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.

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Easier Said Than Done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it Real? Authentic Teacher Relationships in Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Things Fall Apart: Resiliency and Having the Courage to Get back Up

Bruises happen. Children fall and they get back up. Life catches us off guard and no matter how cliche this may sound…life is full of surprises. This is the part where resiliency comes into play.

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The ability to endure and bounce back is vital to sustain what we have and keep moving forward. Getting a scrape or falling down hurts. Let’s face it. “When we fall we must get back up.” We must keep moving. Taking this lesson from childhood into adulthood still resonates.
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We get hurt, we get back up. All of us at some point have been hurt in insurmountable ways. It takes longer for some to get back up but the thing is getting back up is worth it. There is a whole big life that goes on out there.

I remember as a child I lied. I gave a forged note saying how great I was doing in school when in fact I was doing horrible. When my sister opened and read the note she asked “Did your teacher really write this note?” I said, “yes.” She asked again, “I’m only going to ask one more time; did she write this note?” I said “yes.” The next day I walked into our apartment and was taught my first lesson: Never lie. It wasn’t that I was not doing well it was the fact that I lied about it.

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We went to school together to talk with my teacher and she told the teacher to give me more work and put me back into my former classes. (I was performing so badly that they had placed me in remedial, unbeknownst to my sister). The teacher said, Jill just lost her mother and that could explain so much. My sister looked and said something I will remember forever “That is no excuse. Our mother would be rolling in her grave if she knew Jill was failing.” Resiliency. It’s being bruised. Its enduring. It’s having the courage to rise again. To hold and keep your form even with the scratches and scrapes during life. Even when things fall apart.

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If not all, most of us face with events that are not desirable. Being disrespected, ignored, neglected in different ways and unappreciated are all hurtful things. How about being stabbed in the back by the people we loved and trusted for so long? This is life and things are not always in our control.

It is crucial for our children to learn these lessons early in life. Not at the same depth as us adults but disappointment and sadness will happen. It is not useful to sugarcoat everything and hide the truth because it is hurtful. The important piece is that we deliver the message appropriately and still teach the lesson so they become resilient in time. They need to bounce back and give it another try.

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My son is orange belt in karate. Last weekend due to our jam packed schedule, he had to attend the class with red belts. He begged me not to go in and said he was super scared. I convinced him to give it a try and there he went…

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Master was teaching them a new move but because my son was just learning level 3 and they were learning level 6, he panicked. Every time master called a move he was doing it wrong. Tears started building up in his eyes and he started hiding his face. After observing red belts making the same mistakes and deciding he can get help he started moving faster. I sighed deeply with huge relief. I wasn’t able to go out there to comfort him or to help him. He gathered himself up and moved on. The class was over and he said to me “Mommy, I am sorry I doubted myself. It was hard at first but I can do what red belts are doing. Do you think Master David would promote me to red belt?” All I thought was my work as a mother and of course my husband’s, was paying off. He felt failure but didn’t give up. In the end, he was proud of himself and so was I. Don’t be afraid of falling, as long as you find the strength in you to get back up, all will be well.

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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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