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

By Jill Telford and Berna Artis

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

By Jill Telford and Berna Artis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Changing Lives Together

By Jill Telford and Berna Artis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When its Time to Fly Away From the Nest: On Raising Independent Children

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

How are you raising your child? What is important to you? If you don’t have any yet what first materializes in your mind when you think of how to raise a child? We almost always think about safety, health, well-being, education, success, opportunities children will have to be well-rounded. We want them to ultimately be a good person.

What about independence?

One of the most important things in life is to be self-reliant. Children who are independent and rely on themselves grow to be more successful and happier. Of course, during the early years they are highly dependent on parents and other adults in their life including teachers. From feeding, diaper changing, dressing to reading, doing homework and taking them to basketball games or ballet lessons.

Then something happens when you least expect it. Like, clockwork. They reach a magical age when they are a bit more independent. This is the warm up time for adulthood. They make choices, they don’t cuddle with you that much, they ask you to drop them off a little further away from the school gate. They are capable of doing some chores, being in before the streetlights come on and you feel that they need you less.

Different types of parents raise different types of children. Seems like a no brainer right?

If you are a controlling parent and you do not give your child the opportunity to take responsibility, to do chores, to share his or her thoughts, to make choices and decisions, chances are you are disabling your child. In fact, these types of children grow to be adults with the potential at making poor decisions, blaming everyone else for their mistakes and in need of reassurance in order to feel happy and gratified.

On the other hand, parents who respect children’s wishes, seek their feedback, ask what their thoughts are helping children grow to be happy, responsible, self starters, capable and competent in taking care of their needs. This is a collaborative and positive relationship rather than controlling. As always, it is paramount to have a well-balanced style.

Here are some ways to raise independent children:

  • Provide guidance instead of telling them what to do
  • Give options instead of making the choice for them
  • Listen more
  • Show affection and love
  • Show empathy
  • Catch them doing good and reward for big accomplishments, not for every little thing.
  • Provide encouragement
  • Give them responsibilities and hold them accountable
  • Appreciate and acknowledge their efforts and verbalize it
  • Never make fun of their shortcomings and or mistakes
  • Set limits and clear expectations
  • Understand that they will make mistakes
  • Help them enjoy their success and admit their mistakes
  • Let them know that you are there to provide safety but eventually they need to fly away from the nest to explore the bigger world and test limits

 

 

Top 10 Ways to be Remembered as the Worst Educator of All Time.

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

We all remember the best and worst teachers in our lifetime. While teaching is a profound calling for some, others fall into it as a 9-5 job, not a calling. Here are the top 10 ways to be remembered as the worst teacher of all time. Before going any further… if you are stumbling down the road of becoming a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad teacher as Alexander’s day is described in the beloved story Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day now turned into a family comedic film, please check yourself, breathe and remember why you’re here in the first place. Teaching is not easy and not for the faint of heart: it demands tough, courageous and dedicated individuals and if you can’t handle the heat well, get out of the kitchen. While we all know what to do in terms of developmentally appropriate practice and forming strong relationships with children and families, here’s a list of what not to do as a teacher.

  1. Sitting down all of the time and being detached: ignoring students and being apathetic.    Why teach if you have no enthusiasm, interest or even concern? Students’ will pick up on this and will not want to be there either. You should be up and moving about helping, supporting, learning and teaching. Your job…is that. If you’re modeling apathy then we’re in trouble. Your students are doomed. Be present in the moments…so many of them are teachable ones.
  1. Always on computer, cell phone, reading something unrelated to the lesson. I know and realize we are in a technological age but what I cannot wrap my mind around is doing this inside of a classroom and/or while teaching. Sure, technology is awesome. However, always on a phone or computer while inside your classroom screams that a. something or someone outside of the classroom is more important than who is inside of it: b. your students.
  1. Often has tantrums, is dramatic and loses it over small issues. No one is perfect but if everyday you have an issue then there is a problem not with your surroundings but in fact, you. You must have a reality check. Ok, life is not sunshine and rainbows 24/7 BUT if you can’t learn to manage a few raindrops then you need help. If you are losing your cool and calm mostly everyday then you need to figure it out, seek help and learn how to cope. How are you to help your students keep calm, cool and be collected if you’re exploding and tripping out about every little detail? Take a lesson from the book I Was So Mad by Mercer Meyer. That little critter was frustrated but figured it out.
  1. Complains, gossips and spreads rumors about colleagues, administration, families and children. Why and for what? Misery loves company for sure but if you are a true teacher then you don’t judge and wreak havoc and wreck relationships but build them. Communication in Latin means to come together. If you’re communication is not a coming together and building relationships then you should not be saying it. Reflect and work on how to work and play well with others. No one likes a complainer. If you don’t like something try to fix it and make it better…offer solutions.
  1. Teaches using only one strategy. Every student learns differently and needs a differentiated approach. You will not connect with children on an individual level if you 1. Don’t know who they are and 2. Have unrealistic expectations of him or her. In our current education world we can CHOOSE how and what approach to reach each and every child. I know and recognize it is hard work but it pays off. Connecting, caring and helping are at the heart of teaching and human existence. If your kid wants to write about it let them write about it, if your kid wants to dance about it let them dance about it, if your kid wants to draw/paint it out let them do it, if they want to sing it let them do it, if they want to talk about it let them do it, if they want to listen let them listen, if they want to whisper let them, if they want to act it out let them do it, if they want to test it out let them do it and so much more. Give them the freedom to do this. They will remember, appreciate and do that thing you let them do forever. And, most of all they will be good at it.
  1. Acknowledges “good” and “bad” behavior. Why? When we are all good and bad. That is to be human. When we label good versus bad that is pitting children against one another. We all have good and bad in us. Read stories capturing people who have both of these traits. Teach children what it is to be human. Teach that it is ok to make mistakes but to learn from them. Teach kindness and forgiveness. Believe that every child and family is good but makes mistakes. Encourage children to take risks and be courageous.
  1. Teaching the same material every year in the same way. Every year we get a different diverse group of students. Why teach the same subjects using the same ways as the prior year. Growth is about being in a process of constant change and renewal. When we teach the same way every year then we become stagnant like a still pond of stagnant water. No one likes stagnant water unless you’re a fly, mosquito or some other kind of insect.
  1. Doesn’t show up on time or is inconsistent. If you are sick a lot. If you show up late with coffee in your hands and your cellphone…you are making a bold statement. You are basically saying you don’t care. Work at a coffee shop since you’re willing to be late on behalf of one. Coffee is awesome, we love coffee but coming in late because of it is not. Some teachers need coffee…but plan time accordingly so you make it to class on time. You are an example…set a good one, please. 
  1. Lacks compassion and does not understand human psychology. One of the most important corner stones of education is building relationships and connecting with children. Let it be a young child or a teenager, every student wants to be understood and heard. Each student is unique; therefore, requires a different approach. Understanding and connecting, means showing regard and trying to reach and help that child where he or she is. There is always a reason behind every behavior. A teacher’s job is to understand and tailor his or her approach accordingly. Is their something upsetting happening in the child’s home? Maybe there is tension or fights in the house? Is the child feeling left out or being bullied? Teachers should not use the same discipline method or guidance for every child as each child is different and requires a different approach. 
  1. Does not respect students. Just because children are not adults does not mean teachers should roll over them. It does not mean teachers will disregard the idea or the need of the children nor does it mean they will make fun of children. As young as infants, children need and deserve respect. It is important to show them they are worthy, valued and important. Lack of regard will harm a child’s self esteem and self respect. Children should be treated with kindness, respect and with the same kind of manners you ask of them. Treat others how you want to be treated. Model it yourself.
  1. Bonus* Being dismissive and knows what is best. When a family raises a concern, wants to have a conversation about their kid and you dismiss it and act like you know it all. This is not ok. A child is made strong through strong partnerships and relationships between families and teachers. Families want what is best and is a child’s first teachers in the first place…remember that. Establishing open two way communication is key in providing the best support for children. Do not pass judgment…seek first to understand than being understood. Show compassion, care and concern for your student and his or her family. This is how you build a strong foundation.

The preceding ten +bonus ways will definitely make you a memorable worst teacher in someone’s lifetime. Work at these and you will be regarded as the worst educator of all time brought up over dinners, lunches and over drinks with phrases such as “I really could not stand _______”, “That was the worst year of my childhood life”, “Thank goodness, its over”, “Oh man, you had him/her too?!”, “She/He was horrible”, “I hated______”, “She/He couldn’t teach!” and written down in academic history as a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Teacher.