The Lesson I’ve Never Forgotten From a Parent’s Gentle Rebuke

Opening the door wide open for parent communication can sometimes be a scary thing — fear of the unknown, previous negative experiences, and limitations on time can all add up to create some understandable hesitation.

But each time I have chosen to lay aside these fears, I have always gained — not only in the way of building bridges with parents, but in learning how to improve my practices.

Here’s one example that has stuck with me:

A month into the school year, I started sending emails to all my students’ parents to touch bases, provide encouragement, and to build rapport.

To one of my student’s parents, I sent praise of her willingness to “be an example,” to “stay on task and participate,” and to “step out of her comfort zone to offer ideas” (as she was one of my quieter students).

I hit send and didn’t think twice — until I read her dad’s response:

“This is very helpful. Thank you for taking time with her. She really is a bright young lady. As an extra note, she has some real strength in analyzing math, science and comprehension. It seems that your approach will really reenergize her confidence in these learning skills.”

I never will know for sure whether her dad even intended this as any kind of rebuke, but that was certainly how it translated for me, and rightly so. For I had been so content with how compliant and agreeable his daughter was, I had overlooked her much more powerful strengths.

This father’s gracious response has stayed with me ever since. It stands as a reminder that we owe it to our students to dig deeper to help them uncover their passion, their power, their potential.

While we’re grateful for our students that don’t feel the need to violently rock the boat day in and day out, sometimes, their very lack of any boat-rocking can be cause for concern. We should dedicate time toward finding out why they are content to hide in the shadows, just as we dedicate time toward working with our regular boat-rockers on how to funnel their efforts more appropriately.

So keep sending those emails to parents. Keep searching out feedback. After all, the ones who benefit most from our doing so are our students.

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Noticing What Kids Can Do #TeacherMom

As I scanned the library cart of shiny new books, I noticed it: a brand new copy of “Leo the Late Bloomer” by Robert Kraus. With a wave of childhood nostalgia, I quickly added it to our bag, relishing the idea of sharing it with my kids for the first time.

My daughter picked it out for us to read over breakfast. But when I finished, that warm sentimental feeling I expected was no where to be found.

For those for whom it’s been a while since reading about Leo, here’s the gist of the story. Leo can’t read, write, draw, or eat neatly. His dad worries there’s something wrong with him and watches him closely for a while until mom convinces him to be patient. Then, when dad stops watching and some time passes, Leo blooms — suddenly reading, writing, drawing, and eating neatly. And that’s when Leo finally smiles, too (he’d had a morose frown throughout the rest of the story).

My daughter and I talked it over for a bit.

“…It’s like the author is saying that Leo couldn’t be happy until he could do everything the other kids could do.”

“…It seems like you go from not doing anything to suddenly being able to do everything.”

“…It makes it sound like the only  important things are reading, writing, drawing, and eating neatly.”

Then we started talking about other things kids can do that are really important, too. After throwing out a few ideas, we decided to write it down in a list. Here’s what we came up with:

I like her list. To me, these aren’t “consolation prizes” for not being able to read, write, draw, or eat neatly yet. It’s just a wider lens for recognizing what it means to grow up and finding ways to be proud of that growth.

I have a few more conclusions of my own to add:

  • It’s not that parents should just stop hovering in order to give kids space to grow; it’s that they should help create a joyous environment for learning and growth and then let kids take it from there.
  • It’s not where you are on a trajectory of growth; it’s that you’re on a trajectory of growth — and there are milestones worth celebrating all along that trajectory.
  • See this timely picture quote from George Couros’ latest blog post that sums up my last conclusion:
via George Couros

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Balancing Reading Challenge With Choice

It was another day of library time in fourth grade. Most of my classmates headed to the fiction section. A few dared the dark musty nonfiction corner (I still have no idea why it was always so poorly lit in that corner!). And I went for the picture books. I just couldn’t get enough of the pictures, and I certainly didn’t have the patience to spend 20 minutes reading just one page.

So it had gone week in and week out — until that momentous day that my sweet librarian, Mrs. Lutz, chose to intervene. She had apparently noticed my quiet reading habits, and chose to step in to offer a challenge. And what could easily have turned me off from reading instead launched me into the world of children’s fiction and deepened my self-identity as a reader.

How did she strike that careful balance of providing challenge without judgement?

Here’s what she did not do:

  • Tell me the books I was reading were babyish or below my level.
  • Prevent me from reading books of my choice.

Here’s what she did do:

  • Listened to what kept me coming back to the picture books (the pictures, of course).
  • Shared some books that she loved (that conveniently included some pictures).
  • Encouraged me to keep stretching my reading muscles.

It can seem an impossible task to help our students stretch themselves while simultaneously honoring their choices. And while choice should ultimately take precedence for their personal reading, finding this balance can help students expand their view of literary possibilities.

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5 What If’s to Finish Friday Strong

What if…

…today, we increased our efforts in helping students see that they matter?

…what if, today, we found ways to help them see themselves as mathematicians, readers, writers, scientists (rather than kids who do all those things)?

…what if, today, we found ways to let them know we trust them with choice?

…what if, today, we shared with our students some aspect of our personal, authentic learning experience?

…what if, today, we talked less and listened more?

…what if?

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“Watch Me” (An Extra Provocation Into “Can”) #TeacherMom

At long last, my youngest has started walking. Really, he seems to have started more in spite of his parents’ encouragement rather than because of it. But now that he’s at it, he simply radiates delight in this new ability.

There’s nothing quite like a newly-walking baby to get you pondering the concept of “CAN.” So in his honor, and for teachers and students everywhere whose sense of CAN might have become somewhat diminished, I’d like to share this provocation.

Resource #1: Casey Neistat Samsung Commercial: The Rest of Us

Resource #2: Ode to CAN 

Resource #3: This Could Fail by John Spencer

Provocation Questions: 

  • What are the different perspectives people hold when it comes to trying new things?
  • Why does discouragement happen?
  • What perspectives help people try again even when they fail?
  • What is our responsibility to tell ourselves and others “you can?”

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Inquiry Into Bullying

Our family’s move from southern California to the mountains of central Idaho took place the night before a December blizzard. Going from sandals to snow boots was entirely foreign for me, but I bundled up in what I thought was “When in Rome” apparel and headed to my new middle school.

It didn’t take long before I heard the not-so-quiet snort of sarcasm as I walked by: “Nice vest!”

I tried not to take it too hard, but when you’re 13 years old and in a new state that may as well be a new country, let’s just say that I didn’t exactly let it roll off my back. I certainly never wore that vest again.

As teachers, we work to teach our students what bullying is and what it is not. But often, misunderstandings persist, and bullying evolves in sneaky ways not necessarily identified during our group discussions.

Resource #1: How To Top a Bully by Brooks Gibbs (stop at 2:10 to discuss what the students notice–the rest of the video is excellent as well but does more explaining).

How To Stop A Bully

This video just might fix your kid's bullying problem!More resources at BrooksGibbs.com.

Posted by Brooks Gibbs on Monday, October 16, 2017

Resource #2: A Sincere Compliment by HooplaHa

Resource #3: Picture Books

Each Kindness by Jacquelin Woodson
One by Kathryn Otoshi

Provocation Questions:

  • How does the way we treat one another impact our schools? Communities? World?
  • What is bullying like?
  • What is bullying not like?
  • How does the way a person is treated affect the way they treat others?
  • In the face of bullying, what responsibility do resilience people have for people who are not yet as resilient?
  • What is the power of our words?

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Love & Logic Limits: Is It Always a Choice? #TeacherMom

The lack of a school-bell telling me where to be at all times is probably my Achilles heel of stay-at-home parenthood. So a couple mornings ago — having gotten sidetracked by my newest flea-bitten idea for making our small space function more efficiently — by the time I got showered and ready for the day, my preschooler had stealthily pilfered the refrigerator and my one year old had had a fabulous time with a contraband stick of gum.

What’s more, having had a late bedtime the night before, my three year-old was also clearly ready for an early nap — evidenced by the fact when I asked him if he was ready to choose his clothes to go buy groceries, he dissolved into melt-down mode because he wanted a snack first. To top it off, the entire episode devolved to him irrationally stomping on his baby brother’s hands.

Now, if I were to focus on a strictly Love and Logic approach here, I might have told my 3 year year-old something like this: “Son, what sad choices to refuse to wear your clothes and to hurt your brother! I’m going to do something about this. We’ll talk later.”

Limitation #1: When we mistakenly assume that this is just about a poor choice. Such a response may help to temporarily and even effectively diffuse the situation, but it ultimately tends to puts the blame squarely on his shoulders when, in fact, there were factors so far beyond his control at work here (late bedtime, off-schedule morning, etc) that he was now operating in fight/flight mode.

Enter the discussion on “stress behavior.”

I’m fascinated by the concept of misbehavior vs stress behavior in Stuart Shanker’s Self-Reg. He writes:

“The concept of misbehavior is fundamentally tied to those of volitionchoice, and awareness. It assumes that the child willingly chose to act the way he did. He could have acted differently, was even aware that he should have acted differently. But stress behavior is physiologically based. When this happens, the child is not deliberately choosing his actions or aware in a rational way of what he’s doing…because his nervous system, triggered by a sense of threat, shifts to fight or flight. There are some simple ways to gauge when we’re dealing with misbehavior. Ask the child why he did such and such, and if he answers with any explanation — no matter what his rationale — there’s a pretty good chance he knew what he was doing. Or ask him to tell you with a straight face that he didn’t know that what he was doing was wrong. Stress behavior also reveals itself quickly. If you see confusion, fear, anger, or deep distress in that face, if your child averts his eyes or finds it hard to even just look at you, those are often signs of hyperarousal and of stress behavior.”

Older students aren’t going to have the same self-regulatory issues as the little ones, but we should still be on the look-out for when they arise, and cultivate their ability to self-regulate in the meantime.

Limitation #2: When we mistakenly assume that this is just about defiance. This is closely linked with the first. For our discussion on this limitation, we’ll take a look at this “nobody loses” approach on the Love & Logic blog below:

First, a disclaimer. Maybe Jessie was causing serious trouble and disturbing Brittany by moving her chair to work with her. If that’s the case, then I think this is an absolutely fitting Love & Logic response. However, if Jessie was simply trying to solve her problem of needing help by seeking it from a peer (as per the Love & Logic rule that we can do anything to solve our problems as long as it does not cause a problem for you or anyone else), it begs the question of whether the Love & Logic response here was necessary to begin with.

If our goal is control, then we will reap defiance in abundance.

I appreciate another passage from Self-Reg here:

“As parents [and teachers] it’s natural to assume that when our child’s behavior or our reactions feel “out of control,” then control is what’s missing. But to focus on control is also to shut down opportunity: end of discussion, end of a potentially constructive interaction, end of a teachable moment of lasting value. Self-Reg instantly opens the moment to opportunity. That begins with the simple act of asking, “Why now?””

And if the teacher in this hypothetical focuses more on control than on Jessie’s need for help, then an opportunity is missed indeed.

Naturally, angry, rude, and disrespectful outbursts are never acceptable, and require correction. But I wonder if we might find ourselves doing less correcting if we instead adopt what’s found in Brene Brown’s “Engaged Feedback Checklist” (esp #1, 2, and 7 for our context here):

Failure to recognize these limitations — to treat all poor behavior as deliberate and disrespectful decisions — can ultimately damage relationships with those who most need our help.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto