Let Your Voice Ring. Sing Everywhere. Even if You’re Off Key. 

I remember singing in the car with my older sister during my formative years. Janet boomed from our car speakers: “Thats the way, thats the way, thats the way love goes.” We would sing our hearts out. I reminisced about my childhood memories of singing a lot during my last night drive with my other sister and we sang a lot during our road trip.

When is the last time you sang in the car? In the shower? With your family? Singing has endless benefits for our young and old. An Alzheimer’s patient may not remember their name but you know what they can remember? They can remember their favorite song!

Singing in the early education classroom is one of the keys for brain plasticity and growth. During the first five years of life the most connections (think synapses) are made out of the entire lifespan.  Every year of a child’s life is precious, but when it comes to development, the first 8 are the most important. This is when a child becomes the person they are going to be. It is when they learn appropriate behavior, boundaries, empathy and many other important social skills that will remain with them for life. Guess what else will stay with a child for life? Their favorite jams!

Babies are born with more synapses than adults. In a child’s early development stages, the speed of the synapse formation is the greatest from birth until 18 months of age. From 18 months until 3 years of age during the process of cognitive development in kids, synapses continue to form and expand. The number of synapses reaches about 1,000 trillion at this age and because of that a toddler’s brain is twice as active as an adult’s brain. This is also the reason why toddlers enjoy heavy outdoor activities such as running, jumping and climbing. From 6 to 9 years of age in kids’ development stage, the brain reduces the number of synapses which are not used and they eventually die off.

So sing. Sing your heart out! Play Motown to Country. Most of all sing and dance to your favorite songs and ask families for their favorites. Home school connection is powerful. Even change the lyrics to the songs.

Here are 7 benefits of singing. For more benefits click: https://takelessons.com/live/singing/health-benefits-of-singing

  1. Singing creates a better sense of well being and causes us sensations of feeling good.
  2. Improves concentration, alertness and memory.
  3. Singing strengthens the immune system. That’s right it’s good for our health like an apple. A song a day keeps the doctor away.
  4. Singing is in fact exercise
  5. It helps with sleeping well and getting a good night’s Zzz.
  6. It lowers stress levels
  7. It’s a natural anti-depressant

So, turn the speaker up and sing like no one’s listening or watching!

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We’re Bringing Play Back..Yep.

Hello there,

We are preschool educators. After a discussion of how children learn and recognizing our many kinds of learners, we narrowed in on, noticed and talked a lot about recess and recognized the importance coupled by the lack of it. We call recess by another name. For us, recess goes by the name of play. 

Often we inform our families to advocate for their child and the kind of learner they are as they grow, move on and become kindergartners. We do this in order for their new school community to be ready. We now realize how we need to take our own advice. So here goes.

Are you ready for our students? Our children will ask you questions: lots of them. Get ready. See, please understand we allowed and followed their lead. We facilitated and encouraged our students to solve many problems socially, cognitively, emotionally, physically, mathematically, creatively, linguistically through play. Not just any kind of play but intentional and meaningful play. We weren’t focused on getting them “ready” because we know you are ready for them. We hope and hold on to that.

As mentioned, we all learn differently and we believe it is a process and are looking to connect and build a relationship with you as we have a lot to learn from one another. We want to connect in order to facilitate and help bring recess and play back to our community. Back to your school. We know it won’t be easy. 

However, it will be worth it for all. Our children are showing and sharing with us what they need, it’s time we listen.

Let’s talk and bring back recess. 

Preschool Educators 

a.k.a TPA: The Play Alliance

I AM a TEACHER. A Letter From Your Early Childhood Educators

198E4AED-2A49-44E1-B4C3-B541220137C8We need your help. Imagine, we’re playing basketball. We’re on the same team and my head is up and I’m looking to pass the ball as I dribble up the court. I need to pass the ball to you. Likewise, pass it back. Back and forth with a series of exchanges which is what we want to have, a good conversation. A conversation that will create an opportunity to score and most of all, solve something bigger together.

So here goes, most of you know we are not daycare workers. We are teachers. We even further distinguish ourselves as an integral part of the life-long learning process as we specialize in early childhood. We’re not elementary, middle school or secondary teachers. We are Early childhood teachers. NAEYC also pushes this with a major initiative called Power to the Profession found here: www.naeyc.org

We are Reggio Inspired teachers and we need help in closing the misunderstanding of who we are in education. We are teachers. We are early childhood educators.

Children learn best through their everyday experiences with the people they love and trust, and when the learning is fun. We, the teachers at TCS, specialize in this. We know how to meet children where they are and help them to where they are going.

A child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development from birth to five, producing more than a million neural connections each second.

Moreover, the development of the brain is influenced by many factors, including a child’s relationships, experiences and environment. More info here: https://www.zerotothree.org/espanol

We, you and our communities are connected on the same page and goal of educating our children. We want them to be caring citizens of or world. We want them to be better than us. We want all children to be better than previous generations, no matter where they are from. Zip codes shouldn’t matter when it comes to access to high quality care and learning as all children matter.

There is a major wealth, educational and opportunity gap in our country and do we expect you to fix it? Can we fix it right now? No, but we need to talk about it. We need to start there. Reggio Emilia was founded in social justice. History echoes and now is our time to change and change happens from within a society and systems. We are society. We can lead and start doing the right thing especially since we have the resources.

Reggio Emilia came about during the post-World War II era in Italy, the “…desire to bring change and create anew” accompanied with great economic and social development, including in education.

We are calling for action on three things understanding that we are teachers, closing the wealth and educational achievement gap and most of all, what we teach children: taking care of each other.

With love,

The Play Alliance

#Preschoolisforever #tpa #pta #theplayalliance #thetpa #thepta #teachers #educators #children #families #firstweekofschool

Forget About It: Testing and Data Expires and Eventually We Do Too. Encourage Children to Be Caring Citizens

While sharing who we were during a writing class I teach during the evening, one of my grown up students who is a Dad mentioned his three year old daughter Shelly, who is having a not so good time in school. He said, “In fact, I am having a better time than Shelly and recognize the importance of hands on [non-sedentary] learning even as an adult.” Shelly’s teachers keep pushing her to write her name and to read. Shelly does not want to go to “school”. My student said he doesn’t care if she can spell her name or not. However, a lot of the families in the school’s culture have unrealistic expectations of their children and want them to spell and read by the magic number of 5. Where does this number come from?

Where do we get our ideas from? Why are we pushing our thoughts and our desires of what children should be able to do? We keep pushing for “readiness”. We keep comparing and contrasting children. We even compare and contrast ourselves. Mediocrity. Ludicrous.

Why? I hear it and listen to the uncertainty as a families voice and tone will tremble as they ask: “Should I be worried that my child is not drawing and writing like the kid who is?”

No, we have nothing to worry about. Play the song Don’t Worry About a Thing and channel Bob Marley folks. Each and every child (and you know this especially if you have siblings!) learn and progress at different stages during a lifespan. We need to let that happen and not force or push children when the interest may not be there. We only project our fears onto them. I model my evening class after our preschool class pushing the model of a Reggio and creative inspired way of learning and being for my grown up students too. They love it. People love to think. People love creativity and challenges NOT busy work. I’m not on this Earth to waste anyone’s time including my own. Even when people don’t think they like thinking: they do. We ask questions, work together, draw, make mistakes, go into the community and most of all think creatively. The box doesn’t even exist in our classroom. From preschool through death as educators, families, communities we need to destroy the box and rebuild something better together. One major take away from this blog is destroy the box.

More than ever before we are driven by data. Data kept in boxes. Unfortunately, it gives a fragmented and skewed view of our children’s abilities but is tied to…funding. Children who do not have a voice are left behind and so are amazing educators, families and communities. We are all connected. What happens in a classroom, community and family is immeasurable. Intuitively, we want what is best. Somehow we got lost in the sauce wanting our child to be the best as opposed to doing their best. This is not the purpose of life long learning. Making mistakes is what makes us. Failure and learning from it. Accidents happen. This is our purpose, truly. Why are we pushing children to read by the age of five when we know these skills take time from birth through third grade to develop? Anybody out there listening please this is an SOS! Help our children, families, educators and communities get this. Why are our politicians pushing jargon and buzz words without reading it for themselves?

Don’t knock at my door and ask for my vote and say, “I want every child to read by the age of five because I did”. This is ludicrous. Why are we saying how math and reading are so important but we are not reading about reading and math and HOW TO MAKE IT DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE for children. Here’s a buzz word that is misunderstood so read about it. It’s called PLAY. Playing to learn. We need to learn to play again grown ups. Check out www.naeyc.org. For Pete’s sake, just google the word play. I don’t want our children to read to read, I want them to read to understand. I want them to love and care about writing, drawing and reading and then the rest will handle itself.

Speaking of play don’t forget the 10th Annual Play Day: http://letsplayamerica.org/upcoming-events/

And speaking of reading awesome books by amazing authors go to: https://www.loc.gov/bookfest/ to check out when the National Book Festival is to meet your favorite and your children’s favorite authors!

Written with love. Lots of it!

Jill Telford is an artist, advocate, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. More of her work can be found at http://amazon.com/author/jilltelford

@artbookstories @jill.telford

Treating Prisoners & Children the Same Way: With No Rights or Understanding.

 

F24F90DD-43CA-44D3-AD21-837DDA0E2057While they say you can tell a lot about a country by how it treats it’s prisoners. I believe the same can be said for how it treats it’s children. How are our children learning? What is our investment in education? Where is the money going? What is our ROI on our current rate of investment? Students often hear: “Stand single file. Be quiet. Shh. Criss Cross Applesauce. Don’t talk. Listen and Speak. Look at me when I talk to you. You are detained in detention, suspended or expelled for not being in uniform or for saying the word fuck.” (Meanwhile, they heard it from somewhere and you know just how language incites us!)

Twenty five to life. Counting up the years it takes to complete both school or jail just as business people are counting up the seats of illiterate students in a third grade classroom to determine whether or not to put up another jail in the community. Thats right some use illiteracy rates to build and justify a jail.  Jail versus school? Can you tell the difference between the two? We need to end the school to prison pipeline once and for all. I can throw statistic after statistic. I can get the latest data. I can show you the books. I can show you that expulsion and suspension DOES NOT WORK. Removing a student does not fix a problem a student made. Suspension and expulsion also does not give students a way to fix or redeem themselves. Moreover, why are we expelling and suspending anyway? What are the reasons? Rules or power struggles? What really works is mutual understanding or working to understand. It’s time to stop researching our children. It’s time to put action where our words are. It’s time to use gifts God gave us to work with our children not against them.

Intuitively, socially and emotionally we are letting our youth down. The Animal School Fable shows the unrealistic expectations we place on our students. And what can actually occur when we focus on our strengths. Curious about some of the lessons from the fable?  http://www.leadgrowdevelop.com/lessons-learned-animal-school-fable-strengths-weaknesses-5minmotivation/

I was also reading a classic entitled The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and there is a part that got me deeply thinking about our approach and how children learn and respond to us.

Here are some tips to be your child’s champion #ECEwins and advocate for their learning style:

  • Write a letter to your child’s new teacher/school describing who your child is and how they learn. Email or comment below for a sample letter.
  • Show up and observe in the classroom
  • Tour the schools and take your child with you
  • Partner and work together
  • If you don’t get into the place of choice then advocate for ideas not solely based on how you were raised or what “worked” for you but based on DAP (acronym for Developmentally Appropriate Practice) and research of what works for children
  • Remember and repeat you were once a child too
  • Children show us what they need so, let’s listen and respond accordingly
  • Wake up and treat others how you want to be treated: be a role model

Jill Telford is an artist, advocate, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. More of her work can be found at http://amazon.com/author/jilltelford

@artbookstories @jill.telford

 

 

Regulating the Fun Out of Learning through Play

Unlike Warren G and Nate Dog, it is time to stop regulating. Especially in early education and K-12. Regulate literally means to control or supervise (something, especially a company or business activity) by means of rules and regulations.  Licensing Micro managers are running around out of touch and out of sync with the classrooms around the country. As a result, we are all running around like protective services protecting children to the point where boo boos do not happen.

From rubberized playgrounds to no longer allowing cups in the sensory water tables, it is ludicrous. Meanwhile, we want children to be adventurous, curious and creative but we MUST make sure their cots are 3 feet apart. Directors, assistant directors, educators and families are not here to helicopter children. That goes against best practice. We and children cannot be summed up in checklists and procedures. Children, educators and families are living breathing beings.

To access these regulations click here:

https://osse.dc.gov/publication/child-care-licensing-regulations

So where does that leave us? I advocate for high quality and DAP learning for all children. Often I wonder: How do children learn? Each and every child is different. I want my students to leave with 1. an understanding and pride in self as well as 2. their families to understand how their child learns so they can best advocate for their child when they go to Kindergarten and beyond. There are many types of learners. Advocating their learning style from auditory, kinesthetic, visual to so much more better makes teachers and the new school prepared for your children not the other way around. As an educator and advocate, I want to be a part of encouraging and supporting movers and shakers of our world. I do not want to be a part of suppressing them.

We need to re-frame our way of thinking. We shouldn’t be thinking will Johnny be ready for Kindergarten. Instead we should be asking will his new school be ready for him? The best way is through building relationships with his soon to be new teacher and advocating for Johnny’s learning style and fighting for teachers that best suit Johnny’s needs.

When I traveled to New Zealand and I observed their classrooms I was amazed. Freedom. Children were able to be children without fear of top down policies and regulations affecting and influencing administrators, teachers and families of how we work with our children.

As adults we forget just how small we used to be.  As a result, we forget just how small and curious our children are.

Jill Telford is an American artist, author, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. More of her work can be found:

http://amazon.com/author/jilltelford

@artbookstories @jill.telford

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.

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.

Setting Children Up For Success

Families and educators have one thing in common: every family wants the best and for their children to succeed. Is it enough to want it?  What are some of the corner stones of success for our children?

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Unfortunately, there is not an exact list or recipe for this but now we know more than we have ever known thanks to research and data. The bottomline is: families!

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As a mom of a wonderful boy, I used to do everything for him. Dressing him up, putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket, cleaning his toys up, preparing his bookbag for school and tying his shoes. Actually the list is longer but this last one was a wake up call for me and my husband. I thought, “I can do this better, I can do that faster, he is tired let me help…” Until one day, he was playing soccer and while all of the other children were able to tie their cleats, our son was looking at us: “My shoes are untied, help”. It is ok to help of course but a 6 year old should have known how to tie his shoes.

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After all, this is a skill they usually learn by four or five. How could he have learned when I was constantly disabling him by “helping” him tie his shoes? Since that day, gradually I stepped back and now I allow him to try and try again. Unless it is absolutely necessary, as in an emergency, I wait and he does it on his own. Folding his clothes, putting dirty clothes in the basket, preparing his bookbag for school, taking breakfast items out, setting the table, cleaning up his toys etc. In fact, every time he does something, I see the feeling of accomplishment and pride. Especially, after he helps take the groceries into the kitchen and puts things away with me. Small steps for me but a huge one for him: responsibility.

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Taking responsiblity leads to appreciation. Instead of finding everything readily available, he works for it. He has a better understanding of coming home after a long busy day and helping to set the table or preparing his uniform for the next day. He has empathy for mommy and daddy because he knows how it feels fulfilling responsibilities no matter how tired we are. This is not any different than someone getting up and going to work even if he is tired from the previous day or night. Or in college, getting up early for finals after studying all night or completing a project by the deadline, no matter what the circumstances are. This is beneficial especially when most families are not with their children once they go to college.

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The importance of healthy social emotional development is undeniable. We encourage children to use their words instead of being physical. We model how to identify and label feelings so they can communicate and share their feelings with one another. We walk them through steps to resolve conflicts and negotiating. These are crucial skills for adulthood. Think about your collegaues, coworkers, family members and even friends.

What are the common issues in relationships? From experience, I find it to be lack of understanding, empathy, self-regulation and communication. The majority of the time, these are the culprits of poor performance, unhealthy and dysfunctional relationships. There is a saying that goes, “You should straighten the tree when it is young, once it gets older, it becomes harder and if you try to bend it, it breaks”. From childhood, you can see the predictors if the child will succeed or not. Childhood is precious and children have great potential to become functional and positive members of this world, as long as they get what they need to reach their fullest potential.

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We work to set our children up for a better life than the one we had. The kind of life we never had not the kind of life we want for children. We help children set up the life they want for themselves and encourage, encourage not praise the whole way. There is a thin line between the two. In order to understand where you are going, you must recognize and realize where you come from. Coming from a family that valued hard work, grit (resiliency), integrity and fun, I carry that with me everywhere I go and apply it to every part of my life. Often when faced with challenges I think no worries, life is short, live the moment and in Pete the Cat’s terminology, “It’s all good”.

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John Lennon was once asked what he wanted to be when he grew up and he said happy. They said he didn’t understand the assignment and he told them they didn’t understand life. When we think of our loved ones, we want the best and the best in reality is for them to be happy. If we instill this way of being, then they will not settle for less than they deserve.

 

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.