Stop Going Through the Motions: Change a Culture Together

We are all different. It is a beautiful kind of thing.  Culture is the formation of beliefs, values, goals, management style and the practices of an organization. One of the most difficult tasks as a leader is to change a culture. No matter how strong a person is by nature she or he will be opposed to change of any kind. Because change is unknown and it is uncomfortable. Many questions occupy a person’s mind.

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Am I going to keep my position? Will I have the same power? Will I stay in the same team? Is my employment secure? What is wrong with the good same old same old? Why do we need to change anything, we have been doing a great job already. Culture of the organization determines its success and sustainability. Without change, while everything is evolving around us, it is impossible for an organization to survive and to continue to be a top performer.

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You need to take it slow and gentle. If you do not want to lose people on the way that is. There are a few steps in changing a culture.

  • Observe, analyze and find the root of the problem. What is causing the issue? Staff, policies, inconsistency, lack of accountability, lack of trust, lack of transparency, lack of recognition? Surveys are a good place to start. Ask for people’s input and see what they think. If it is done anonymously you can get more reliable feedback. In addition, meet with a few staff and leaders and ask their opinion and experiences.
  • Get your team to understand why change is necessary and what happens to the organization if it is not done. There is a shift in education. The traditional way of teaching children is proved to be ineffective. Didactic teaching, teacher centered and teacher directed methods are detrimental to creativity and critical thinking skill development. If you have teachers with many years of experience but closed to improvement and new practices that are proven to increase learning, that is a change that needs to happen. Last week, there was an article on WTOP talking about a teacher who decided not to give students homework. She explained how children need to spend family time and continue to form their bonds with families. This teacher preferred students to study hard at school, spend a lot of time on teaching, learning and wanted them to rest, play and have quality family time. This is exactly what happens in Finland. Research shows that this education style increases student capacity and success.
  • Using the term Leadership as opposed to Management is also a progressive approach. People who lead the organization, school or another business, need to be on board with the culture change. Staff respects leaders who listen and take their concerns and feedback into account. They get encouraged with training opportunities and career advancement. Always look into current staff to see if you can promote within to fill a position. After all, a leader cannot do the work without her or his workforce.
  • Plan ways to increase quality of the workforce and retention. Change the staff lounge to make it calmer, prettier and more relaxing and fun to be in. Everyone deserves a break and doing so in a comfortable environment makes it even better. Promote collaboration by forming teams or groups.
  • The answer to the question “what is in it for me?” is an important one to think about. Have a positive attitude and express your appreciation as appropriate and as needed. Try to balance when so that it has a value. Ask for input as often as possible.

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Easier Said Than Done

While talking with a good friend of mine she mentioned how a lot of the advice on our blog is “Easier said than done”. It couldn’t be truer. She said that most often she is yelling and losing her mind with her children. Children have so much energy and they test limits often.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a mom, work and keep your sanity. This saying got me thinking even more deeply. A lot of issues and solutions to problems centering around children, families and education are easier said than done. For instance, the mere idea of childhood readiness.

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1989. I watched a Task force on Childhood Readiness. When some of us were 3 and 4 years old, others were fighting for our education. A Real Education. Leaders from the ECE field agreed that the need to articulate goals would lead to a trap of focusing in on testing…leading to putting more academics and pressure on children which is the wrong way to go. We know this is the wrong way to go. The focus does not need to be on school readiness or bureaucracy needs but needs of children and families. The point is to improve children’s success in school NOT SCHOOL READINESS. This idea to be ready is counterproductive. Schools should be ready for children not the other way around. We are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking “Are children ready?” We need to be asking, “Are we ready for them?” Empower families to ask their children’s new teachers’ their approach and encourage families to write letters to their new teachers about who and how their child(ren) learn.

Please watch the task force from 1989 here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?10241-1%2Fchildhood-readiness

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But it is easier said than done. We are now in the year 2016. We are still talking about school readiness. The term makes me uncomfortable especially after studying Early Ed  more closely. Most importantly, after seeing how play, hands on learning and using developmentally appropriate practice work and help children learn. Making learning meaningful coupled by connecting it to children’s real lives is what Early Ed is about.

I would love to see real early education be a model for all learning. Differentiation, lifelong learning, play, joy for learning, reading favorite books, based on interests, connecting with families, community and individualized learning is key. Focusing only on academics is selling our children, families and ourselves short. We know better. There is so much experience coupled with research.

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Tripled by all of the ECE leaders who came before us leading and paving the way of what a real education looks, sounds and feels like. It includes a focus and light on the whole child and family, learning through play, going outside, connecting with families and community, reading and re-reading books, making up stories, invented spelling, drawing, painting, sculpting and molding, creative arts, building, music, singing, sensory experiences, toys and games (invented ones too not only store bought), collections, being in the moment, cooking, science and discovery, dramatic play (acting, taking on roles) and so much more.   It’s keeping the lights on and magic of curiosity and learning alive for children.

We learn how to treat each other and we make promises of being safe, being kind, taking care of each other, our environment and having fun! We talk about our feelings and how to express them.

When families ask, “Why isn’t Jenny spelling her name?” We reassure them that children grow in various ways and give a gentle reminder to not compare Jenny to her friends. Jenny can plan and build three-dimensional buildings and draws her plan out. She also solves problems and helps others. She is kind and caring. She draws a lot. She asks us to write her name for her. Before you know it she will want to write her name all on her own. Right now she is processing, building and molding it all.  This is the foundation.

The positive outcomes of partnering and collaborating are endless. Through collaboration, strong relationships and engagement with families and children, we learn, grow, connect and empower one another by being a part of something much, much bigger than ourselves.

There were many before us and we owe it to them to keep on fighting the fight and being voices for children and families. For ourselves! We can’t give in or give up. We are here to serve as a reminder. When people ask what is happening, we need to help wake them up, inform and empower them and enable them to think and fight for their children.

Be the kind of a grown up you needed by your side as a child.

The Human Story

In every one of us there is a light.

A hope. A journey. There is a kind of understanding and a belief that we are connected.

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Each and everyone of us has choices. The choice to be good or the choice to be bad. Or the choice to be a little bit of both. There is good and bad in all of us. That’s the truth. We all have the ability to learn from our accomplishments and mistakes as a result of the choices we make. This helps us grow or causes us not to. Some stay stagnant and then question how you changed and grew? We are all in a process of becoming. Every level of life we are growing, changing and becoming. In life, just like we have good days and bad days, we have good and bad people.

We never went wrong. There is only a constant battle between what is good and what is bad coupled with our perception of our choices within ourselves.

It is important not to spend time thinking about criticism that is untrue. It is also important not to take it personally. This is not an easy task and it needs a lot of practice for a long time. Everyone of us is on a journey. We take what we can from our individual journey and try our best to understand and learn from others’.

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Recently, I (Jill) was a mascot and was drenched in sweat beneath the heavy fur costume. It was hot outside. Even hotter within that costume of fur. I wore it for an hour thinking of others who wear heavy costumes longer than that. I wondered “how do they live this life?” It’s so hot. Sweat. I felt all of the children’s happiness as they hugged, powed and hi fived me. There were two sides of it. It was hard work but it brought joy.

We do not know someone’s life or journey unless we walk in their shoes.

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However, we are connected at the same time. We should spend time getting to know one another, not growing further apart. It is easy to judge and criticize others. Especially when you lack or have a hard time showing empathy. The easy way is to be self centered. This is not the way the world works.

Implicit bias has been the buzz word lately. If we know we all have implicit biases then we must face them and work to become better. How? This starts with talking with each other and not making assumptions. If you do assume, face your assumption and fear and work to know someone else. In the words of Maya Angelou: my friend we are more alike than we are unalike.

It’s not race, not religion, not gender, not sexual orientation, not these labels that separate us. It is ourselves. Love, courage and understanding work. We need to choose this as the rock to push up that hill together.

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We are stronger when we work together.

Where Have We Went Wrong? Or Have We?

Turn on the news. Bomb. Turn the channel. A shot fired into someone else. Lives taken. Flick to another. Injustice. Time to turn the TV off and solve this.

There are way too many bad things happening around us. It is across the ocean, opposite side of the world and right here in our own backyard, front yards, alleyways and cities. We see and hear the news of hurt and killings on the front page of the newspaper, in social media and on each and every news channel. Sad, depressing and terrifying events. We even hear from those directly affected in unsafe neighborhoods.

We cannot ignore what is happening but we cannot keep hearing this disturbing news without doing something about it. Where have we gone wrong? I cannot help myself and ask “was this person loved? Cared for? What type of childhood did he or she have? How did the family miss the signs of violence? Mental illness? Did he or she grow up in violence? Ignorance? Maybe … maybe not.

Recently, I read a story about a four-year-old little girl who was abused and neglected. When the police asked her her name she responded with “Idiot”. How did this happen? When the neighbor was asked about her child playing there she said that her child stopped playing there after a while but never said why. She said families in their neighborhood stay to themselves and stay out of each other’s business.

Child abuse and neglect is everyone’s business. How we treat children is everyone’s business. They say you can tell a lot by how a country treats it’s prisoners…well I believe the same can be said for how we treat our children.

As families, teachers, country leaders, and citizens… we have a tremendous amount of responsibility for our youth, our future generation. This world belongs to all of us, all of them. We talk about conflict resolution, social interactions, healthy relationships, social roles and responsibilities. We talk about then a lot. Do we do enough to ensure our younger generations and people in general are learning, comprehending and being diligent? There are several things we must do over and over again. Tirelessly, relentlessly and repeatedly… Our children should know a few powerful unwritten rules

  • Violence is not the answer nor is it the solution to injustice.
  • Be proactive, observe and communicate.
  • Take direction, follow direction and do your part.
  • Be positive, stay positive even during injustice. Using words is more powerful than using fists and sarcasm.
  • Stand up for yourself and avoid confrontation as much as possible. If you have the need to defend yourself, do it within the frame of legality.
  •  Remove yourself from dangerous situations and surround yourself with positive, productive people.
  • Guide and help a friend in need. If you do not know how to help, ask someone. A teacher, a doctor, someone you can trust.
  • Do not give in when you come across adversity. Stand by what you believe in and respect others’ beliefs.
  • The most important thing is to stay alive. Cherish your life and protect it. Remember, self-expression and freedom are not an excuse to invade someone else’s space, disrespect others’ rights and roles.
  • Drop the “I don’t care, what is in it for me? Me for me” attitude. Become a community, be part of a community.
  • Do all of this regardless of religion, race, heritage. Unite for the common good. After all, we are all connected, we all need one another and we are all created as humans.

In all of this madness Fred Roger’s reminds us to “Look for the helpers…[there is good in this world]”. If you don’t see any in your neighborhood, become one.

Truth or Dare? Choosing Both to Defend Early Childhood and Beyond the Early Years

Education is said to be the great equalizer of all time but I’m not looking for it to make experiences equal. I am looking for it to make them fair.  Everyone has different experiences. If you give two people the same size box to stand on to look out of a window or to reach for an object up high it will not work for one of them.

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Children and families need fairness, high quality and authentic exposure to the world in which they are a part of.  Being more connected than ever before makes it is easier to see what it is like on the other side of the world and right here in your own city.  Connecting with people is important, not watching stereotypes or feeding into them.  There are many kinds of people. People want to survive and make the best with what they have and know.  People grow and change. They fall and get back up. Some need help getting back up while others brush their shoulders and carry on growing stronger.

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I grew up never knowing we struggled.  Childhood was magical for me. I played in the mud, made a lot of choices, fell down and got hurt, came in before it got dark and did I mention I played a lot? Every child deserves a magical and joyful childhood. They deserve to believe they are somebody, are special and have the potential to be who ever they dare to be.  I dare someone reading this article to not just go to a park but make some mud outside. Combine it with a  great book called The Mud Puddle by Robert Munsch.  Maybe make up your own story along the way.

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Some think No Child Left Behind means ensuring children are prepared academically and assessing children whether they are or are not is heavily emphasized through testing in math, reading and writing.  These skills are important but the way we assess them is so far from the reality. Relying upon a standardized test and not considering the student’s persona and capacity for test taking is a way to set them up for failure, furthermore a way to discourage them to try harder.   There needs to be a balance between standardized tests and authentic assessment including observations, dialogue and self-expression with a given project or an assignment. Children should also be assessed in their environment through journaling, evaluating their work over time and understanding who they are as a person and how they learn.  This is what fair assessment looks like. Standardized test scores determine funding? Well, we shouldn’t allow that.  I believe high quality early childhood educators have a lot to show and share with our K through 12 programs and the same vice versa.  Please understand early childhood is not just taking care of cute little people , as once I was told, it is not changing diapers, feeding babies and rocking them to sleep. There is no need to say “I don’t know how you do it but we thank you” from higher-level teachers. We need you to provide continuity so that there is a solid bridge between early years and formal school years. How can you do that?

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By partnering with families, listening to their needs and expectations, sometimes even their hurldles. By building strong relationships, ensuring the classroom feels like a home away from home and every child has a place and feels included. Allowing children the freedom to express themselves and providing guidance and engaging them in the lesson in a way that they do not even realize they are learning. Making play a learning tool and knowing how children learn best, articulating why it is ok if a child is not reading but is on the way to and how to positively make him or her love and enjoy reading. It’s not just about the abc’s. Advocating for children and families and empowering each other.   This does not have to happen all at once but in steps…one at a time… walking feet…

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Here are lessons learned:

Preschool’s top six rules:

  • Be kind and when someone’s not: speak up
  • Take care of each other and the classroom
  • Be safe
  • If you fall…get back up (if you fail, try again)
  • Work hard, work smart and work together
  • Have fun

Remember that life long learning is a process rather than a product.  Each of us is in a process of becoming. It is not only what we know but who we are.

When we solely focus on academics and testing then childrens’ potential, character, critical thinking, problem-solving and symbolic thinking is left behind in the process. While in New Mexico, I witnessed children having shorter recess time with teachers standing around arms crossed watching and monitoring equaling no engagement.  No leading play efforts.  If it got rough they were not allowed to play certain games such as football.  How do you interact? How are you forming spatial awareness and sensory functions? Humans need contact. Children lined up single file for lunch, sat in chairs all day and had limited play and interaction.  There was a power struggle present and children were seen not heard. Children were required to listen not be listened to. This is not positive and it does not help building strong relationships. This way of thinking is not making our children grow into better adults than we are.  The purpose of education is to ensure the next generations are better than the previous ones.

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How and why did we get here as a society?  We want to keep our children safe and we want the best for them but is this the way? Children and families are lost in the process where it feels like a systematic institution as opposed to a nurturing community.  As an example, a few years back, I started bringing in my own basketball and showed children how to play and guided them in the process.  As a result, I observed more joy and togetherness.  I grew up playing basketball. While my sister pushed me to be a strong athlete my brother in law showed me the fun side of it.  Balance.

We are not meant to sit all day long. Our bodies need to move. Our brains need a break.  A Turkish saying goes ” Healthy body, healthy mind”. In aftercare, children do homework and eat snack. What happens to all that energy and the need to interact with one another, socialize and create friendships? Where is enrichment so that our children turn into well rounded adults? How can’t they get bored and get in trouble because they are not intrigued and occupied by positive activities?  It often feels more like a boot camp than an educational experience. It makes the cradle to school to prison pipeline real for me. We are preparing children for…prison? I recognized it started there.

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It doesn’t matter where you come from to make it to where you’re going. This is true. This is what my life’s work is built on. This I believe is what life is built on.  We can change this as people, citizens, educators and whatever else our social roles are.  If we work together… People fought and were tried before. Of course, we will get tired. It will not always be a smooth ride. We’re human and we believe our children are worth fighting for.

Our Most Vulnerable

blog 14 picOur most vulnerable are our children, elderly, women and sick. These four groups deserve the best practice and high quality care:  the word care. What does that mean? So many go into a 9-5 job and that is all it is for them: a job. A going through the motions like a machine kind of job. The worst is that some are good at their job and others are not. However, what sets a handful apart is how they care and treat another human being. It is caring for the job, taking pride in what you do and being happy with yourself when you look at the product and or your creation. It is also going the extra mile.

Long ago someone told me that there are three types of people and you store them according to how they perform. Top drawer is for the ones who go that extra mile and who you have to have to go on with your work and who you can lean on. Second drawer is for people who perform well and does everything by the book. The bottom drawer is for the ones who you would live without because they do the bare minimum and sometimes even cut corners. Why would you even keep them around you?

Why is this? Why is there only a few? Care is synonymous with responsibility, protection and control. So much is out of our control; however, to care about and for someone is profound work.

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The worst thing you can do is turn your back on someone who is vulnerable. As I read the biography The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks a quote surfaces again and again throughout my life: “The worst thing you can do to a sick person is close the door and forget about him” (Skloot 276). It is the worst thing. No one will take care of a loved one like you will; that is the God’s honest truth. No one. And, when you see a person who does, appreciate them and thank the stars and your God for a blessing such as that. 

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Who makes sure they eat and drink? Who ensures they are ok? That they don’t roll from the bed? Ensures they are loved and have attention? Ensures that crumbs are wiped away and holds their hand when in pain?

I want to tell you a folklore story passed down. Once there lived an Inuit grandfather who was so old and shaky that when he tried to feed himself or drink, his hands would shake and food would fall to the floor, water would spill and create a mess.

Many did not have patience and since he was disabled in a wheel chair, no longer working and providing “bread and butter” aka his fair share, it was almost time for him to move on. The following week the elder man’s son bundled him up in a jacket and handed him a blanket. The son told his son to please wheel him away deep into the forest. The boy pushed his grandfather over the bumpy ground. Feeling the weight and the burden, the boy pushed on and parked his grandfather’s chair deep into the woods out of sight.

As the boy turned to leave, his grandfather called his name. He said “yes?” The grandfather handed him the blanket back and said, “Make sure you give this blanket to your father when it is his turn.”

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We cannot close the door on someone or anyone we are meant to care for whether it be a relative, a child…anyone.

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There will be a point where you will be in those shoes.  At some point we were all children and at another point we will be old, weak and vulnerable like a child again. We need to take care of each other.

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In the book My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolt Taylor talks about how she recovered a stroke and could literally feel people’s energies. She felt and loved a select few of people in a hospital that cared for her. Most of all, she remembered as she recovered and regained parts of her brain. She felt the difference between nurses who poked and prodded and others who got low to her bedside and whispered, talked and asked “How are you feeling?” Accompanied by touch.

In this story it is similar to how we work and care for each other. Some do and some don’t. That’s the reality. The good ones are worth holding onto.

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Building Real Schools not Walls to Finally Close the School to Prison Pipeline

From the President to the stay at home mom or dad, everyone’s idea of “school” and “education” is different. I almost can hear you say “How, Berna? Education is education and school is where children, youth and people in general go to learn, better themselves so that they can get a good job and live a happy life.”

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Yes and no. I wish it were that simple. In my opinion and based on my experiences, there are three types of schools:
1. Inspiring
2. Mediocre
3. Supressing and Depressing

Inspiring schools are about students. Their needs, interests, potential, creativity, personality, family dynamics, 360 degree development (as we say “the whole child”). School leadership and faculty put students’ well being in front of academics. Students are not numbers, they are people. In a data driven world, these schools are great because they balance these two needs instead of tipping the scale with one or the other.

There is another thing that takes place in these “inspiring schools”. Encouragement of higher level thinknig, thinking outside of the box. Conversation, dialogue and cooperation is encouraged not by a set of rules such as “raise your hand before you talk, raise your hand before you get up and walk”. Have you ever seen an adult raising his hand in a conference room? Yet, they can talk all one by one. There is almost this silent sign or code signaling “it’s my turn to talk”. Have you ever seen a person raising his or her hand to go to the other side of the room while the host or the speaker is talking? No. because they get up quietly, discreetly and mind their business. Why treat students like this when we are preparing them for the adult world and tell them “You must be successful at what you are doing out there”.

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Students or learners are involved and engaged in their school planning. Projects, tagline for a competition, lessons, study subjects… Yes, of course there is a curriculum but there are ways to incorporate all these into the curriculum. Is there only one way to teach mixing colors in art? How about addition? Why not slice up an apple while teaching fractions? Does it have to be only 1 or 2 dimensional? No. 21st century schools are far better than that. If we do not have one type of learner then we cannot teach with one method.

Mediocre schools are neither here nor there. Teach according to the curriculum. Use a tourist approach as in “Black History Month. Let’s learn about Harriet Tubman. It’s April, let’s talk about recyling and talk about Earth Day”. Why not expand these throughout the year and stretch the subjects into every area of learning. Math, science, social studies, art, music…Why not encourage learners to think deeper and perform at higher levels by letting them absorb all the information in comparison to memorizing? Why rely upon tests so much? Why is a child nervous taking a test? Does this mean he doesnt know or is it only an issue of learning how to control feelings such as anxiety.

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Supressing and depressing schools are the worst. They think “rigor” is awesome. Learners are like little soldiers. They are expected to be quiet unless the teacher asks them a question. They are required to move, talk, laugh IF the teacher gives permission. They are expected to act alike and behave alike. Leadership and faculty associates listening as in raising hand and keeping it quiet unless the teachers permits them, with learning and getting high test scores. Naturally every child is different. No matter what the expectations are, they cannot act alike and think alike all the time. They cannot have the same needs and understand the subject in the same way and within the same time period. What happens to these children? They get punished, isolated, pushed away, mocked and belittled. They get bullied by the teacher and of course later on by the classmates and schoolmates. Why not follow in the teachers’ footsteps? Trust me I have witnessed it. These children may eventually get kicked out of the school or held back a year or so. Because they are the “black sheep”. Why not follow the herd? What is so great about being an individual and adding your individual strengths and ideas to the learning environment? This is the thought. They set children up for failure.

Like Berna, I recognize how many have different perspectives when it comes to learning.  While most may have a different idea of what education may be or look like what remains true is it’s purpose.  A school’s purpose is to help and guide not punish and expel.  A school adds onto a person’s character and brain not takes away.  I rise to the challenge of math and will say with confidence that if a school works to take away problems as opposed to solving them then in the end nothing will be left.  “What happens to the children who can’t sit still or are labeled as a problem or ADD/ADHD?” “Who is their voice?”   When I think about schools, I think about what is inside…the meat of it.  So often a child is labeled and removed in punitive ways.  I equate this with removing a problem not solving it.  Most of all, not helping the child to solve it.  Often I think about the school to prison pipe line and why removing the “problem” is not the answer and what we can do to stop it.

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They say you can tell a lot about a country by the way it treats its prisoners…I believe the same can be said for how a country treats its children. Invest money in our schools and education for high quality not in more jails.  Invest in our children, families and educators.  Education is supposed to be inspiring.  It is meant to change lives and trajectories.

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This is real. A real problem here in our country. We have to solve it and do the right thing for our children not pockets.  This is how we break a cycle.

The return of investment is immeasurable when you invest in education.

It’s easier working and guiding children as opposed to fixing broken grown ups.

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Education meaning the elements of literacy, the arts, math, the sciences, play and higher level thinking skills AND SO MUCH MORE are vital to keep our country thriving, alive and most of all moving forward and rolling.

Let’s follow the money and watch where it goes. The money is here. It’s being spent not to better schools such as Detroit’s and Scranton’s, it’s being used elsewhere.  We need to come together as a community and nation to build each other up. Debt and bankruptcy should not be an option. Invest in our communities.

When you move out and go to someplace “better” what does that really solve? There is good and bad everywhere. We have to own our problems and do something about them. Removing a “problem” is not the answer. A child should never be labeled as bad or a problem. The behavior is a problem not the child. We are here to help solve problems by working together using positive guidance to help a child learn.

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It comes down to our expectations and positive guidance. It comes down to doing the right thing for children who will later become our future grown ups.  It’s about building partnerships with families and making them stronger and in return growing stronger from them as we all have something to learn from one another.

The thing is is that leaders already know the value of education and the return of investment as I am sure their children are in the best of the best of schools… We deserve these models of excellence. Every child deserves high quality and equity in a real education. We know what it looks like.

Every child deserves the kind of education that makes you think, dream, imagine, hope, create, advocate and speak, work together and most of all believe. But this kind of real schooling starts with us.

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A school can be the most advanced, technologically savvy, have beautiful things but what matters most is what is ticking inside of it. The hum of the people within in it. Do they have children’s and families best interests at heart? Are they there to listen and understand? Do they care? Is it a neighborhood where you feel welcome and a part of it? Is it authentic? How is the learning and interraction happening? It’s people not things that make a school. This a strong foundation to build a school out of not brick and mortar.

Is it Real? Authentic Teacher Relationships in Education

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“Children are shrewd judges of character; they know whether a teacher is authentic, and they respond accordingly” -Laura Colker

While there are many types of relationships built with families, community and children in education, another relationship that is just as important is the relationship built amongst teachers in and outside of the classroom.

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There is a shift occurring in education. A classroom teacher is not alone anymore or should not feel alone as there is a larger connected professional community of educators and leaders in the field. Establishing a strong healthy reciprocal learning community where teachers reach out locally and globally does several things:  it supports everyone involved from novice teachers to seasoned ones. A reciprocal exchange of ideas occur and connection creates a local and global community of educators.

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Learning goes beyond the walls of a classroom. It is impossible to know everything, education is always changing and so are we. We are always in a process of becoming. If we stay the same with the same outlooks then we become like a pool of stagnant water and stagnant water collects flies and mosquitos. Think like an ocean: waves moving, not a still pond.

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A machine that moves, never gets rusty (Turkish proverb)

In Early Ed we have co-teaching teams. Relationships should be and do several things: 

  • Healthy and strong
  • Authentic
  • Continues learning
  • Open, honest and reciprocal
  • Non judgmental
  • Supportive not co-dependant

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How do we grow? How do we become authentic? By learning from each other, with each other and pushing each other to a higher level. By knowing what you stand for and why. It is almost like making the muscles that we never knew existed move and get stronger. There is no single way to do something or teach something and there is nothing more dangerous for an educator than hitting the glass ceiling or becoming complacent.
Smart people surround themselves with people who are smarter than themselves. Progressive and positive partnerships support personal and professional growth. Educators must be in a cycle of learning.

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There is no other way of growing and providing the best learning experience for the children. Education is evolving and we need to be on that train going towards the direction where there is more light and better ways to have an impact on generations to come. It is possible to do so if we are open with one another and take constructive criticism rather than making it personal. Everyone has something to offer. Everyone has something to learn. There is no teaching without learning.

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Breaking the Cycle with High Quality and Equity in Education: Why it Matters

There are many issues and reasons when it comes to children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds not doing as well as their affluent counterparts.  Children deserve high quality education, equity and equal opportunities regardless of their origin, socieconomic status and family tree.  They deserve to realize their full potential and grow into their highest capacity.  Educators and families must have strong partnerships. This can be established when teachers treat everyone fairly and ensure children and families feel safe, welcomed, loved and cared for.  Just as there are rules in the classroom: be safe, be kind and most of all take care of each other.  I am a preschool educator at heart. When I say let’s hold hands and stick together like peanut butter and jelly I mean it.

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There are two myths about the achievement gap: low-income families have lower expectations for the academic achievement of their children and students from low-income families have much lower motivation to learn.  This is false. I come from lower class and we struggled. I never knew we were poor or how much my family sacrificed to ensure I made it so to speak.  It comes down to many influences but I will talk about two main influences: family expectations and how teacher(s) perceive their students.  Teachers must have high expectations and a belief in their students that they can in fact succeed and they are somebody.  We all are somebody. You can tell so much about a person by how they treat people…every person no matter who they are.

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Our exposure and our experiences make us who we are and who we are to become.  My family, especially my sister, pushed me to succeed and had high expectations of me and motivated me to learn.  She would stay up most nights mispronouncing vocabulary words to ensure I knew them for the next day.  At a young age, I was taught to read to understand not by anyone else but my older sister. When I was failing, my sister figured it out by asking and talking with my teachers.  A strong school family partnership is key to change someone’s trajectory in life.

I believe a family is a child’s first teacher and wants what is best for their child.  At times they may not know what to do and seek help.  Families do the best they can.  When a child has someone in their life who truly cares, anything is possible.  Children are resilient and need a dedicated role model to help them.  When a child has a handful of individuals who care and do the best they can, they are empowered and they believe in themselves.  There is no excuse why we cannot help children and families through education.  Education turns lives around and is the cure for poverty.

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Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime (Chinese Proverb).

As opposed to Jill, I grew up in a highly diverse neighborhood. Christians, Jewish, Muslims, rich, middle class and poor. There was no upper middle class then. I remember going to elementary school and being in a classroom of 32 students with only one teacher. My mom was the room parent for five consecutive years and she contiued to stay engaged in parent-school association until I got to my senior year in high school. I must say I owe my success to my parents and their ever lasting support.

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Education starts at home. First, we learn to be a good human being by treating one another with respect, understanding and showing empathy. We learn to take turns listening and speaking. We carry these personal traits to school life.  Then we start learning the academics. When I was growing up, my parents would tell me “never talk about money or what you do over the weekend or on breaks. It is rude to brag about what you have. You can hurt others’ feelings because you do not know where they come from and what they can or cannot afford”. Today, I teach the same thing to my son. There are so many other things we can talk about and share with each other. There are so many ways we can support each other, work and grow together.

Achievement gap is unavoidable in today’s world but it can be minimized. This is only possible if we work together. Shared understanding of what high quality is by all stakeholders, exposure to cutting edge information, various experiences and collaboration with others. These are some of the most crucial factors in progressive education. We are raising children in the 21st century, therefore we cannot continue to think like and use the methods from 30 years ago. Family styles, parenting styles, technology and many other things are different than the way they were in the old days. There is so much research out there, within our reach. One click of a button and information is in front of our eyes. No need to wait, no need to check out the book from the library, in many cases, no need to pay for it…So, if we know better and have more information, why not apply this knowledge into our classrooms and provide our children enriching experiences and prepare them for success?

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Assumptions as Jill desribes at the beginning are no different than stereotyping people. How many of us think it is not OK to stereotype? I am sure, MANY of you who are reading this right now. There are families who are fortunate and there are ones who are not. There are families who want the best for their children but they do not have the means and there are ones who do not know what is best or how to provide the best. Anytime I come across a family who is not as fortunate as I was when I was growing up, I spend more time with them. I reach my hand out farther and try to pull them closer. Why? Because I may be their only chance. I may be the one who is supposed to break the cycle for this family. Because  8 to 10 hours this child spends in my care may be the happiest and the only productive time period he or she has. Helping someone achieve does not always cost a lot of money. We only need to pay attention, listen and reach out within our means. When it goes beyond our means, we can partner with others and ask for help. Remember we said closing the gap is only possible with collaboration? Well, it really is.

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Achievement is not only for a certain group of children. It is for all. All it takes is an opportunity. Any one of us can be that opportunity for a child who then may become a doctor, scientist, teacher, lawyer, police officer, entrepreneur and who knows.. perhaps the future president.

Carpe Diem: Seizing the Moment and Making Lasting Memories

We work to live not live to work. Some have it backwards. The awesome thing about children is that they are really good at seizing the moment.

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They are present and stay in awe of well, anything. Shadows, bugs, people, the breeze… And, children show this way of being best through play.

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They don’t work against time but with it. Children are in tune with just being and they are totally ok with it. As adults, we sometimes forget what it’s like to be a small child figuring out life. Grown ups still don’t have it figured out. Sometimes we focus on the most ridiculous things wasting time and energy when we should just be. I think even when we die life will still be one big question mark but isn’t life wildly beautiful now?

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As spring starts setting in, you hear the birds chirping, see the beginnings of cherry blossoms, time goes forward and it feels good. Or some of us think “oh man I lose an hour of sleep” but the thing is we gain that hour at the end of the day to really take in warm sunsets. I was never a morning person and I am a night person at heart. So I am looking forward to that extra hour of light in the evening. During this new season, I am going to just be. Like children.

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Today I am going to renew a promise to just be in the moment. Nothing more. Nothing less.

“Being in the moment” as Jill says. We often forget enjoying ourselves. We rush our children, protect them too much sometimes thinking the more we protect them the better adults we are. Well… not long ago, we went to an Adventure Park (not amusement park) far out in Maryland. As children put their gear on to climb up the trees, and an obstacle course 25 feet high off the ground and a zipline! My heart was pounding like it was going to come out of my chest any second. My son is swinging from one tree to the other, walking on a trapeze like wire holding onto a harness I thought “why on earth did I allow him to participate? What was I thinking? If something happens, I will never forgive myself and my life is over!” Thoughts were racing through my mind a million miles per hour. Then something happened. A few children on the trees yelled with excitement, “Look! Look! there is a deer. Look, another one.” I saw the deer. Running, freely, hopping… I felt so good. I was in awe of their speed and freedom. Then my son said, “Mommy I did it, I just crossed over the triangle, I walked through it not falling.”

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In that little moment, I realized I cannot dictate his life. I must allow him to take risks so that he can taste what accomplishment feels like. So that he can enjoy being in that moment. No need to get upset or spend the whole time worrying. I needed to enjoy the moment as well. It was like the deer ran by to tell me something. To shake me and make me realize that there is so much to life and we should experience it, observe it, soak it up. Once he completed the obstacle course and came down, his eyes were bigger than ever with self fulfillment. On the way home, he said he thought he would die up there and he couldn’t believe how he did all of it although it was so hard. He repeated several times that he would do it again, only this time he would try to go higher. (Glad they have age­ height limitation, so I don’t need to worry about convincing him not to try to go higher).

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Let your child try, let him experience different things, let him be exposed to things that will make him want to try to do more and take on a challenge. Let yourself enjoy the moment rather than worrying aobut the past or the future and making a mountain out of a molehill only later to realize you wasted that precious time.  Live for the now.

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