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

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The Power and Genius of Books

While at The Genius of the Book Exhibit in DC https://www.folger.edu/exhibitions/form-function-genius-of-the-book something came full circle for me. The exhibition also affirmed why I love and recognize the power of books. Historically, there was and still is a reason why people in power choose to burn books that challenge thinking, status quo and create different and opposing ways of being. Books are powerful.

When selecting books what questions and thoughts materialize in your brain? Many come to my mind each and every time I’m picking out a new book or picking up an old one to read again, especially when choosing literature for children, families and myself. I ask myself what do the illustrations and writing portray? What images are painted in µy mind

For example, look for illustrations of culture, ability and disability, race, gender, identity, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and many more. Are we being portrayed non-stereotypically and in powerful roles?

As noted by an NAEYC article, a list of common and undermining set of stereotypes are when people are portrayed as:

  • Strong, independent girls and women are “manlike”
  • Book-loving or nonathletic boys and men are “effeminate”
  • Latino men talk funny, are lazy, gang members, or wear oversize sombreros
  • Latina women are earth mothers or subservient
  • African American men are gang members, oversexed, or underemployed
  • African American women are too independent, oversexed, or “welfare moms”
  • LGBTQ people are invisible or sexual predators
  • Poor people are invisible or depicted as passively needing help from others
  • American Indians live in teepees, carry bows and arrows, or are half-naked in winter
  • People with disabilities are not independent or are to be pitied
  • Arab and/or Muslim men are terrorists
  • Arab and/or Muslim women are voiceless and passive
  • All Muslims are Arab

Some of mine I look for:

  • People are invisible or in a side role not empowering ones
  • Characters matter: who is the hero?
  • The storyline and perspectives in it
  • Gender and are women and men portrayed accurately?
  • Race, culture, ethnicity: is it an authentic and accurate portrayal?

When I see stereotypes in the drawings/illustrations or writing in books, I put it down and move on to another such as suggested: http://www.teachingforchange.org/selecting-anti-bias-books

I am also starting to write letters to publishers.

Another tip: look at the dates and authors. Dates and writers matter.  Research and support people in comparing and contrasting. Also ask why is a book written?   Books are like people, they serve a purpose. For example, If you got a book entitled: Firemen Fight Fires, time to move on because the term Firefighters include everyone and they do more than ride in firetrucks fighting fires anyway. Just saying.

Books and children’s books continue to be an invaluable transmitter of messages we absorb influencing who we are and how we see each another.  Media and books are transmitters of cultures, perspectives and values.  Books reflect our personal identities, diversity and varying relationships among different groups of people.  Books and media (AND ADVERTISEMENTS) portray who matters and creates a positive or negative self-image and concept.  Look at who is advertised/displayed on your outside arena where people perform or play sports. Who is displayed? Are women?

Looking at the Verizon Center, our students did not see women and said, “See, it’s true, we were right, women don’t play basketball.” We walked inside to see the Mystics playing. Talk about a transformative experience.

It is crucial to show and share an eclectic set of books about people like us and different from us (TO CELEBRATE OUR AWESOME DIFFERENCES) and our families. ALL of the books should be non-stereotypical and authentic. *Reminder items to look for: look for dates, portrayal of lifestyles, cultures, social identities, relationships, social change and justice, invisibility and tokenism.*

When discovering new books or reading classic books what questions materialize in your mind?

And speaking of choosing and 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We all Have a Little Fred in Us. 50 Year Anniversary of Mr. Rogers

I was eating lunch on Capitol Hill in Longworth preparing to visit staffers of Representative Anthony Brown when a group of veterans sat down at our table. They were fighting for better services and systems. They asked why we were visiting. As I bit into my pizza that had government domino style cheese and barely any sauce, I said, “We’re here advocating for children, families and ourselves for all children to have access to high quality early learning programs, higher wages and support in higher ed as we pursue degrees. We really need the Family Child Care Working Act passed.”

“There is a disparity in access and wages. Not to mention a child’s brain grows and develops by the time they hit 5. So, access to high quality and care will and does help change trajectories. I am a living example.”  An older stern man sitting across from me said, “I think children need discipline and a man at home. A father who’ll discipline em’. That’s the problem. Children lack discipline. Plus it needs to be handled on the state level not federal.”

These are exactly the conversations I enjoy having. I stared at him and pulled out my Head Start picture and shared how my father was incarcerated and in and out of jail coupled with my mother being in and out of the hospital. I had a sister who ensured I made it to school on time. Plus, I had awesome teachers at Head Start. Children can’t vote. Championing for children and families is what my colleagues and I do. I couldn’t vote back in 1990 or even before as I was not conceptualized BUT people did do the right thing by children and as a result, I had access to high quality early learning through Head Start. I got a “head start”. Now I have a masters and work to pay that kind of educational power forward so other trajectories can be changed as well. So others have a chance: children, educators and families.

Children and families must come first and as a result, we will have ROI’s unheard of for our country.

He did not say anything but wished us well. I wished them well too. Another military officer waited until he was up the hallway and out of sight and leaned in. She said, “I believe it starts in the nursery”. I looked at her and said, “Yea, that’s what I mean by preschool children: meaning birth through 8 and even beyond that through college and even beyond that!”

She said softly, “I used to watch Fred Rogers religiously.”

I smiled and said, “Me too.”

We all have a little Fred in us. Watch below to see Fred’s advocacy and testimony on Capitol Hill back in the day. Taking it back to 1969. https://youtu.be/fKy7ljRr0AA

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

Show Up: Marching it Out Changes and Saves Lives

44216860-FF5B-4F2E-9C34-ADC031FAC6D6Please take 17 minutes to pray for the 17 young students and adults whose lives were abruptly ended. Let’s pray for the families and friends affected by this nonsensical tragedy. National School Walk Out Day is on March 14 to march out from 10:00am-10:17am in honor of the 17 victims of Florida’s shooting.

More detail here:

http://time.com/5165794/student-protests-walkouts-florida-school-shooting/

https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/18/us/national-student-walkout-womens-march-trnd/index.html

We have to take care of each other and stand up for others not to be hurt. Fred Rogers often reminded us to look for the helpers during chaos or despair. This is where hope lies. Hope in each other, hope for human kind. Hope to live and honor those who have passed on.

I can’t imagine sending my child or loved one to school for them to never return, again. Why does something like this happen?

It is easy to fall into despair when tragedy hits but this is when we need to come together. This is when we scream love into the world not more hatred. Hate in our hearts will consume us. Hate will kill us. Instead turn it into action.

Take action and reach out to your leaders. Find out who they are below:

https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

https://www.congress.gov/

https://www.house.gov/

Here’s a guide to the upcoming events:

March 14, 2018: National School Walkout

The Women’s March’s Youth EMPOWER group is planning a national school walkout on March 14, 2018, according to the group’s website. At 10 a.m. in every time zone, organizers are encouraging teachers, students, administrators, parents and allies to walk out for 17 minutes — one for every person killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“Students and staff have the right to teach and learn in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms or on their way home from school,” according to the site.

March 24, 2018: March For Our Lives:

On March 24, 2018, student organizers, including those from Parkland, are planning March For Our Lives, a march in Washington, D.C. to call for school safety and gun control.

“The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues,” according to their website. “No special interest group, no political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country.”

More info can be found at the website and Facebook page.

April 20, 2018: National High School Walkout:

A growing movement titled #NationalSchoolWalkout is being called for by Connecticut student Lane Murdock and others. Murdock lives just 20 minutes away from Sandy Hook Elementary School, according to NBC News. In December 2012, 20 students and six staff members were gunned down at Sandy Hook.

The plan calls for high school students to walk out on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting. No time has been specified yet. The plans are currently being housed on Twitter along with a Change.org petition page that has over 76,000 signatures.

Walking and marching together, letters/petitions  and calling leaders has the power to change laws. Most of all, it changes and saves lives.

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

Books: http://amazon.com/author/jilltelford

Art: https://www.zhibit.org/jtelford/

@artbookstories @jill.telford

If They Hit You Then…Hit Them Back?

You hear this on the playground by a child. “My mom told me if they hit me I could hit them back!” When our children and youth are told this kind of advice: “If they hit you then hit them back” they are learning an eye for an eye. In the late great Rita Pierson’s voice: Can we hit someone back at work?  If we hit someone at our job we will expect repercussions leading to termination.  The advice children are given is confusing.

Children are in a process of becoming. Children are learning.  Their brains are still growing and often they use the lower part of it. As adults we at times have a difficult time controlling our emotions in our brain. So, imagine this piece of advice in the hands of a 3 or 4 year old. Imagine it in the hands of an 8 or 9 year old. Imagine it in the hands of a 13-14 and so on year old.  If we don’t use this advice then why are we teaching it to our children?

When we give this kind of advice then we are teaching children not to solve problems and work it out with one another. We are doing the extreme opposite and teaching them to solve problems with violence. Meet violence with more violence. This is the bottom layer of this piece of advice as you scratch away the multiple layers of it.

The best advice is to not hit someone back but to use phrases such as “Stop!” as a child raises one hand up. Modeling a non violent reaction is vital so that a child will not become a victim (or abuser) and empowered to stand up for their rights. Our voices are powerful. Words are powerful.

Educators, families and communities have the power to empower the voices of children so they stand up for their rights and wellbeing. Ultimately, this teaches children to advocate for themselves in non-violent ways in order to get their points across.

Play Like Your Life Depends On It

Imagine an individualized learning plan that meets the needs of each and every child? This idea is not out of reach. Every child is different. So, why are we treating them all the same? There is not one mold for learning and doing.

So many ideas and thoughts materialize in my mind as I prepared for a panel on keeping play alive for children at the World Forum. We are surrounded by giants in our field of early education. Some of those giants materialize in my mind such as Diane T. Dodge, Sue Bredekamp, Barbara Willer, Dan Gartrell, Becky Bailey, Mimi Brodsky to name a handful. We too are giants and owe it to the giants before us to do the right thing for children even when it’s hard to keep fighting. We are also surrounded by children who are the bigger giants. In Sue’s words “we must stop using kids for research and use the research to help our children”.

When I stepped foot inside of an early education classroom I knew it was where I was meant to be and I knew why. It was safe, welcoming, kind and an environment where children took care of one another. A space where children could create, collaborate and connect.  Most of all, children played! I believe that this model should be pushed to higher grades.

At times I hear adults say “Children don’t play anymore, they are always inside.” If this happens during a conversation (now it tends not to because my circle knows) I immediately ask what is the solution? What can we do? We can blame it on technology or the changing of the times.

However, I want to also blame it on ourselves: the grown-ups. We live in such a fast paced instant gratified kind of world that taking a moment to listen to the birds or really see the images hiding in the clouds does not happen as often as it should. There are easy solutions to challenging or in Gartell’s words mistaken behavior found in play. If a child is a rough and tumble kind of player, a game of tag would be one of many play solutions.

We find out so much about children from observing and guiding children in play. More than we do during a standardized test. We are so busy getting children “ready” that we need to remind ourselves each year that they don’t need to be ready for us. We need to be ready for them.

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.

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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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.

“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