, self confidence, love of learning, respect for others, courage, resiliency, creativity, empathy, sympathy and trust.

Any time families, educators or communities are faced with challenging and mistaken behavior rise up to the challenge, show compassion, care and let’s ask questions to understand. Questions we can ask are: where is Johnny from? Who is Johnny? What does Johnny like to do? When did Johnny start this challenging behavior? Why is Johnny doing this? What are we going to do about it? For some, a simple answer is to reprimand leading up to removing the problem. That’s the easy way out. However, if we work hard at understanding, connecting with, helping, supporting and reaching Johnny then we can change his whole trajectory. If we teach him to solve his problems as opposed to running away he will become one powerful man. When we are there for the good times and the bad times then we pass that kind of thing on to Johnny and then Johnny passes that kind of thing on to someone else. Frederick Douglas has said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Often we hear: “My son’s/daughter’s teacher said they were disruptive and misbehaving” leading to a consequence. “I have to go in for a meeting with his/her teachers”.   When do we hear: “My son’s/daughter’s teacher said they created something incredible and were proud of it” or “You know he/she is quite the conversationalist! Let’s set up a meeting to talk about it!”

When a child acts out, those disruptions and misbehaviors are really mistaken and challenging behaviors. There is often and always a reason a child is doing something. Even as adults we can relate to when we are not ourselves or we need help. Let’s help our children who are still learning how to ask for help. Next time you see a child’s mistaken behavior know it is his or her way of saying “I need your help!” Let’s work together to advocate, understand and help our children. Then they will understand themselves. When we do this we are helping our world be a little better off than it once was.

love