I AM a TEACHER. A Letter From Your Early Childhood Educators

198E4AED-2A49-44E1-B4C3-B541220137C8We need your help. Imagine, we’re playing basketball. We’re on the same team and my head is up and I’m looking to pass the ball as I dribble up the court. I need to pass the ball to you. Likewise, pass it back. Back and forth with a series of exchanges which is what we want to have, a good conversation. A conversation that will create an opportunity to score and most of all, solve something bigger together.

So here goes, most of you know we are not daycare workers. We are teachers. We even further distinguish ourselves as an integral part of the life-long learning process as we specialize in early childhood. We’re not elementary, middle school or secondary teachers. We are Early childhood teachers. NAEYC also pushes this with a major initiative called Power to the Profession found here: www.naeyc.org

We are Reggio Inspired teachers and we need help in closing the misunderstanding of who we are in education. We are teachers. We are early childhood educators.

Children learn best through their everyday experiences with the people they love and trust, and when the learning is fun. We, the teachers at TCS, specialize in this. We know how to meet children where they are and help them to where they are going.

A child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development from birth to five, producing more than a million neural connections each second.

Moreover, the development of the brain is influenced by many factors, including a child’s relationships, experiences and environment. More info here: https://www.zerotothree.org/espanol

We, you and our communities are connected on the same page and goal of educating our children. We want them to be caring citizens of or world. We want them to be better than us. We want all children to be better than previous generations, no matter where they are from. Zip codes shouldn’t matter when it comes to access to high quality care and learning as all children matter.

There is a major wealth, educational and opportunity gap in our country and do we expect you to fix it? Can we fix it right now? No, but we need to talk about it. We need to start there. Reggio Emilia was founded in social justice. History echoes and now is our time to change and change happens from within a society and systems. We are society. We can lead and start doing the right thing especially since we have the resources.

Reggio Emilia came about during the post-World War II era in Italy, the “…desire to bring change and create anew” accompanied with great economic and social development, including in education.

We are calling for action on three things understanding that we are teachers, closing the wealth and educational achievement gap and most of all, what we teach children: taking care of each other.

With love,

The Play Alliance

#Preschoolisforever #tpa #pta #theplayalliance #thetpa #thepta #teachers #educators #children #families #firstweekofschool

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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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it Real? Authentic Teacher Relationships in Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leading from Within: From the Classroom to Leadership

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

“Courage is simply the willingness to be afraid and act anyway.” –Dr. Robert Anthony

Once a preschool teacher, I recently began my work as an assistant director.

Based on what I have experienced and researched so far I learned that it’s best to have one foot in and one foot out of the classroom. It’s like taking a pulse of the place and people as a collective. Just like with students it’s checking in and meeting them where they are, learning from them and working together. As I reflect on what will soon be almost a complete year as a school leader, I pause and take a deep breath. Two words: growing pains.  It takes a lot of hard work, working smart, collaboration and most of all courage to lead.

In my heart I always wanted to be an educator. Given the privilege to serve others is what is in my being…it is in my genetic make up, my DNA, my blood. It’s in my soul. It’s inevitable. It’s unavoidable no matter where I end up or what I do in life.

I have a vision. I still consider myself an educator and learner first and foremost. With this in mind, I enjoy keeping a pulse of our program. I look forward to saying hi and good-bye to everyone each and everyday. I look forward to seeing how others are truly doing and how they are feeling. Think: Mr. Rogers.

I believe every single person in this world deserves high quality and equity in education no matter where they are or where they’re from. I live to push everyone to realize and grow into his or her fullest potential.

There are 3 major takeaways and reminders since stepping and growing into this role:

  1. Being in Classrooms

Educators should never forget what its like to be a child/student. I take this perspective as I think about myself…I promise never to forget what its like to be a teacher. It’s similar to when I think and reflect on my experiences growing up…I never want to forget where I came from. My experiences made me the person I am today.   I work to spend time in classrooms not eyeing every little thing. I see the little things but I focus in on those little moments. The good things, the kinds of things that remind me why we are here in the first place to care, guide and challenge our children. In return to be challenged and learn from each other, families and children.

  1. Understanding, Empowering and Empathizing with Others

Taking time to understand other’s points of view. Perception is reality. Taking time to truly understand where others are coming from is important to me. It’s like two people looking and gazing at a work of art but feeling and seeing something completely different. I work and take the time to listen in order to understand why they are seeing it the way they are.

  1. Connecting, Building and Maintaining Relationships

I saved the best for last. When eating something delicious I like to save and savor the last “best” bite for last. Relationships are at the heart of our existence and being. No one wants to listen, be with or work with a person who does not genuinely care about them. Working to know everyone on a personal level is vital. I think about it like this: great teachers get to know their students and families. Knowing your people is important. Asking them how they are doing, creating outings and go to them. Work should not feel like work. You should want to be there.

Looking at leadership from several perspectives, I share some of the interesting experiences with Jill. I have taught 4th to 12th grade prior to taking my seat at the administration desk. I strongly believe that once you are an educator, you are an educator for life. A leader in a general sense must LEAD. To lead, one must possess the ability to listen and collaborate. As a leader in the field of education, you must possess other special skills such as high emotional intelligence and understanding the people you work with. I say “work with” because a good leader leads by taking part in the team.

On a daily basis, I am a very busy person. However, I enjoy taking the time to talk with my teachers, greeting children and families, squeezing in a little time to sit on the floor and play with children. This is not my main role of course but the classroom is where the action is. I remember my days being in the classroom and asking, “Who came up with this policy or regulation? Have they thought about this or that? This is unrealistic.” It seemed more “drop down” policy or rule rather than “well thought and realistic”. I have been in the trenches of teaching. I have faced many challenges and learned how to over come them and how to figure out a way to reach the goal. I am a firm believer that people like us make the best leaders. Why? Because we have been there and we have not forgotten what it was like. And we know and realize how it is now.

A leader approaches situations collectively and with a solution finder attitude. No matter what sector you work in, there are always going to be challenges, hardships, problems and negativity. A true leader gathers the team around, brainstorms together, takes everyone’s ideas and feedback into consideration and moves forward. There may be times when failure is inevitable. A leader knows what to take away from it as a learning lesson and shares it with the team trying to figure out how to avoid falling into the same situation again.

I enjoy empowering the people I work with. The stronger they get, the stronger I become. It is a cycle and a positive one. We grow together. I find coaching the most effective and enjoyable way to raise the bar for everyone. Seeing someone achieve makes me happy and gives me the biggest satisfaction. Just because I am no longer in the classroom does not mean I cannot influence what happens in the classroom. Better yet, now I can do it for more than one classroom at a time. I can establish a culture of doers, go-getters, problem solvers, communicators, and collaborators.

The most effective leaders are effective because they respect the mission, vision and the employees of their organization. They set the tone, establish a shared goal and produce a plan involving everyone. They are the role models. They get up regardless of how many times they fall. They are persistent, strong and have confidence not only in themselves but also in their teams. True leaders are inspirers and cultivators.  True leaders have courage.

courage

 

 

 

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

 

 

We Need Help! Understanding Mistaken Behaviors to Help Children

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

Tell me and I will forget.  Teach me and I may remember. Show me and I learn.

-Benjamin Franklin

Often times, adults forget that they were once children. We all forget something sometimes. When grown ups listen and are present in the moment with children, children teach us how to be one again. Children notice when we are present in the moment and are intuitive of who we are and will act accordingly. Grown ups often set high expectations for children that are unachievable, unrealistic and age inappropriate. How many times do we hear an adult judging a child’s behavior without having all of the facts and details? Most of all, hearing an adult labeling a child without trying to really know or understand the child or his/her family. Most of us hear and experience bad days our children and students’ have. It hurts to see a child being labeled without an understanding or an attempt at understanding his or her challenging behavior. When we are attuned, we pay attention to the facts and details. Some of them are:

  • Child’s age
  • How they learn
  • Who they are
  • What interests them (what do they care about?)
  • Type of family or household he or she comes from
  • Limitations and other special situations of the child
  • Temperament
  • Capacity
  • Ability
  • Cultural differences

When we envision the world we want peace and happiness. This is unrealistic. This is the same for a classroom of preschoolers! We are human. Our classrooms are filled with humans. Humans are filled with feelings, thoughts, ideas and emotions. We are all so very different and are all in a process of becoming during childhood and even throughout adulthood. Remember this when a child spills something, “talks back”, makes a mess or cannot control his or her emotions. Do we want statues and followers? Or do we want leaders, movers and shakers?

In the Little Prince, the narrator has a hard time comprehending grown-ups in the same way I believe grown-ups have a hard time understanding children. A huge lesson and quote from this story is how “Grown ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: What does his voice sound like? What games does he like best? Does he collect butterflies? They ask: How old is he? How many brothers does he have? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? Only then do they think they know him.” The lesson is ultimately summed up by “Children should be very understanding of grown ups.” Likewise, grown ups should be understanding of children (and this can count towards each other as well). Understanding, connection and building a strong reciprocal, caring relationship is key without judgment or labels.

littleprince

However, adults can be quick at judging and labeling the behavior and child; as hyperactive, aggressive, slow, incapable, apathetic, troublemaker, bad, disrespectful…the list is long and goes on and on. While these labels are extremely hurtful to the child and his or her family, it is also damaging to his or her self-esteem, personal growth and sense of self worth. In reality, they are children who lack experience in that particular area, they do not know the difference between right and wrong therefore they make mistakes and false judgments. Nine out of ten children do not know any better. Children are learning and in a process of becoming. They are not motivated and challenged enough. Especially when they are labeled, constantly told that they can’t do something coupled with consequences right away. 

Like any other human being, children want to be a part of a group. They want and need the sense of belonging. They want to be understood. They want to impress others especially the ones in their immediate circle such as family members, friends and teachers. They want attention and a lot of it! They develop skills and behaviors according to their social relationships. Sometimes, they act like a super hero because it is cool to save the world, fly or to destroy the enemy. How about a child who is coping with a family member’s death, his dad’s violence at home, or being bullied? How about a child who does not get enough sleep because parents work long hours and it is late by the time they go home to eat and do homework? Imagine what can happen when a child lacks experience to deal with frustration, fear, and inability to identify and or control feelings.  Imagine a grown up in your life whom lacks coping skills as well. Children grow into grown ups.

Often, adults misunderstand these challenging interactions and behaviors. At times they are not understood at all. In the end, the child is punished in the learning and developmental stages. Rules and setting limits are necessary but a constant power approach is not. What can we as adults do to understand each child, let it be in our homes, in a classroom or a school? Patience, understanding, compassion and guidance are four significant constructive corner stones of forming a relationship with a child. It is trying different ways to reach him or her where he or she is. Then guiding children where they are going. Giving opportunity and support to children is crucial in developing their self-esteem, self confidence, love of learning, respect for others, courage, resiliency, creativity, empathy, sympathy and trust.

Any time families, educators or communities are faced with challenging and mistaken behavior rise up to the challenge, show compassion, care and let’s ask questions to understand. Questions we can ask are: where is Johnny from? Who is Johnny? What does Johnny like to do? When did Johnny start this challenging behavior? Why is Johnny doing this? What are we going to do about it? For some, a simple answer is to reprimand leading up to removing the problem. That’s the easy way out. However, if we work hard at understanding, connecting with, helping, supporting and reaching Johnny then we can change his whole trajectory. If we teach him to solve his problems as opposed to running away he will become one powerful man. When we are there for the good times and the bad times then we pass that kind of thing on to Johnny and then Johnny passes that kind of thing on to someone else. Frederick Douglas has said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Often we hear: “My son’s/daughter’s teacher said they were disruptive and misbehaving” leading to a consequence. “I have to go in for a meeting with his/her teachers”.   When do we hear: “My son’s/daughter’s teacher said they created something incredible and were proud of it” or “You know he/she is quite the conversationalist! Let’s set up a meeting to talk about it!”

When a child acts out, those disruptions and misbehaviors are really mistaken and challenging behaviors. There is often and always a reason a child is doing something. Even as adults we can relate to when we are not ourselves or we need help. Let’s help our children who are still learning how to ask for help. Next time you see a child’s mistaken behavior know it is his or her way of saying “I need your help!” Let’s work together to advocate, understand and help our children. Then they will understand themselves. When we do this we are helping our world be a little better off than it once was.

love

 

 

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.