Tuesday, August 16, 2011

LET CHILDREN ACHIEVE HAS MOVED TO TUMBLR. FIND LCA HERE:http://letchildrenachieve.tumblr.com/

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Recently I was passed this inspiring short film by Rick Mereki. Mr. Mereki has done a series of three films and all can be found here, but the one I want to talk about today is titled LEARN.
Take a quick look at the film and you will see Mr. Mereki EXPLORING in his learning process. In fact learning is specifically portrayed as a process in which one travels, explores and learns about things foreign and mundane, but all stem from the individual's interests.
Is this what school looks like these days? Maybe there is the rare classroom that reflects this idea and inspires students to chase down their inspiration for life, but those experiences are far and few between.
In our cluttered world of testing and observing and modifying our students we have almost no room left for Mr. Mereki's kind of learning, but isn't it this kind of freedom to learn we spend most of our lives trying to attain?
It makes me ponder, what is learning? Is what our students do now learning? How do we inspire our children to find their innate interests, the questions they desire to find the deepest most satisfying answers to? How we do serve up  a healthy dose of inspiration for our children?
That is the tragic missing piece in classrooms across the country. Teachers and students operate daily without the spicy, edge of the seat sort of inspiration that is seen in the LEARN video. In fact in most schools there is little or no access to art, music, film, photography or education about cooking, food or culture. These are tossed out because the influence they have on us cannot be measured. However, can we imagine a world without them?
The ideas we need in order for our society to grow and prosper, won't come from a test score.  It will come from inspiration and real, life tactile learning.  Do we have the fortitude to defend every child's chance to innovate and imagine and learn?
If we allow ourselves to  be swept away by the tsunami of standardization that now threatens the core of inspiration that drives us as humans, we won't last. It is our ability to adapt that has allowed humans to live so long yet be so physically weak.  We have what the rest of the animal kingdom does not. We have creation in our hands. We have innovation in our fingers. We have imagination on our side.
How will we imagine today? How will we foster change where just moments before it seemed impossible? That is the amazing thing about inspiration, imagination and learning. It changes the world in an instant! Where there was no answer before, there is one now.
What will we do today to inspire and grow the imaginations of our students?
Thank you Mr. Mereki for sharing with the world your beautiful inspiration to learn.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When In Doubt

When we are growing up, most of us are taught that to have doubt is a negative feeling. We are taught we need to know what we want to be, where we want to live, how we want to live, who we want to marry and how much money we want to acquire. In fact knowing insinuates a toughness, a clarity, a wiseness, a single mindedness that will allow us to walk one very straight and narrow path to glory. It conjures images of rough riding cowboys, roping cattle and staring into the sunset. They know their destiny.  They know they are cowboys 'til the end.
Doubt is given a bad wrap. If we have doubts there is something wrong. In fact, there is an entire self help industry built on getting rid of doubt, but what if doubt isn't so bad? What if doubt is what we actually need to help us find better solutions, whether it is for our personal  lives or our academic explorations? Doubt is the moment when we stop and question what we believe to be reality.  What if we started to doubt all the things in our personal lives that cause us trouble. What if we really stopped and questioned if our child was "behind" in reading or math. Is it possible they are? Sure. Is it possible they aren't? Sure.  What if we paused to question whether our child really needed extra tutoring. Is it possible they do? Sure. Is it also possible they don't? Sure.
When we begin to call into question all that we have taken for granted in education, then we can begin the transformation process because we will no longer be accepting traditions without looking to see if they truly are working for us. Are there things that do work in our system? Yes and we should keep those, but not without questioning them first. The process must be endured before an outcome is settled upon.
In school we train kids away from doubt. We tell them not to doubt themselves. We tell them not to doubt what we are telling them. We teach them lessons that push them in a single direction without fostering a sense of inquiry. In fact in a school setting crammed with test taking and a focus on teaching specific techniques to reach a certain goal, the state of inquiry is often frowned upon. We simply don't have time to sit around and question what we are learning!
But what if we taught The Doubt of Science and The Doubt of History? We would be growing minds ripe for critical thinking instead of ones conditioned to fill in bubble sheets.
As every great inventor or thinker will tell you, their most profound moments began with doubt. All inventions start at a point of inquiry.  All the great philosophies and religions of the world started with a moment of thoughtful doubt in which the individual said, "I'm just not sure that is true. Let's think about this for a moment." With that they were off and running, molding and shaping how we now view and understand humanity thousands of years later.
Doubt needs to be modeled by adults. In our own process of sifting through education reform we can teach our children how to doubt what is put in front us and question deeply the best route to take. We can give them the confidence to doubt, to stand up for what they believe to be right, even if that doubt flies in the face of power and authority.  Doubt and inquiry are not something to be taught in the classroom with an instruction manual. They are processes we simply have to make time for, allowing our children to discover, explore and doubt the way adults currently view and understand the human condition. This shouldn't feel like a threat to us. It is simply the inquiry of future generations as they graduate into the caretakers of the world.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Crime and Punishment

How do we help our children understand that they are in full control of their lives, free to make the choices that are best for them?  How do our children learn independence through our rules? Do our rules set them up to believe that there is always someone in charge and it isn't them?
I have been thinking about this throughout the week. In our house we use time outs as punishments. What I recently realized was that our kids often feel like victims. They feel, as I believe a lot of children do, as if I am imposing my rules on them. I am in charge and they need to do what I say. It quickly becomes rather dictatorial.
I have been uncomfortable with this set up the entire time I have been a parent and have tried less aggressive approaches, but they usually don't work. After six years of parenting, I am finally clear on how to handle crime and punishment.
Our children have their independence. They always have it. It doesn't have to be earned or gained when they are older. They are always free, but at a very young age they would be not be able to care for themselves. So we have to care for them, show them how to behave in society, show them how to care for others. But through this whole process they are free. We are simply facilitators of life lessons. So how do we use our rules to shape them, but not remove their freedom?  How do we punish without turning our children into victims?
As a parent I simply need to present them with the options available to at that moment. I'm the facilitator, not the dictator. They are are the choice maker, not the victim.
For example, my son has a friend over and they are being very  loud and enthusiastic about setting up a pretend lemonade stand. I have asked them several times to quiet down because the baby is sleeping.  The third time I speak with them I say,
"I know you are having fun, but I have asked you several times to quiet down because your baby brother is sleeping. When you were a baby we were quiet for you and let you rest. We need to do the same for him.  You can choose to be kind and loving and remember that he needs his sleep or you can choose to not be loving and kind towards him and be noisy. If you make the choice to keep being noisy, then your friend will have to go home."
If the friend is sent home and he is upset, I simply refer back to this conversation and remind him that I explained to him what was going to happen. He made the choice, not me.
When I explain it this way, he isn't the victim and I am not the dictator. He is independent of me. There is a healthy indifference and the choice isn't based on my rules. It is based on whether he chooses to demonstrate kindness towards his brother.  That is a choice that will mature over time and if he just isn't ready to make that choice right now, that is fine.  The friend will simply have to go home.
It takes the burden off of me to force him to be good. I don't have to! What transpires is a direct result of what he is capable of doing mentally and emotionally at that time. I simply have to carry out the actions I explained to him earlier. That's it.  I don't have to get angry. I don't have to feel bad. While he may become upset if his friend goes home, this strong emotional response only helps him realize the repercussions of his actions. That's a good thing! Perhaps he'll think more about what he is doing and dig deeper emotionally next time to try to show kindness towards his brother. I can even remind him of that if the issue arises again, but in the end it is up to him to make the choice that best suits him at that moment.
When all is said and done there is no good decision or bad decision, just learning and facilitating. That is our job as parents. Helping our kids feel empowered in life and free to make their choices is part of what we do. Our kids aren't victims of anything if we give them the power to choose otherwise.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What Does It Mean to "Provide"?

When we talk about providing for our children most of us think about food, shelter and clothing, but what else do we need to provide?
Our kids need more than the basics to survive. They look to parents as their first role model and teacher in life. What role model are we providing? When they get to school they look to their teachers as role models and purveyors of important information. What are we giving them?
Providing for our children means giving them a sense of value for human life, whether it be their own or someone else's.  When we become eclipsed with core standards, standardized tests and the introduction of too much technology into education, we loose track of the importance of the human-ness of raising a child.
Our children are not machines. They are not investments. They are not coming off an assembly line. They are not guinea pigs to be tested on. They are flesh and blood beings, with hearts that need nourishment and brains that need guidance.
How are we providing it?
My greatest goal as a parent is to inspire my children to feel confident and happy in their lives, no matter what they decide to do.  This means that every day I strive to lead a principled life, one that demonstrates value toward every member of my family and community. It means that when faced with difficult decisions, a bad day or a stressful situation, I have to remember that my actions influence them. In fact my reaction to life is a far more powerful influence than any reading, math or writing lesson they will ever receive.  The imprint of what I show them will last throughout their lives. It will effect their decision, their relationships and their success.
If we demonstrate to them that their value is based on test scores, percentiles and the number of friends they have on Facebook, they will be forever influenced in this direction. They will lead their lives in a such a way as to make these things their most important goals, their greatest accomplishments.  Is that what we want?  Is this going to be the kind of person that looks with compassion and care toward humanity, a person that looks to serve and care for others?
Providing an atmosphere of respect for human life, ideas, emotions and interactions is what will drive us successfully through the twenty-first century.  What are you providing today?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Art of Teaching Art

For the past year I have been homeschooling our six year old son.  As a former teacher I had a good grasp on the basics of teaching a young child to read and write, but what I was not versed in was play. Strange, right? You would think that if a person taught kindergarten they would understand the importance of play, but I'm not talking about play just for kids.  I am speaking about the need for adults to lead by example.
We have now been homeschooling for nine months and it has taken me until this month to figure out the importance of my own playful, creative attitude. Teaching my son isn't just about instructing him on the basics of reading and writing. It is also about sharing with him my passions and interests.  If I'm not doing that, I am probably holding back. 
For example, I have a BA in Studio Art and I have been a passionate writer and reader since I was a very young child. I love to play with words, make rhymes, compose songs, dive into paints. I have been writing stories and poetry since I was seven, but I had not introduced my favorite artists, writers, opera singers and other creatives to my son.  Why not?!

There was a time a long time ago when learning how to draw, learning how to compose music, reading poets and the tales told by fantastic storytellers was considered an important of educating a child.  As we have turned more and more to manufactured education we have lost our grasp on how important these influences are on our children.  Showing children examples of great art work and great writers helps them to dream, open their minds to all they could achieve. It helps them innovate and we need innovators to move us successfully through the 21st century.  Educating our children is not simply about teaching the basics of reading and writing skills. It is also about facilitating the immeasurable skill of imagination and innovation.  Without these traits our children are educated to merely be machines, cogs in a wheel of a larger top down, uninventive society that is ruled by a few at the top who may or may not have the best interests of our society and our children in mind.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Who Cares?

We all want teachers to care for our students. I know it is the first thing I look for when I enter a school as a parent or as a fellow teacher.  Perhaps based on the instinct to care for our young we want teachers to bring empathy and compassion to the classroom. However, these traits tend to be lost in today's cluttered educational atmosphere. With testing, budget cuts and union issues making headlines, these more fundamental, but extremely important concerns, don't make it into our conversations. There haven't been any recent news stories about how to attract and train compassionate, empathic teachers.   I suppose the story just isn't as sexy as parents arrested for sending their kids to the "wrong" school or the debate over core standards, but the long term effects of attracting and training  teachers who genuinely care for kids is perhaps much more important. After all, we aren't raising up auto matrons. Our kids need to be taught and shown examples of adults who are inspired, show concern for others and make accommodations for the unique needs of the individual. I know this is a tall order in our current educational environment, but the truth is we can't loose track of the fundamental characteristics that make an excellent teacher.
I am joined today by Dr. Perry Wiseman. Dr. Wiseman is the founder of Wise Foundations, as well as the principal of the middle school he was honored to help found, organize and continues to lead in Southern California.  He is also author of the book Strong Schools, Strong Leaders.  You can read more about his innovative approach to giving a voice to the power of the school community on his website.
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Wiseman a few questions concerning the changes we are seeing in education today. Here is one question that is every parent's mind.

1.  In an educational system filled with requirements, test scores, bonuses and lay offs, how can we find educators who feel an urge for care towards our children?

Every organization, whether private or public, has requirements and accountability. Some are stringent and inflexible; others are, on the other hand, more relaxed. Yet no matter where an institution falls on this spectrum, disgruntled, unmotivated employees naturally surface. Perhaps it is the automaton with the desk job clocking in, lackadaisically going through the motions, and then clocking out. Or it is the classroom teacher lacking in enthusiasm, closing his or her classroom door, unwilling to learn new skills—truly modeling the antithesis of the profession. The question becomes: What’s their driving force?

I have always been a member of the “glass is half full” club and firmly believe that people go into a profession wanting to make a difference. Particularly, a classroom teacher demonstrating an uncaring persona isn’t blatantly aiming to harm students’ futures. The problem lies in the fact that they either, one, don’t yet have the skill set (or ability) to work with children; or, two, they are somehow unconnected, operating within their own bubble, isolated from the rest of the community. And a lack of motivation versus a lack of capability clearly requires different approaches.

We’ll start off by tackling the lack of ability issue. This one is pretty cut and dry. Teachers needing assistance must be given intensive site and district support with celebrations at each milestone. And those key players providing support must demonstrate that they care, that their competent, and that they’re consistent.

The second issue, motivation, is a little more intricate and involved. Teachers, more often than not, are discontented and aloof because they feel that they are not being listened to, they feel as though their ideas are not being heard. Obviously, when individuals aren’t appreciated or given opportunities to contribute to change, they begin to steer opposite of the organizations vision and values. It then becomes a tug-o-war with the feeling of: Why should I feed the needs of the organization if the organization is not attending to my fundamental needs? In other words, why should I care about others if they don’t care about me?

So to overcome a lack of dedication to the profession, school and district leaders need to create cultures where it is commonplace for everyone’s ideas to be put on the table—so to speak. No matter the external circumstances that may surface—changes in education code, increased accountability, budgets crises, and so forth—the answers ultimately lie in the room. Unveiling the collective intelligence of any group of teachers will lead to innovation, as well as an unwavering commitment from all.

To end I would like to share a few words from Arne Duncan, United States Secretary of Education, which parallels my outlook. In a recent letter to American teachers he stated, “…how we recognize, honor, and show respect for our experienced educators will reaffirm teaching as a profession of nation builders and social leaders dedicated to our highest ideals” (Retrieved on May 8, 2011 from http://tinyurl.com/3q4f65v).

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Back to School

Please excuse my silence for the past few weeks. I have started  a new journey, a journey back into teaching. Before I had children and became involved in education advocacy I lived and worked on the Navajo reservation in western New Mexico as a kindergarten teacher. It was my first job out of college and was by the far the most difficult thing I had ever attempted.  As any teacher will tell you the first few years of teaching can be mind blowingly difficult and my job was complicated by lack of funds, lack of support, lack of knowledge of what I was doing and a cavernous distance between me and my family back in the midwest.
Despite all odds, though, I succeeded. I thrived and so did my students. I have never lost my love for educating and now after a six year hiatus to raise our kids, I hope to return to the classroom this fall.
Currently I am visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico where I took my re certification test yesterday in order to renew my teaching license.
So here I go. Wish me luck! I plan on writing and detailing the journey and I hope you join me. I know going back to the classroom will color my blog and hopefully bring to this site a palpable experience of our current educational system.  The journey into achievement and what it means to succeed in the twenty first century continues. I know my students will have plenty to teach me.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

To Fail or Not to Fail

Parents know what is best for their kids and as all parents know, struggle is part of growing, learning and becoming an adult. Part of  being a parent is watching our kids fail, struggle and overcome their obstacles. Last week I read this piece about failure being cool from The Good Men Project. It got me thinking about the importance of failing and how our ideas of failure have gotten a little skewed.
Currently I'm not sure we really understand the importance of failure and this is strange because our cultural history is based in failure. A few brave men and women, after being persecuted and failing to thrive across the Atlantic, hopped a boat to find a place where they could build something better. Later we erected the Statue of Liberty to welcome those who, just like their American predecessors, needed a place to start fresh and put their failures behind them. The poem on The Statue of Liberty states,

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door. 

We open our arms to those have failed before and want to start a new life.  It is this dream, whether realized or not, that has always moved our culture forward.  Our message has always been that one can find a unique and personal form of achievement here. Cookie cutter education and assembly line testing don't honor the power of failure and don't embrace the potential unique success of each person.
Let's pretend for a moment we talking about a woodland school for animals. The classroom and tests are set up for rabbits and they excel with learning and testing at school. If a rabbit falls behind they are motivated to succeed because they see other rabbits doing great. The frogs start to fall behind as do the birds.  It doesn't take long until the frogs and birds are dropping out, withdrawing from the educational community all together.  Soon there are birds joining gangs and frogs being picked up for petty larceny. So to curb the flight of failing students, the parents and educators who identify with the frogs and birds start wanting to educating them differently, taking them to different schools in hopes to find success. Does this analogy ring a bell?
Failure is either a catalyst for success or a catalyst for withdraw. The failure our culture was based upon motivated success. It didn't cause withdraw.
The struggle our kids encounter in school shouldn't cause them to withdraw from the system.   Educating a child is about giving them the tools to overcome failure and become successful. If we only educate the rabbits, soon the forest will be over run with  elite academically successful rabbits. There will be no bird song and we won't hear the frogs croaking in the twilight.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mirror Mirror on the Wall...

Recently while paging through the Social North site I read Julia Rosien's post about filming the Dove Singin' in the Rain Commercial. Ms. Rosien participated in the filming of the ad and shares her thoughts about Dove's ad campaign that uses real women of all ages, races and ethnicities to celebrate the extraordinary success and spirit of women. 
Dove isn't just trying to sell soap in this ad.  There is something more at stake here than a bar of soap or a bottle of shampoo. Dove is attempting to raise awareness about the determinants of believing there is only one kind of beauty and that this beauty equals success.
We live in a culture in which women are often held to an impossible standard of beauty. It is a culture in which the dream  never matches the reality, even in the most ideal situation.
However, the problem isn't only the poor body image that results from being bombarded by this shallow message. There is another extremely damaging side effect.  Because we think less of our bodies, we think less of ourselves.  Self image is the pivotal factor in how much any of us passionately pursue our life long goals. We must start with a basic sense of "I am good enough." If our daughters look in the mirror and see a person they like and say, "I am good enough" they will reach farther, achieve more and feel more confident in the process.  If they don't see a person they believe to be "good enough", then they will sell themselves short.  They will never attempt to attain their dream. Our job is to show our daughters that every face is one of success.
What Dove attempts to do by pointing out the variance in beauty doesn't just send a message about the perfect imperfections of the body, it also points to the fact that every face of success looks different. True success doesn't lie in physical perfection. It lies in the perseverance to achieve and attain a personal dream.
 I want my daughter to look in the mirror and not focus on the color of her eyes or the texture of her hair. I don't want her to be reduced to self criticism that will limit the vision of herself and keep her from making her best contribution to the world. I want her to see the face of a successful woman.
So, thank you Dove for celebrating women in all their many forms of physical beauty and for all their achievements. And thank you Julia Rosien, for participating in this insightful ad campaign that opens viewers to the idea that success and achievement start with a sense of "I am good enough", not an airbrushed ideal.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gardening: A Portal for Understanding our Interconnectedness

As our world becomes more and more socially connected through technology, building relationships and respect for the global community becomes more important, not less. This global community is not limited to human interactions, however.  As we deepen our understanding of interconnectedness, we must also deepen our respect for all living, breathing creatures and the need we all have for our earth to thrive, produce resources and support humanity. 
 How can children learn to work in harmony with their surroundings and this expansive idea of community that now faces us in the 21st century? 
What better place to start than with a past time that every culture on earth has in common, gardening. The earth, the dirt, the seeds, the desire to observe the growth of an organism is shared by all people.  Whether we are plant or animal we are dependent upon the same soil, air and water to sustain our life force.
Recently Lori Lite of Stress Free Kids, shared her family's spring gardening project on her blog. Ms. Lite, like many moms, is looking to foster an underlying sense of respect, responsibility and the growth of positive relationships within her family and the world. She shares a beautiful and inspiring post about her daughter and her husband planning and creating a garden together.  Read her full article and recommendations for family gardening here.  The lessons learned in the garden about a healthy lifestyle, interconnectedness, respect and responsibility will carry our children all the way through life and even into the vast  unplanned gardens of social media and technology, into a world yet uncharted by any of us yet intimately shared by all us. 

Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders,
If it's only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders;
And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden,
You will find yourself a partner in the Glory of the Garden. 

-Rudyard Kipling, from  "The Glory of the Garden"

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Thread that Keeps it Together

Today is Mother's Day.  Other years I have passed this holiday quietly with  my family, perhaps enjoying a yummy homemade breakfast, kisses from the kids and a lovely bouquet of flowers.  However, this year it is all a bit different. This year I am fully engaged as an advocate for education and play and this involvement has pushed me to look a little deeper into the role of mother. How do our mothers help us achieve?
This past week Thomas Matlack of the Good Men Project, shared with me his Mother's Day post. As I read the amazing interview he did with his mother about his childhood and decisions she made along the way, I was struck with the thought that it is not our faults or weaknesses that define us as parents.  It isn't the things we recognize as mistakes years later that permanently color whether we are successful parents. Rather it is how we respond to the obstacles placed before us.As you read Mr. Matlack's piece you will hear intimately about the obstacles his family faced. Some of those struggles will probably be familiar, but what you will also hear about is a woman who constantly experimented and worked to find a solution to those problems.  That is what a parent who strives for excellence and achievement does. They never stop working to find a situation, a job, a house, a school or a community that will help themselves and their family.
Motherhood has changed over the decades and women have more choices than ever before about how they want to lead their lives.  However, the one thing that continues to define us as mothers is our dedication to doing what is best for our families. It isn't the faults we all have or the weaknesses that we are all plagued with. We continue to be best defined by if and how we choose to overcome our obstructions.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Revolutionizing Motherhood

In honor of Mother's Day I am joined by Liz Lange of Liz Lange Maternity. She has become a fashion pioneer.  Ms. Lange is the only maternity clothing designer to show her work at New York Fashion Week, is author of Liz Lange’s Maternity Style: How to look fabulous during the most fashion-challenged time and her work has been covered by Entrepreneur magazine, Women’s Wear Daily, the Harvard Business Review and Fortune, who named her a “Top 10 to Watch” entrepreneur.
She shares with us how she got started designing maternity clothes:

Back in the late 1990s when I was in my 20s, my friends started to get pregnant (I myself was newly married but not yet pregnant - that came later. Today my children are 12 and 10.)
All my pregnant friends had the same complaint: they couldn't find maternity clothing that made them feel normal, pretty and in many cases professional. I had an aha moment that I could make maternity clothing that looks just like regular clothing and, if I used only stretch fabrics, I could even make it fitted unlike the hugely oversized garments which were currently on offer. I had no background in design (I went to Brown University and studied Comparative Literature) but I did have a love of fashion and a good sense of style - my first job out of college was at Vogue.

As a mom of three, I can testify to the fact that putting on a pair of beautiful maternity jeans or a fashionable winter sweater changes the way I feel about being a mom. In that moment the hardships of pregnancy can slip away and once again the self confidence I felt before I was pregnant can be restored. I feel beautiful.
It isn't just  maternity fashion that has been revolutionized in recent years, however. In fact it is the fundamental way we think about and view pregnancy.  Ms Lange goes on to say,

I firmly believed then as I do now, that pregnancy is a sexy and celebratory time in a woman's life (perhaps the most life changing) and that the clothing should reflect that.

No longer is pregnancy something to be ashamed of or covered up with shapeless clothes or to hide in the house because of. Rather it has become something to be honored and celebrated and is actively, visibly part of our lives. Finally.  Pregnancy has made its way out from underneath baggy frocks and out from behind closed doors. It has been elevated right to the forefront of our creative fashion culture and our mainstream collective conversation, and all this thanks to innovative leaders like Ms. Lange.
What does this mean for our children? It means that when they look back at their experience of mother, they won't see a woman who has compromised a piece of herself. They will see a woman who was proud of being a mom, unashamed of her body and embracing the fullness of becoming and being a mother.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The "Cool Factor"

With all the blame ricocheting around the discussion of education reform, it is easy to loose track of the most important element of this collective conversation, the children. The real questions we should be asking aren't about WHO is at fault.   It is not the fault of one party, one group or one policy. We are ALL responsible for the well being of our children. None of us have done the job we needed to do, not teachers, not parents, not teachers unions, not education reforms, not administrators and not policy makers. If we had, we wouldn't be in this position.
The fear that many education reformers have today is that the constant over use of assessments and merit pay will result in a culture of meritocracy amongst teachers. In other words, we will create a community of teachers who are only striving to get by and keep their jobs.
The problem is, their worst fear has already arrived.  We already have a culture of meritocracy in education. This is why the "best and brightest" aren't flocking to teaching schools. This is why the fight for merit pay is on and why many politicians are embracing arguments in favor of basing compensation on testing and other evaluations. If there was a culture of excellence, would merit pay be relevant?
Fear, however, is not the best motivator.  Holding teachers in a fearful relationship with administrators and politicians doesn't necessarily build the sort of culture of excellence we are looking to attain in education.So what will? We need to change the way we do business in schools, in the classroom and in our relationships with students. We must begin to foster a respect for teaching. We must hold teaching in a place in our general culture that properly represents its importance.  I was speaking with a LA special ed teacher over the weekend and she mentioned the lack of a "cool factor" in teaching these days. I happen to agree with her.
There is not a culture of recognition for the achievements that are being made amongst great teachers or students. We don't brag about teachers the way we brag about athletes, doctors, lawyers, movie stars or politicians. Why would young people want to become a teacher?  It isn't going to be for the pay or the prestige. We haven't conjured enough respect or even a bit of "cool factor" for education.
Teaching is not just another job where you punch in the time card in the morning and punch out in the afternoon. This is not a job one should take just for good benefits and long vacations. If these are the sorts of people that we are attracting to education, we have to seriously ask ourselves why we are not attracting passionate teachers who want to strive for excellence in education. We are not giving teachers a place to express themselves and their passion. We need to pay educators for innovation, passion and excellence not only test scores and assessments. Now, that is the sort of merit pay I could stand fully behind.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dr. Michael Thompson: Experiences in Boyhood

With the help of Thomas Matlack of The Good Men Project and Michael Hall of Strong Fathers, Strong Families, we have been talking a lot about raising boys in the 21st century.  Today we turn to psychologist, school consultant and author Dr. Michael Thompson for his insightful look into how we can do our best to raise sensitive, masculine, well balanced boys.  Is education serving our them? How is it suppressing their masculinity? Do we take gender differences into consideration when we structure academics?Please share your thoughts.
You may know Dr. Thompson from his New York Times best selling book and documentary "Raising Cain". He is also author of "It's A Boy!" and "Homesick and Happy", as well as five other books. You can read more about his work here.

What innate tendencies are being lost as we suppress masculinity in education and in parenting that would naturally allow boys to become healthy, happy fathers and providers for their families? 
All over the world, boys play hunt-and-chase games and they wrestle.  Many people call this “aggressive” or “violent play,” but I disagree.  It isn’t meant to hurt or do harm.  Boys are wired for “rough-and-tumble play” and for certain kinds of dominance behaviors; other boys understand that most of that is not bullying.

How would a boy develop a sense of confidence  if their education were less structured by the academic community?
A majority of boys seem to learn through experience, not through being told or trying to follow rules.  They develop both skills and confidence by recovering from their own mistakes.  The question is:  do their parents have enough trust in boy development to let them take some risks and make some mistakes?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Thomas Matlack: Balancing

Thomas Matlack of The Good Men Project joins us for a final discussion about how a child can find balance between the obligation he/she has to grow, achieve and learn for personal aspirations and a commitment to the wider community.  Balance is something we all have a hard time finding and in a culture that pushes us all to indulge and focus on ourselves, how do we teach our children the careful balance between doing for themselves and doing for others? How do we teach our children to find their identity in these rough waters? 
In two earlier posts Mr. Matlack discussed developing humility and how a young man can use his inner compass to guide his life.
Mr. Matlack co-founded The Good Men Project in 2008 and since then has appeared on national and local television and has traveled the country promoting a new kind of conversation about manhood, one that pushes men to think deeply about what they believe and how they define themselves in the twenty first century. 

What do believe is the balance between a child’s obligations to himself and the obligation he has to the community to learn, grow and become an active, productive member of society?
I don't see these obligations as being in competition with one another.  As social animals we are all individuals in a community.  As boys and men, we need to grow into our own identity but that identity is crafted in large part by how we treat the people around us, ultimately as sons, fathers, husbands and in the work place.  A key is to be the same person in each role whether out in the world, with our family at home, or alone.  So many men get in trouble by compartmentalizing and in essence living double lives.  One definition of being a "good" man is simply to live a life sticking to a single identity, a single core set of values and attributes as a boy and then man. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Every Mother Counts

I had the pleasure of joining the #Moms4Moms Twitter party recently and discuss the right every woman in the world has for a safe and healthy birthing experience. I have to admit, it was one of my first Twitter parties. How amazing to be able to sit in my pjs, on my couch, with my mud mask covering my face and talk with insightful women about life changing issues. Now that is multitasking! I loved the whole conversation. Before the party started I had the pleasure of speaking with Holly Pavlika of Big Fuel and Mom-entum about the Moms4Moms movement.
Women hold a lot of power in our society. It is time we realize how powerful we really are to make the social change we know is important and relevant to our families. We know how to help children and families achieve. What are we waiting for?"Inspired by Christy Turlington and her EveryMotherCounts.org mission to spread the word about this critical issue, we hope to help drive awareness and action through the power of Moms and our digital relationships", says Ms. Pavlika. Read on to hear more about how women are making waves of change for one another.

In this day and age when so much of what we contemplate during the day is focused on information we are fed from the main stream media, how do we break the cycle of mind numbing news that fills our world and reach towards movements, like Moms4Moms, that puts us in touch with an inspiration to help other parents?
I think the key is relationships. And that's why I love social media. When you've built a community and engaged with them in a human, honest and relevant way, that trust enables you to get out messages that break the cycle.

When I look at your site I see the staggering statistics associated with maternal care. It is clear the power mothers have when they are working together as a unit to make change. How can the mom at home folding the laundry today recognize her potential to help other moms?
I'm a great believer it's the small things that add up to the large. Obama did it with micro-donations and his campaign. It's the voices of a million Moms joining together that can make change. Two cell phones in a single location in Rwanda could change the lives of the Moms there. So a Mom doing laundry can have an impact. And EveryMotherCounts.org has made it easy through Hope Phones– nothing to do other than drop the phones in the postage paid box they supply.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Thomas Matlack: Building Humility

Today we are once again joined by Thomas Matlack of the Good Men Project. Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Matlack about the importance of building humility amongst kids. It isn't a character trait often discussed in education reform conversations, but the emotional well being of our children should be at the top of the priority list. After all, without a well balanced emotional outlook in life, their physical achievements will not hold proper significance.
We dedicate a lot of time in our child rearing culture to building self esteem, but how much time is too much time to spend heaping praise onto a child? In a culture that wants everyone to be a winner and receive a trophy, a star or a pat on the back, how do we teach our children the benefits of working hard and earning praise?  Unnecessary praise of kids stunts their emotional development and they transform into adults that can't clearly understand their actual strengths and weaknesses. Allowing a child to be too much the focus of attention doesn't allow humility to blossom. How can parents and teachers find balance between praise, fostering a sense of community and an honest picture of personal success for each student? How can we begin this acceptance of our children and how can we teach them to accept their limitations? Read on to hear about Mr. Matlack's personal experience with fostering humility with his sons.
Mr. Matlack co-founded The Good Men Project in 2008 and since then has appeared on national and local television and has traveled the country promoting a new kind of conversation about manhood, one that pushes men to think deeply about what they believe and how they define themselves in the twenty first century. 

How does a boy find humility when parent spends too much time building self esteem?

My own experience of ego is that it is based on fear.  All these guys (myself included by the way) going around beating their chests all puffed up is really about fearing that we are not good enough, won't measure up.  Ego is a very fragile shell that is easily cracked.  Underneath is terror.  I see this in my 15 year old son who is the most upbeat, charismatic boy with plenty of swagger.  Just one well placed sentence, often unintentional on my part, can reduce him to tears.  

So how do you cultivate humility?  Through love.  And teaching your boys that they are perfect just the way they are.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Who's Helping Kids Achieve?

Here is a short list of a few inspiring and innovative things I saw on the internet this week. If you have something you would like featured next week, please share in the comments section and I will check it out!

  • This inspirational video from Student's First pushes educators, parents and students to open an honest and clear dialogue about what is happening in education right now.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thomas Matlack: Finding the Inner Compass

Let Children Achieve is honored to be joined by Thomas Matlack, co-founder of The Good Men Project. Mr. Matlack started The Good Men Project in 2008 and since then has appeared on national and local television and has traveled the country promoting a new kind of conversation about manhood, one that pushes men to think deeply about what they believe and how they define themselves in the twenty first century. The Good Men Project Magazine offers innovative conversations for people who enjoy thinking critically about social roles and strive to contribute positively to the world.  Over the next few posts, Mr. Matlack will share with us a few thoughts about raising boys, being a dad and how a man can raise a son to achieve in a world that many times is working against him.

In a society where young men are continuously looking for external role models and find very few, what would you say is the best method for young men to employ to begin to look inwards and use their own inner strengths as a compass in life?

My experience with this is there is no need to "begin."  Boys, at least the ones I have been around, intuitively know how to be strong and good in their own special way.  It's the rest of us who tell them to grow up, be different, be like some adult man we put up on a pedestal.  

One of the most amazing things is to watch my 6 year-old's mind as he figures out the world himself.  It's like a flower opening for the first time.  He is asking the questions and coming up with the answers in one long breath of air.  Sometimes he just lays on my chest while we are watching a game and talks.  I try to talk too but really it is his monologue, his manhood ripening before my very eyes.  

Monday, April 11, 2011

What does a Can Do attitude do for you?

Recently I was introduced to the company Can Do Kids. It was started by two Can Do moms, Deborah Luster and Chris Elders in order help kids identify their goals and aid them in achieving their dreams using the powerful tool of a Can Do attitude.  As it says on their site, their mission is to "Inspire kids – young and old – to reach their full potential, and remind them that they can do anything!"
What I like about Can Do Kids is their strong committment to creating an atmosphere of achievement. They haven't drawn lines around WHAT should be achieved, rather they are encouraging parents, communities and kids to embrace personal achievement in all it's forms.
How can we bring a Can Do attitude to classrooms across the country?  We have allowed one definition of acadmeic success to define a crumbling educational system for too long. We must begin to make room for achievement outside of the traditional pass/fail testing environment.
How do we begin to do this?
 New models of assessment need to be brought to classrooms for teachers and students.  The exchange of ideas needs to be included as an important part of education. Encouraging these things will naturally foster a Can Do attitude.
In short, if we help children pursue their life passions, whatever they may be, and give our students tools so they can have a Can Do attitude, we will have kids who are happy, innovative and ultimately benefiting our society.  We are all tied to the success and failing of our students. If we do not create an atmosphere in which students achieve, they will not grow to be adults that achieve. If the child cannot identity their dream, how does that child grow to be an adult that can?
As Dr. Kwame Brown of Move Theory stated in an earlier post on this site,

"We must begin to understand children as sentient beings who think for themselves and simply need guidance...."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

ROR: Return on Relationships in Education

In the last post I was honored to speak with Ted Rubin about his take on what it means for our children to achieve in life and how parents, schools and communities support that achievement.
As mentioned, Mr. Rubin is the creator of the term Return on Relationships (ROR) ROR is a powerful tool in social media and with his vast experience in social networking, media and marketing Mr. Rubin is sharing with the world how we can all do a better job of using these powerful tools to market our products.  I have only dabbled with its use, but I already see a huge improvement in how well I can connect with others to promote the cause of educational transformation.
After doing my own experimenting, I realized that ROR is exactly what is needed in the education community today. Below is a breakdown from Mr. Rubin's website. In brackets you will see how I relabeled the columns in order to apply to education.
Perhaps our educational community needs a taste of Mr. Rubin's powerful tool in order to understand that students are the customer and must be treated and served with the utmost respect, dignity and care. They deserve a product that works well and provides an excellent education.  Just like any business, if this isn't provided the customer is likely to be disgruntled and demand better. In marketing a solid relationship must be built between entrepreneur and customer and this determines the success of the company. In a similar way how well we build relationships with students and the quality of education we provide now will determine our future success as a society,
Advertising [Teaching to Tests] Building Relationships [Developing Whole Child]
  1. Telling
  2. Starts with “me” (the brand, the product, the service)
  3. Focuses on “what can you give me?
  4. Goal:  instant impact
  5. Where’s the money?
  1. Listening, hearing, empathizing, asking,
  2. Starts with “you” (the customer’s needs, wants, interests and expectations)
  3. Focuses on “how can I serve you?
  4. Goal: ongoing engagement
  5. Who are the people?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Straight Talk with Ted Rubin

Achievement expresses itself  in as many unique forms as there are students. If we remove achievement from its current cookie cutter test definition, how do we define it? Leaving the comfort of this mold behind is probably the hardest step in transforming our educational system and yet, it is an absolute necessity.  Achievement can be best described through personal experiences and definitions. If we manifest a definition for ourselves and can successfully fulfill that ideal, we have achieved success. Our role as educators is not to create this definition for students, but rather give students the tools to create and spark a dream they would like to achieve and then help them reach that goal. In turn that personal goal and personal success is not isolated to the individual, but is intimately connected to the achievements of the whole society.
Today we are very fortunate to be joined by Ted Rubin .  Mr. Rubin is a leading social marketing strategist and is the creator of the term ROR, Return on Relationship, a concept he believes is the cornerstone for building a multi-million member base, like the one he built for e.l.f. Cosmetics as the Chief Marketing Officer between 2008 and 2010, and the one being built for the new updated launch of OpenSky.
The best we can hope to offer the world is not what we say to our children, but how we act as a role model to them as we express our own dreams.  Today we have the good fortune of glimpsing Mr. Rubin's personal experience with achieving his own goals as a parent and role model.

1. What inspires you to move beyond the limitations and obstacles of being a divorced parent in a culture traditionally designed for shared parenthood?
The love of my children and a desire to not only be a part of their lives, but to have influence on how they think, reason, and develop. It is challenging due to roadblocks that can easily be put in place by the custodial parent, but I made a decision long ago to put one foot in front of the other, every day, and never give up. 

2. How do you define the of responsibility of parents, schools and communities in raising a child?
I feel, above all others, it is the responsibility of the parents to raise their children. Parents can get involved and do their best to influence their community and schools, but ultimately it is their job to instill the importance of education, values, discipline, and responsibility for oneself.

3. What role does being a playful parent have in building academic confidence and achievement in a child?
Playing with your children, participating at their level, teaching by example, and making certain to allow them the time and opportunity to have fun is so very important. In addition, allowing your children to freely play with others, without the parents hovering over them, is fast becoming non-existent, and we are raising our children without socializing and problem solving skills. Let them play and you will be amazed at what they learn, how they develop and who they become.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What does it mean to transform our schools?

Right at the top of my blog is the word "transformation". Today I want to spend a few minutes talking about what this means to the world of education.  I am not advocating for education reform or change. Those of us writing for Let Children Achieve believe in transformation. This means we believe that education needs a fundamental revolution in structure and condition.
There is no piece of the current school structure that is working to educate our children well. Dr. Brown's last post outlined in detail the framework of a basic restructuring in education. From teaching salaries down to school lunches and the amount of sleep children receive, how we fundamentally run schools, teach children and support parents and communities must change.
We are not living, working and educating in a world that is delineated by formal and traditional systems, but rather one that is defined by those who can survive and keep pace with the current of social media, marketing and innovation. Our rigid school structure does nothing to provide opportunity for that kind of "thinking outside the box." Test scores do not and will not ever determine innovation, creativity and social media skills.  Students must learn to be intrinsically motivated and be able to form relationships to build partnerships around the world.  The isolation our children receive sitting in front of computers, tests and televisions does not encourage self motivation or develop important social skills they will need in order to build businesses, solve problems, weave well rounded political decisions or make important contributions to the global community.
 A new advocacy must come forth that stands for the needs of the children.  It is an advocacy that takes into consideration that we have entered an era in which the United States must actively compete for business and innovative processes around the world. Unfortunately the answer isn't to compete on tests. The race isn't to the top of our educational system in the U.S.. The race is to the top of the world, where we will not be defined by test scores, but by innovation and business savvy.  Now more than ever our children must learn the power of their own intrinsic intelligence and ability to connect with others.
When this approach is applied to education we will see children who are fed well, educated well and given multiple avenues of ultimate success within our educational system because we will understand that all of us are tied to the success or failure of today's students.
Children will not be limited by language, by intelligence or by socioeconomic standing. Instead, we will provide a system that meets the student with the tools that student needs to be prepared for life.  This will undoubtedly vary from community to community, from culture to culture, but our choice to accommodate only one version of intelligence in our structure for success will ultimately lead to our own economic and global demise.  We cannot compete in a world as diverse, innovative and fast paced as ours using the archaic system of education we currently embrace.  It is time to for transformation.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Taking Education "Back"

Today, as the premier post of Let Children Achieve, I am joined by Child Development Specialist, Dr. Kwame Brown. Dr. Brown is the founder of Move Theory and is an Advisory Board Member at the International Youth Conditioning Association. Formerly, he worked as Director at the National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play (Head Start Body Start) at AAHPERD.
Today Dr. Brown lends his extensive experience in child development and neuroscience towards outlining how parents, educators and advocates can  begin to take control of the educational process for the good of all children.

Megan, thank you for letting me talk to everyone today. 
The title: I chose the quotes around “Back”because quite frankly I don’t think we have ever truly had a handle on education in this country, not from the perspective of how brains develop. Nor have we ever truly understood it systemically from the perspective of including all members, beyond nurturing the elite. Sure, there have been “pockets of understanding”, but the design of the whole system has never worked. I think problems that we are talking about today have always been there, but are now coming to a head.

Why I am saying what I’m about to say:

I have been immersed in the world of education / child development all of my life. I have a father
who started as a high school teacher in the inner city and became eventually a college president. A mom with a degree in early childhood education who eventually taught Alternatives and was involved in urban education initiatives. Countless other family members involved in education as teachers and administrators. I got here on a roundabout – through my study of the central nervous system and motor learning /development and my own work with children in motor skill acquisition/play.  Additionally, I am a voracious reader – Crain, Hirsch, Hirsh-Pasek, Redfield-Jamison, Elkind, Frost, Ravitch, Dweck, Willingham, the list goes on. Finally, I have a bevy of friends and acquaintances acrossthe spectrum politically and professionally throughout the United States that are passionate about solving education.

My ten point plan to put the focus where it needs to be:

I have begun writing over the past couple of years to communicate what I have learned through this intensive lifetime of varied study. My main conclusion is this: As evidenced by the structure of our system and improvement measures, we routinely misunderstand how brain development works in education, and how brain development interacts with the surrounding environment. While the details of that are best saved for another day’s writings, I want to share some very specific things that I think must happen in education and child development.

1. We must nationalize the need for and commitment to education, and set certain standards for content.  We must, nationally, gain more and more information through careful research about what works and doesn’t work for developing young minds. And we must communicate this to everyone at multiple levels and in multiple ways. National problems must have, partly, national solutions. BUT…

2. We must leave the control of the delivery of that content to highly qualified educators, caring parents and students in local communities.  I have seen countless examples of initiatives that failed to work because those trying them failed to immerse themselves in the culture –especially the student culture. Parents know their kids. Educators know kids. People in the community know the community. This is potentially a wonderful continuum, without politicians stepping in with high-stakes accountability measure to screw it all up. But this will also depend on the below.

3. We must pay teachers more – not through merit pay, but their starting pay, in order to enable my next suggestion…

4. We must attract young, talented, vibrant beings that truly care for children and also have the academic underpinnings to understand complex concepts well enough to move concepts to practice – on their own.

5. We must provide for and follow through on intensive long term apprenticeship for  young teachers.  This apprenticeship must involve experiences working with parents and other community members. This apprenticeship must also have progressive levels of responsibility.  This way, by the time a young teacher has his/her own class, they have already formed lasting relationships with, if not this particular community, a community.

6. We must educate teachers and parents, albeit in different ways, about the general process of how a central nervous system and the body develop within the context of a societal and social structure. There are gross misunderstandings amongst both groups – in not all members,but many. Though, I will say, the level of misunderstandings present in these groups pale in comparison to the lack of grasp among politicians and pundits. To wit…

7. We must begin to understand children as sentient beings who think for themselves and simply need guidance – not “sponges” (a loathsome term) to be told things. It does NOT work like that in a developing brain. Learning must be a main entrĂ©e of experiential, with only a side dish of rote memorization, to taste right to a young mind.

8. Parents and teachers must partner to ensure that children have time to play, to be physically active through play. This isn’t just some frivolous thing we let children do – that’s OUR view of play for OURSELVES. For kids, this is essential to the development of a brain.

9. Parents and teachers must partner to ensure that our children have plenty of sleep – especially for very young children and teenagers. Kids don’t just “deal” when they are sleep deprived.  The effects on performance are quite profound, and the potential effects on development are unknown but could be disastrous.

10. Finally – we must all ensure that children have access to and are eating natural, healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables. This, coupled with sleep and play – helps all our educational efforts aren’t for naught. It prevents us adults from spinning our wheels.

I am grateful that Megan Rosker allowed me this forum today to speak out. But I am more grateful for the lively discussion / debate that I hope will result from this. Let’s continue to look at solutions on their merit – with consistent perspective on the needs of our future leaders. Because, to play on a famous quote – It is those we educate this week that shall inherit the earth.

Friday, March 25, 2011


New posts about education reform will be coming soon to Let Children Achieve. Until then, please visit Our Inspiration page to learn more about the conception and vision of Let Children Achieve.