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.

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.

Who Do You Think You Are? You are who you think you are.

“Thirty was so strange for me. I’ve really had to come to terms with the fact that I am now a walking and talking adult.” – C. S. Lewis quotes

I think a lot. I dream a lot. blog 18 pic 3Turning thirty brought a lot full circle and caused a very bright light bulb kind of moment for me. The best advice I can give you is to follow your dreams and be who you are meant to be. Without dreams, I can imagine a person feeling dead. Over the weekend, I checked in on my dreams and hopes. As I watched my niece, really baby sister graduate, nostalgia set in. How am I doing? I asked myself. Is this where I envisioned my life to be? Yes and no. When you feel uncomfortable it is time to move on they say. Staring long and hard at myself in the mirror, I looked…tired. Is this a good kind of tired? Oh gosh, I thought. I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing right? The tough thing about feeling and being an adult is that you can’t just move on and run away from where you are or from those you care about. Or can you? I realized being an adult is a messed up kind of Catch 22. I’m not one to walk away from anything. I keep my promises.

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As I read the book entitled: The Necessity of Strangers by Dr. Alan Gregerman a lot materialized for me. We have the power to unlock potential in others and within ourselves. Did you know there is an actual summer camp for adults? Where they can meet new friends, refocus and reenergize. One of the many lessons I learn from children is how easily they make friends. They are unafraid and courageous. As I was playing basketball with some adults, a child who appeared to be about six years old approached us and naturally became a part of our game. He entered the game saying pass me the ball and we did. If he only stood watching how could we know he wanted to play? No one is a mind reader. In our lives we have to say, “Pass me the ball!” Standing in the same place is counterproductive to who we are meant to be. Imagine speaking up, moving and keeping it a part of your lifestyle all of the time not only for a summer. Movement is life. Stagnation is the opposite. If you are living a life you need to escape from then why live it? Create the life you don’t need to get away from. Live the life you imagine, think and dream about.

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The cool thing about what I do everyday is having the opportunity to support children and families. I am right in the middle of it. I am constantly learning. The thing I am learning the most about is in fact, people. Their mannerisms, their motives, their adult life size issues much larger than you can ever imagine.

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I realize I want to focus in on being a voice for children, families, play and literacy. I do not want to lose focus so I find myself being more and more selective in 1. How I spend my time 2. Who and how I am helping organization(s) 3. Ways and means that will support either an enrichment program centered on STEAM/literacy/play and/or a Pre-K-3rd program supporting children and families. 4. What to write about

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I know who I am and the skills I have. I am an educator first and foremost.  I am madly passionate about giving children and families a voice and doing the right thing.

 

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I’m driving and being driven by what I refuse to let go of, my dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truth or Dare? Choosing Both to Defend Early Childhood and Beyond the Early Years

Education is said to be the great equalizer of all time but I’m not looking for it to make experiences equal. I am looking for it to make them fair.  Everyone has different experiences. If you give two people the same size box to stand on to look out of a window or to reach for an object up high it will not work for one of them.

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Children and families need fairness, high quality and authentic exposure to the world in which they are a part of.  Being more connected than ever before makes it is easier to see what it is like on the other side of the world and right here in your own city.  Connecting with people is important, not watching stereotypes or feeding into them.  There are many kinds of people. People want to survive and make the best with what they have and know.  People grow and change. They fall and get back up. Some need help getting back up while others brush their shoulders and carry on growing stronger.

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I grew up never knowing we struggled.  Childhood was magical for me. I played in the mud, made a lot of choices, fell down and got hurt, came in before it got dark and did I mention I played a lot? Every child deserves a magical and joyful childhood. They deserve to believe they are somebody, are special and have the potential to be who ever they dare to be.  I dare someone reading this article to not just go to a park but make some mud outside. Combine it with a  great book called The Mud Puddle by Robert Munsch.  Maybe make up your own story along the way.

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Some think No Child Left Behind means ensuring children are prepared academically and assessing children whether they are or are not is heavily emphasized through testing in math, reading and writing.  These skills are important but the way we assess them is so far from the reality. Relying upon a standardized test and not considering the student’s persona and capacity for test taking is a way to set them up for failure, furthermore a way to discourage them to try harder.   There needs to be a balance between standardized tests and authentic assessment including observations, dialogue and self-expression with a given project or an assignment. Children should also be assessed in their environment through journaling, evaluating their work over time and understanding who they are as a person and how they learn.  This is what fair assessment looks like. Standardized test scores determine funding? Well, we shouldn’t allow that.  I believe high quality early childhood educators have a lot to show and share with our K through 12 programs and the same vice versa.  Please understand early childhood is not just taking care of cute little people , as once I was told, it is not changing diapers, feeding babies and rocking them to sleep. There is no need to say “I don’t know how you do it but we thank you” from higher-level teachers. We need you to provide continuity so that there is a solid bridge between early years and formal school years. How can you do that?

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By partnering with families, listening to their needs and expectations, sometimes even their hurldles. By building strong relationships, ensuring the classroom feels like a home away from home and every child has a place and feels included. Allowing children the freedom to express themselves and providing guidance and engaging them in the lesson in a way that they do not even realize they are learning. Making play a learning tool and knowing how children learn best, articulating why it is ok if a child is not reading but is on the way to and how to positively make him or her love and enjoy reading. It’s not just about the abc’s. Advocating for children and families and empowering each other.   This does not have to happen all at once but in steps…one at a time… walking feet…

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Here are lessons learned:

Preschool’s top six rules:

  • Be kind and when someone’s not: speak up
  • Take care of each other and the classroom
  • Be safe
  • If you fall…get back up (if you fail, try again)
  • Work hard, work smart and work together
  • Have fun

Remember that life long learning is a process rather than a product.  Each of us is in a process of becoming. It is not only what we know but who we are.

When we solely focus on academics and testing then childrens’ potential, character, critical thinking, problem-solving and symbolic thinking is left behind in the process. While in New Mexico, I witnessed children having shorter recess time with teachers standing around arms crossed watching and monitoring equaling no engagement.  No leading play efforts.  If it got rough they were not allowed to play certain games such as football.  How do you interact? How are you forming spatial awareness and sensory functions? Humans need contact. Children lined up single file for lunch, sat in chairs all day and had limited play and interaction.  There was a power struggle present and children were seen not heard. Children were required to listen not be listened to. This is not positive and it does not help building strong relationships. This way of thinking is not making our children grow into better adults than we are.  The purpose of education is to ensure the next generations are better than the previous ones.

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How and why did we get here as a society?  We want to keep our children safe and we want the best for them but is this the way? Children and families are lost in the process where it feels like a systematic institution as opposed to a nurturing community.  As an example, a few years back, I started bringing in my own basketball and showed children how to play and guided them in the process.  As a result, I observed more joy and togetherness.  I grew up playing basketball. While my sister pushed me to be a strong athlete my brother in law showed me the fun side of it.  Balance.

We are not meant to sit all day long. Our bodies need to move. Our brains need a break.  A Turkish saying goes ” Healthy body, healthy mind”. In aftercare, children do homework and eat snack. What happens to all that energy and the need to interact with one another, socialize and create friendships? Where is enrichment so that our children turn into well rounded adults? How can’t they get bored and get in trouble because they are not intrigued and occupied by positive activities?  It often feels more like a boot camp than an educational experience. It makes the cradle to school to prison pipeline real for me. We are preparing children for…prison? I recognized it started there.

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It doesn’t matter where you come from to make it to where you’re going. This is true. This is what my life’s work is built on. This I believe is what life is built on.  We can change this as people, citizens, educators and whatever else our social roles are.  If we work together… People fought and were tried before. Of course, we will get tired. It will not always be a smooth ride. We’re human and we believe our children are worth fighting for.

Setting Children Up For Success

By Jill Telford and Berna Artis

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

By Jill Telford and Berna Artis

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

By Jill Telford and Berna Artis

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

By Jill Telford and Berna Artis

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.