The Human Story

In every one of us there is a light.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We are stronger when we work together.

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Where Have We Went Wrong? Or Have We?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Setting Children Up For Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Our Most Vulnerable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Carpe Diem: Seizing the Moment and Making Lasting Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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