Building Up Trust and Respect in Relationships

Often we talk about trust and respect and most often some tie these two terms to age and/or titles. Is this realistic?  Relationships are based on mutual understandings. The understanding of self, shared vision, mission, goals, and mutual respect and trust.

  • Teacher to Child
  • Child to Teacher
  • Teacher to Family
  • Family to Teacher
  • Family to Child
  • Child to Family
  • Human to Human
    … among all living things…

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By nature we depend on relationships. We are hungry for interaction through conversations, play, arguments, misunderstandings. We are social beings. We recognize and overcome hardships to form positive and fruitful relationships and take steps to help someone through the process is our responsibility. Acknowledging individual and collective responsibility is one of the most crucial stepping stones of human life.

On Self Reflection:

How am I doing? Can I be better at what I am doing? Can I play a better role in my relationships? Do I make mistakes? Do I know what to do next? Who can I get help from? What can I improve about myself? Do I play a role in this relationship? What kind of role is it? Am I a positive influence for someone? Who is my role model? Am I a role model? This stage of self reflection and evaluation hurts us but it helps us grow. It makes us uncomfortable in a good way. For the betterment of ourselves and others around us. Any time we feel discomfort, we are growing. We are shifting and moving on to something.

As Maya Angelous once said: When you know better, you do better.

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On Listening:

How many of us know what listening is? Believe me, not many. Many people think they are listening but all they do is hearing bunch of words, sometimes jumbled up together like a noise. This happens when you think you are listening to the person who is talking but you are actually busy forming your thoughts and comments so that you are ready to reply. The reality is you do not truly “hear” what the person is saying. In many relationships, including with children, our urge to make a comment or reply prohibits us from allowing our brain to focus on the individual. Then comes assumptions, misunderstanding, blaming… Listening what the person has to say and then taking a few seconds to digest it shows that you respect the person’s thoughts and what  he or she has to say. This is a lifelong skills we all need to know.

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On Control of Emotions:

It takes so much to control our emotions. Think about a child who is crying and screaming because he does not want to walk. First, we question the reason for his behavior. Next, we try to have eye cntact and see if we can figure out what the problem may be. Then we comfort him by holding his hand, carrying him or simply explaining what is happening. We build the trust, understanding and show emphathy for him. On the other hand, if we simply continue to walk, drag him by holding his hand or arm and completely disregard his upset, the only message we are giving is: Your feelings do not matter, I say it you do it, I do not respect you. In addition, if we do not control our emotions and are disturbed by his cry, we start threatinnig him by saying “if you do not stop crying, you cannot play, eat snack, go outside…” It sounds so negative and hurtful. It is the same way with any relationship. Controlling emotions allow us to choose our words carefully, to remain calm and in control of the situation. We are not saying “Do not feel emotional”. What we are saying is “have control over your emotions” so that you can help the situation instead of contributing to a possible negative result such as stress and broken relationship. During these times, people need each other the most and you must be the one with a leveled head so that the other party can rely upon you or you can take control over the situation to make things better. Keep in mind that this is not an easy step but can be done with practice, deep breathing, taking a moment and self check.

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You do not need to have all of the answers:

Just because you are a mom, dad, teacher, leader … does not mean you have all the answers to every question, problem, dilemma or for every situation. People will expect a lot of things from you throughout your life. If they see that each time you are helping them, you are beating yourself to death to get an answer for them, they will keep expecting a solution from you each and every time and most likely they will not try to figure it out for themselves regardless of their capacity and ability.

In fact, they will never reach their capacity because there is “you” who do things for them. In addition, because of these expectations, you feel obligated to continue to find an answer and provide a solution in a way that when you do not have the answer you feel awful. You criticize yourself and again, beat yourself up because you feel like you are letting them down. It is important to recognize that we cannot save everyone from every situation neither we can provide a solution for every situation. This is something important to understand and accept because it is part of self respect.

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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.

 

“Why is My Child Acting Out?” Often There is a Reason Why

As a teacher, sister and aunt I learned a lot about and from children. I am one of three sisters and an aunt to nine nieces, nephews and grew up with one of my nieces pretty much as sisters. I watched how she grew from a baby soon to be college freshman. Time goes by and waits for no one. I am reminded of this everyday especially working with children.

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What I love the most about guiding children is that each and every single child has their own individual personality and most often, I wonder who and how they will be when they grow up. Often, I look around at adults as well and think “wow how incredible to be surrounded by such unique personalities”. We are all very different. Everyone of us has something to offer each other when we listen. Most of all, I believe that we all want what’s best for our children, there is no doubt in my mind about that. Families do what they can with what they have and what they know.  No one wants to be in the middle of a tantrum or a very bad day. However, there will always be bad days. We will find ourselves right in the middle of it when times get a little ugly. These are the moments that make or break us as we guide children’s behaviors. We all make mistakes but it’s the ability to reflect and learn from them to see how we can best support and care for our kids. Making mistakes is okay. Let’s also not forget about supporting and caring for each other while being in the middle of it.

blog 12 pic 2I vividly remember my niece and how she did not want to put her seatbelt on to many of my requests and furrowed eyebrow looks in the rear view mirror and she literally crawled behind the seat and protested while I was driving. I pulled the car over to the side of the road and parked it.  I said, “We had an agreement that you’d wear it if you went on this drive to the store.” Then I asked, “Why don’t you like wearing a seatbelt?” She said, “I don’t like how it feels against my neck.” “Ok, no problem there is a way to wear it where you won’t feel it”, then I showed her a trick and how to put it behind her back.  We always struggled with this and finally by asking the right question we solved it together. There is almost always a reason for a behavior. One guidance technique may not work for every child. It’s really about being attuned and listening to a child to get down to the bottom of it. It’s not easy.

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Like us, children want to be respected, nurtured, cared for and treated kindly. How do we teach that when we are pushed to the limits? I admire families with children, hectic work and school schedules. I don’t know how they do it honestly. Families are a child’s first and most important teacher. To me, families are like super heroes. I think if I had to go home to children or pick them up from school, how would I respond and act with them after a complete full day of work? Would they still have a good part of me? Would they ever see me at my worst? Would I ever make them feel like they were last? Would I show them the same kind of care and understanding as I show others? Would they have my undivided attention? Would I listen? Would I be there? All I know is that we at times are our own worst critics. In classrooms full of children with all different needs often I am at their eye level talking and working problems out. We solve one problem at a time the best way we know how. Most times, I ask children how they can solve it. And, often I find research, articles talking about strategies of how to talk and guide children because just because one strategy worked for one child it may not work for the next. 

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I had a child who pushed me to my limits and made me start praying. Everyday, I said a little prayer in hopes that Johnny would be gentle and not hurt anyone that day.  The child was one of my most challenging students. Nothing seemed to work. Each day was a challenge. However, I did not give up on Johnny. We observed and you know when clouds drift away, rain stops and blue skies come: that’s exactly how I felt when the child stopped hitting after many months of reading, “Hands are Not for Hitting”, modeling gentle touches, talking about how it hurts, checking in on the children who were hurt, catching the child being gentle, and literally guiding the child each and everyday not to mention talking with the family about how we are working on and how the child is not bad just has challenging behavior. Giving the family strategies and advice all the while taking theirs of what is working. Working tirelessly so the child was not labeled as “bad”. Positive guidance works. It may not happen as fast as we’d like and yes it may be very difficult but the results are worth it. If we yell, if we hit and we are grown ups what are we teaching? That is confusing to a child.

As a classroom teacher, one of the biggest things I learned that is if you whisper, children will listen.  Most of all when you care the rest handles itself.

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Like Jill, I come from a big family. We love children. We are very emotional and touchy feely people. This is not unique to my family of course but I realized especially educators who work with children side by side are generally emotional people. Why? Because it is not possible for a person not to be emotional when there is passion inside.

I often hear parents and other family members and unfortunately teachers stating “tough love is all children need to grow and become responsible individuals”. “Too much love will spoil them, I don’t baby my kid. They need discipline”. Agreed, they need discipline. But what is discipline?

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Taking a way a child’s belongings? Keeping him in the classroom during recess? Kicking him out of the classroom? Sending him to the office? Taking away his points or giving a bad grade? Putting him in the corner for time out? Yelling at him in front of the whole classroom? Telling him: “you are being a bad kid” ?  None  of the above. Not until you try everything. Not until you try to build a connection and a relationship. Not until you understand what the underlying cause is for the behavior. Not until reaching out to the family asking for their help. Not until looking into his or her eyes and asking why and what. Not until giving choices and guiding him to make better choices. One size does not fit all.

Sadly I see these things too often in schools. Here we are in 2016. 21st century, right? Information age. Technology age. Family styles are different. Parenting techniques and expectations are different. We read and we know more. There is a ton of contemporary and progressive techniques. Why does all this knowledge stay in the books or in between shuffled files? Why do we talk the talk but not walk the walk?  We all communicate constantly. More than half the time, not face to face but screen to screen and in the moment when things are happening. We are connected more than ever before. Why not take the time and approach the bad behavior, not the “bad child or student”. A teacher’s role is not only to teach academics. Most teachers forget this and all they focus on is: “I need to teach the lesson, scores need to go up”.

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How about “Let me learn more about positive guidance or positive discipline. Let me talk to the family and see if there is anything I can do. Let me ask other colleagues and see what they would do if they were in my shoes. Let me ask this student why he is the way he is. Is he bored? Does he need attention? Does he need to be challenged more? Does he feel scared or frightened of something or someone.” How about we replace all the “punishment” hidden under discipline or (my favorite) consequence? Why not calling it what it is? It is punishment. A consequence is for the child to know what his options are and teaching him how to make good choices. In the event the choice is not good, then there is a consequence. For example, “If you do not finish writing down your homework, you will not be able to go out for an extra 5 minutes before we are released” or ” If you want to watch a cartoon, you will not be able to play scrabble because we do not have that much time and you need to go to bed on time”. The chid still has control over his actions and is aware of the consequences either way.

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As long as there is mutual respect and hands stretched out to help children who are eager to learn. If they knew how to behave, they would not be minors. Especially, in a world where adults have a lot to learn, just try. Understanding and caring goes a long way and can create wonders. Even with the most challenging child. We all make a difference in the world. One child, one student, one person at a time. blog 12 pic

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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Changing Lives Together

Several years ago, a mom walked into my office with her twin boys who were barely a year old at the time. She looked fragile, slim with a smile on her face trying to cover a sadness that was sitting deep inside, most likely for a long time. She was in her early twenties. She said she wanted to enroll her boys to my program. There was an urgent sense of wanting to help this family that covered my mind and heart. After completing her enrollment process, I conversed with her. I asked her what she needed from the program, how could I support her and anything else that she wanted me to know. What I learned from our conversation was not unique but unsettling. A single mom who was abused by her mother’s boyfriend, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, out of high school trying to find a job and living in an apartment with roaches and surrounded by drug users. I was unsure of how to handle this young mother…what to say to her, how to say it… I admired how she felt comfortable and opened up to me, sharing that her mother reported her to the police because she was gay and using drugs. They needed to take the boys away from her. By the time she was done talking, she was in tears apologizing and I was sitting across from her trying to hold my tears in with a big knot in my throat.

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A couple of weeks later, both of the boys were having medical issues. I was supporting this mom by asking questions gently and ensuring she trusted that my goal was just to help her become strong and able for her children. She was going to the hospital every week and they were giving her the run around. I was coaching her to ask questions to the pediatrician after figuring out she did not know what to ask and she entrusted doctors as they were educated and they were “doctors” in her mind. We were spending eight hours with these boys and our observations were clear: they were not getting the care they needed!

I asked the mom to call the doctor’s office and I would put the call on speaker and I would speak. She was fine with it, in fact appreciated me taking the time to help her. I realized that all this time, a registered nurse was attending her children not an actual pediatrician. With all due respect to registered nurses, these boys needed a doctor not to mention a specialist. The RN was extremely rude on the phone trying to belittle the mom saying she did not know what she was doing with her children. She went on speaking in that “I know every thing because I am the RN” voice until I pushed back by saying I would write a letter to the hospital and I would ensure to follow up until these two children received the care they needed. When I was finished, I had the contact information on my notepad. In a few weeks, both children went through tests, one was diagnosed with autism and the other had severe gastrointestinal issues that were being addressed by specialists. The journey was not over for this family.

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Mom was extremely upset and emotional about her twin boys’ situation. I made a referral, which resulted in ABA therapy, and wrap around service that included home visits and support for mom. This was incredible. Mom stopped by my office every single morning praying for me and thanking me because I cared for her, her family, that I did not treat her differently because she had a mental illness and she was gay. As we thought things got better, we had another situation. One of the boys was working with the ABA therapist three times a week. The first one was fine but the second one they assigned him was impatient, forceful and not nurturing. I could not bear seeing this picture one more time. The second time I observed her work, I called her supervisor and shared my observations and concern. The same day mom came to my office and said that the home visitor was talking down to her and that she felt very uncomfortable. I followed up with the home visitor who was also one of the supervisors in her agency. She told me that there were roaches on the walls and that the TV was in the same room where children sleep. She added that mom needed to move out of that house if she needed her children to get better especially since one of the boys had asthma.

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The interesting part in this conversation was her tone. She was sharing these things with me with disgust. I wanted to say, “Yes genius, this family is on WIC, mom is in training to get a job and this is the apartment the housing assistance is paying for, and yes there is a long waitlist for a better place”. Well, I did not because I knew I had to keep it professional. I said thank you and asked for an in person meeting with mom and me in my office. Within that week, we met. I asked one of my colleagues who is a clinical social worker to sit in for this meeting. I wanted to make sure I was not missing anything because I was not a social worker and I had to cover all my grounds for this mom. I had to advocate! The owner of the agency, home visitor, mom, my colleague and I met. I saw exactly what mom was telling me…

  • You have roaches in your home, it is not safe for your children
  • They need to eat better food because they need better nutrition
  • You cannot let them sleep in the same room with a TV
  • You need to spend more time with them to bond
  • If you had a job …

After the last part, it was a blur to me. Mom was crying and they were still stating all the negative facts to her as if no one was aware and concerned. I ended the meeting, called the referral agency, shared our concerns and what took place. They followed up with us in person and ended their contract with that particular therapy agency. It took a little bit but it happened. This is only one family I am speaking about. Mom kept in contact with me for a while even after children transitioned to public school. I heard things are getting better for them. This is an example how we all can advocate for children and families. It may sound like social work but it is an extension and continuation of what we do: support children, educate and empower families, enable them to help their families. This is the only way we can make a difference. One family at a time.

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Like Berna, I vividly recall a set of experiences that define first who I am and who I am in the process of becoming and second the how and the why I help others. It’s never the evil people that are the most at fault in times of crises and chaos, it’s the people who never speak up and fight for what’s right.

At some point, everyone needs help. How can we teach children Blooms Taxonomy if Maslow’s needs aren’t met? It’s as simple as that. I grew up in Scranton in Townhouse projects and although our family didn’t have everything we had each other and that was more than enough for me.  Understanding this and where I come from: my roots so to speak, I get life. I get that it’s not about the money or the material things but the time, loyalty and authentic relationships. Throw in music, food and conversation and you have all you need.

When I moved to Washington, DC I walked into a small box sardine like apartment. I lived in unit 4. Koolaid stained carpet. Roaches. A defective heater that was tagged with warnings of don’t use. I cried.  Hearing gun shots my first night, coupled by pattering of sneakers on concrete I thought: what did I get myself into? The next day held my answer. I showed up to my neighborhood and found a child locked out. I let my dog Courage outside and the three of us became friends.  Everyday “Johnny” would come and ask to play with Courage. Eventually, we put up a basketball hoop to which a neighbor complained and threatened to call the police on us. The children absolutely looked forward to playing everyday. We couldn’t take that hoop down.

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My next door fiftyish year old neighbor who I learned could not read during a Home Depot run as we were trying to find water resistant liners, when hearing the name police immediately freaked out. I calmed him down and said I will call the police myself to ensure the hoop was allowed in our alley. And, it was. Then I walked over to the other neighbor’s house to talk and negotiate the hoop. My neighbor said that the hoop was going to destroy her quality of life as she was retired. I responded with “What about the children’s quality of life?” Together we created some rules of the hoop. Some were that children had to stop playing on it when the streetlights came on, absolutely no drugs and treat each other kindly.

This not only gave children something to do but created a community of support. It was by far not perfect but nowhere is. Every neighbor-hood has its problems but the question is, is what kind of neighbor do you want to be? We can all be advocates easily and it starts by being a kind and understanding neighbor.  Often, I think of how I’d like to be treated…then I act accordingly.

Yes, it is a lot of work but didn’t we all choose to do this? Belittling, criticizing, judging, isolating, pushing down and away are not the ways we will gain these individuals and show them how life can be better. It is by taking that five extra minutes to make a phone call, ten extra minutes to look someone in the eye and truly listen, speaking up for them and standing by them until we try every way and use every power we have. If we do not, who will? Never underestimate how you can change a person’s life and in return how they change yours.

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Passing the Torch: Early Ed… Then What? Why and How We Should Be Ready for Our Children. Speaking up for Children, Families and Educators

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

“Come as you are”, said he. “But I love you, so I will not let you stay there. I will move you, and it will hurt, but I promise I won’t leave you.” –sum.c

Recently, we attended a conference, “It Takes A City” in DC and I reflected on my experiences and how I felt immediately. While sitting at a table of educators, with widely different views and experiences in education and hearing from a high school teacher, first grade teacher, education specialist and an assistant…When asked what I do, I responded I work in an Early Learning Program in DC. I heard from most of them at the table “They are just so cute but I don’t know how you do it.” Pause. Sigh. I took a deep breath. I realized I was sitting at this table for a reason.

There is a disconnect between early childhood education and the K-12 world. As I listened to their set of experiences, I realized we are so connected so why is there a disconnect? A high school teacher lamented how 23 out of 26 of her students have IEPS mainly for ADHD. 23 out of 26. My eyes widened. My chest hurt. These numbers bothered me and I could tell it bothered her too. I talked more about how early education focuses on the whole child. After my talk about developmentally appropriate practice (DAP), meeting children where they are and helping when needed, utilizing the curriculum but being flexible and following the lead of the child…the teachers said how thankful they are when children come from a high quality program and previous classes that supported them. They said our work shows. We make a difference!

I thought we don’t do this kind of work for a thank you. Our work should not stop there. Children come to a classroom with a diverse set of experiences, perspectives and ways of being. They come as they are and it is our job to help move them. Families, get to know your child’s teacher. Write a letter explaining who your child is and how he or she best learns. Paint the picture of your child in a positive and realistic light. Show and share who your child is in order to create a mutual understanding and best possible support. What is your child’s hopes and dreams? After all, you know your child the best. This way teachers can meet him where he is developmentally. Collaborate. Families are a child’s first and most important teacher. The mentality of readiness…of children being ready needs to change. Testing? This is not the only way. This idea of readiness and testing causes anxiety for the child, family, teachers and administration. We need to think like this: educators and schools should be ready for children. We hope that after children leave our world of early education that our work continues not only through our children and families but from their new teachers. We pass on the torch. As an early childhood educator, we hope that children will be challenged, asked how they feel, asked open-ended questions, met where they are. Most of all, we hope they are cared for, supported, inspired and understood.

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Often we hear how children are misunderstood. This is not working well. Emerson stated, “To be misunderstood is to be great.” When misunderstandings happen we should seek to understand. We have the power to change this way of thinking. We can totally relate to children: at some point grown-ups were in fact children. Do you remember standards? Do you remember the one-dimensional testing? Do you remember the cookie cutter art? Do you remember being quiet during lunch? Do you remember not playing? What do you remember? What made you proud, confident, loved, inspired? What caused an a-ha kind of moment for you? What challenged and hurt that helped you grow not caused anxiety?

The reality is that too many children are labeled. We are talking about high quality and equity in education but how is this fair? Diagnosis: ADHD Answer: Medication. Diagnosis: Disruptive, hurtful and troubled. Answer: removed. Isolating and shaming children to “remove the problem” so we can continue teaching? We are educating children who will one day be grown ups. They are not grown ups yet so we shouldn’t treat them like grown ups but who they are: children.

Although we realize children are uniquely and amazingly different, have a plethora of experiences, personalities and skills coupled by our understanding of current research, DAP and being culturally responsive; there are still educators and leaders who settle on the maturationist point of view of children…knowing what we know we cannot sit passively and think a child will mature and grow based on a life cycle. This is where we work to help children build and learn. This is when we mold them.

If we know there is a five year range in children’s literacy in an average kindergarten classroom then there is not only one way to teach a subject such as reading. There also should not be a standard that all children must be at. Standards and goals are necessary but let’s use them to challenge each child in different ways by meeting him or her on his own unique level of understanding. Only then can we help a child grow, actively learn, and move forward in his development.

Children are not meant to be test takers but movers and shakers of this world. If we are to adequately challenge and promote 21st century skills, we must stick to our gut instincts as educators, families and leaders and do what is right and developmentally appropriate for children. Testing should not be the only method or option in seeing where children are. There are tons of other ways as well.

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Every child may not be good at test taking just as every child who scores high does not mean he knows or understands the subject he was taught. Learning is a lifelong activity, a hobby for some of us. It keeps us going, allows us to stay sharp and relevant. We want our children to love learning, right? We want them to try harder each time, to think that there is no limit for growth. There is no job that is impossible to get. With education, comes great opportunities. From meeting friends who continue as colleagues and or partners to high paying jobs or satisfying careers. Most important of all, we want them to be successful in every which way. How is this possible if we do not speak up for them, if we do not stand up for their needs and rights?

For each one of us there is at least one thing to do. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, teachers, administrators, doctors, policy makers… The list is long and there is always at least one thing for each one of these individuals to do to advocate for children. There is always a step each one of us can take when we see injustice, misuderstanding, maltreatment, unfairness… It is everyone’s job to protect the youngest citizens of this world. It is everyone’s responsibility to protect their interest and to pave the road to success. We reap what we sow and what we want to sow is the best seed that will grow and take his place in life. One day, they will continue the cycle and when that day comes they will be confident, happy, productive, thoughful, succesful, innovative, problem solvers and leaders… Be their voice, now.

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Leading from Within: From the Classroom to Leadership

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Being in Classrooms

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

  1. Understanding, Empowering and Empathizing with Others

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

  1. Connecting, Building and Maintaining Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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