Combating Summer Slide (Without Workbooks)

During our big summer project (building a deck!), I decided to let my daughter jump in with the painting. I thought it would be a simple opportunity for her to experience some ownership over our project. Turns out, it was much more.

For one thing, her questioning was endless. The difference between primer and paint, the purpose of even brush strokes, the relevance to the overall design, and so on.

For another, she identified several valuable life lessons. My favorite was when she told me, “You know, things aren’t always as quick and easy as they seem. I thought I’d finish painting this board in just a minute or two!” It was also wonderful to help her observe the patient, and often tedious, preparation that is required for a job well-done.

As I reflected later on, I recognized the richness of that learning experience. Her critical thinking, reasoning, communication, and comprehension skills were sharpened again and again — with a depth and authenticity that all those summer workbooks can never even come close to matching.

Now, summer slide is a legitimate problem — particularly for children from lower-income families. Take a look at some of the figures:

via Oxford Learning

Our family is certainly fortunate to even have the time and circumstances to have the experience I described above. But as teachers and parents, we would be remiss to assert that the summer slide solution for children from disadvantaged homes would be to load them up on workbooks. The best programs recognize this; as an ASCD Educational Leadership article described,

“In addition to reading and math instruction, Horizons programs give children the sort of enrichment typically enjoyed by more affluent youngsters, such as field trips to museums, camping in the mountains, Broadway shows, and music instruction. Without programs like these, most of our students would be sitting at home watching television while their middle-class peers were off to camp or on a family vacation.”

In my community, the public library, local schools, and local university all offer programs designed to help kids access authentic learning experiences. And it is delightful to watch that access grow all the time.

Whatever our circumstances, we should always be on the lookout for experiences that will help our children make connections and cultivate skills — and no matter how simple, personal interactions go a long way.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Myth of the “Recipe for Success”

Faige Meller, a friend in my PLN recently wrote about mindsets:

“One of our teacher mindsets has been to follow rules. We ask kids to follow the rules, because that’s what we as teachers do. We might not like to admit that some of what we do is part of the recipe of schools; schedules, routines, classroom design, classroom rules, administrative directives and so on and so forth.”

Reading this instantly took me back to a memory early in my first year of teaching. During a teacher education course, I had been given a piece of advice from a professor: “At your first job, ask for the standardized testing data right away. Your principal will love you!”

Wanting to make a good impression, I did just that — before the students had even arrived for the first day of school, I asked my administrators for that data. And like magic, it worked. They seemed pleased.

But I couldn’t shake an unsettled feeling. Faithful to the “recipe for success” I’d been given, I did indeed look over the data — but it turned out that it didn’t tell me much anyway. What was more troubling, however, was the fact that I knew I hadn’t engaged in any sort of authentic relationship-building. I had simply demonstrated that I was willing to be a compliant hoop-jumper.

Don’t get me wrong — willingness to be a “team-player” has its place in any work setting. However, it seems that too often, we’re willing to stop there. As long as the job gets done, why go further? Why bother with real relationship-building? Why push the status quo? That advice I had been given as a pre-service teacher definitely promoted that mentality.

Maybe it’s because we don’t want to give advice that has any degree of uncertainty to it. But John Spencer illustrates the role of that uncertainty well:

by John Spencer

If we’re always “sure this will work,” we choose the comfort of certainty over the messiness of opportunities.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

How Our Desperation for Results Skews Process: Potty-Training Edition #TeacherMom

Potty training. I doubt I’m alone when I say it’s the bane of my parenting existence.

Because it’s not just the task at hand — with a child that’s highly suspicious of toilets, at that.

It’s the pressure.

Pressure to prepare the child for “what’s next” (ie, places where diapers are frowned upon. Like junior high school, for instance).

Pressure to keep the child from falling behind peers.

Pressure to be reminded that on average, those kids in Japan are getting potty trained way earlier than kids in this country.

Teachers, sound familiar?

As parents and teachers, we all set forth with ideals to cultivate empowered, autonomous, thriving kids. But as the pressures rise like flood waters seeping into the bottom of a boat, we start to bail out everything to do with process in a desperate frenzy to get results.

And that’s generally when treats, bribes, and punishments start taking a more prominent role.

The biggest concern with this isn’t that we’re trying to help our child make progress in their development. It’s that we start working from a place of fear instead of understanding. When we’re driven by fear, we no longer start with the individual child and his needs/readiness. We instead start with ourselves: our timetables and our pressures. We listen less and dictate more.

We can start with the child while still inviting him to move forward in his progress. But whether it’s potty training or reading or multiplication facts — be sure to reflect & check that fear at the door!

featured image: Mark Michaelis

Mistakes & Trust, Expectations & Understanding #TeacherMom

Close the door behind you. Use both hands to carry things that might spill. Keep your voice down when baby is sleeping. Eat breakfast in a timely manner. Shoes off in the house. Toilet lid closed. Coat hung up. Mess cleaned up. 

The list goes on and on and on. And then these small humans go to school with a similar, but separate list.

With lists that long, mistakes are inevitable. The question is, what becomes of trust?

As usual, Brene Brown nails it here. As parents and teachers, we have a precious opportunity to teach children what it looks like to “make amends, stay aligned with our values, and confront shame and blame head-on.”

We can model to them what we do when we make mistakes to try to forge trust in our relationships, as well.

But of course, when backpacks get left on the floor again, or when the milk glass gets spilled again, it’s easy to let frustration take the driver’s seat and throw all trust and understanding out the window. It’s also easy to feel like they should know that expectation by now, and to show understanding would be to void responsibility.

But if we do that, we leave no room for trust, for opportunity to “make amends” and try again.

So instead, choose trust.

Give them a chance to clean it up.

Work together to build greater mutual understanding.

Exemplify vulnerability and the messy, hard work of relationship-building.

And while we’re at it, print off this Engaged Checklist, also from Brene Brown, and keep it posted in a handy spot…

  featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Opportunities Afforded by Authenticity (aka, Watching Moana with My Kids) #TeacherMom

I know a Disney movie has nailed it for me when I find myself repeatedly playing the songs in my head without tiring of it. Moana was just such a film.

But what I loved even more than the strong characters, plot, and score was respectful care that went into representing Polynesian culture. A bonus features documentary shared the production crew’s visits and connections with the people of Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, and other islands, expressing the heartfelt desire to portray their culture in a way that would be authentic and recognizable. As one of the Tahitian cultural experts said,

“Our culture is very important for us because it’s the spirit, it’s the soul for our island. It carries values. It carries our life.” ~Hinano Murphy

The documentary highlighted many different cultural elements studied, including music, navigation, coconut use, tattoos, and more. But what really caught my 6 year-old’s attention was the Haka.

She was especially interested in the facial expressions and tongue waggling — in her experience, such behavior indicated silliness, but she sensed an alternate purpose.

So we watched a couple videos, including an emotional Haka performed at a wedding, and one the New Zealand All Blacks Team performs. We discussed the meaning, the unity, and the strength. We discussed sacred traditions within cultures, and how we should turn our hearts toward understanding rather than disdain when we encounter something we don’t initially understand.

I was proud of her respectful response. And not only did our discussion lead to her recognizing aspects of her own culture, but she was also able to make connections in subsequent days to other unfamiliar cultural gestures (such as kissing cheeks in greeting).

Had Disney not been as dedicated to an authentic representation of the culture, this learning opportunity would have been lost (or worse, she would have gained a skewed perspective).

To me, this was a reminder of the critical role of authenticity in education. Wherever possible, we must seek out the honest and shun the watered-down. Not only will this give our students a more accurate view of the world around them, but their learning experiences will be richer for it.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Price of Diminishing (any) Relationships? Our Humanity.

“There’s something powerful and exciting about the society-wide experiment the digital age has thrust upon us.” ~James Estrin, National Geographic

I shared this quote this a few years ago in a post about how the digital age is altering education’s landscape. Today, it returns to mind as I reflect on how this “society-wide experiment” is impacting relationships. I have spent a good deal of time writing about how grateful I am to have the opportunity to make global connections that would never have been a possibility without technological advances.

But there are moments we ought to pause and consider some of the less positive detours this experiment can sometimes lead. Here’s a powerful short video by Matthew Frost that allows such reflection (please note that there is some language).

My question is this: whose humanity was diminished more in this video — Kirsten Dunst’s, or that of the 2 young women?

The moment we start to see anyone as less than a human being and more like an object to be used, or even as a product to be pushed through, we devalue our own humanity.

Of course, this base mentality has been around for much longer than the digital age, but devices, social media, and online anonymity provide a much more varied, efficient, and enticing ways to encourage it.

If there’s ever a time we’re willing to overlook another person’s need for authentic connection, we put our own ability to connect at risk. As the line between our digital and physical worlds become more and more blurred, we can’t hope that such a mindset will stay safely boxed in the moments when we think we have enough digital anonymity.

On the flipside, when we make authenticity and genuine connection a priority in all our interactions, we show that the impact of this digital experiment is to amplify positive connection in both the physical and digital sphere.

It also makes it easier to answer questions that involve the quality of our relationships, whether they are with our family members, our friends, or our students. Regardless of the possible efficiency or increased productivity or raised test scores, if the cost is quality relationships with one another, it is. not. worth it.

It would serve us all to remember that this society-wide digital experiment is, in fact, an experiment, and as such, we should occasionally stop to reflect on how it is shaping our lives.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Consuming that Leads to Creating #TeacherMom

While watching DisneyNature’s Growing Up Wild documentary, my two year old son assumes new roles: first, a bear. Then a monkey. Our dog becomes the scary lion. His crawling brother, a baby monkey. The couch, a big tree for scurrying to safety. For the rest of the day, we are not allowed to address him by his name, and with every turn, his surroundings transform into elements of his clearly vivid habitat.

We often hear caution about consuming — with technology, food, entertainment, and more. And especially when people allow themselves to be consumed by their own consumption — that is, they don’t reflect upon and make deliberate choices in what/how they consume — those warnings are probably warranted.

However, I am inspired as I further ponder this cycle of positive, deliberate consuming and creating. My son is currently enamored of the animal kingdom; every new show, book, or toy seems to spark some new fantastical adventure for him. As a toddler, he obviously isn’t yet terribly discerning in his media consumption. But when we help provide him with material that lends itself to his budding interests, he goes from being an passive audience to a vibrant creator.

And it makes me wonder…

…how often do we deliberately fuel our own fires with the things that bring us inspiration?

…how often do we teach our students to be similarly purposeful?

…what if, instead of attaching blanket shame to consuming, we spend our energies teaching our students to become more intentional and aware in their decision-making process?

I love that watching my kids’ creative process unfold gives me the opportunity to reflect on my own habits and interests — one of the more unexpected outcomes of a toddler pretending to be a monkey.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto