Tuesday, August 30, 2011


The hardest part of being a retired educator is missing the kids .... and the exhilarating high that comes along with the vibrant dance of teaching kids and being taught by them. So I love hearing from or running into former students and learning what they are up to.  Last week, Gina, a wonderful woman who is now a social worker at a middle school in NYC wrote to me remembering her own middle school years - I was her seventh grade core teacher so we spent the bulk of each school day together that year.  She was and is delightful, so I am thrilled she is an educator touching kids' lives.

We conversed about what her role as a social worker in a middle school entails, the dynamics of middle school education, the complexities of the middle school student, charter schools vs public schools, etc.  When I asked about her students, she wrote about a prof she had while doing her Social Work grad studies who hated the term AT-RISK, and was working to have it replaced by AT-PROMISE.   Wow! That new language is so much about abundance vs scarcity.  Haven't these youth already had enough scarcity in their lives? I admire that prof and will join him or her in reframing the old term into the new one. Perhaps you will join me.

Gina went on .... I feel incredibly lucky to have found a school where children are universally valued and everyone is working as hard as they can to ensure that our kids are successful not only academically but socially and emotionally. It is an honor to be able to participate in the lives of our kids and our families and feels like an enormous responsibility at times. I feel very very lucky.

What a perfect combo ---- an educator so full of promise paired with At-Promise students!  Thanks for the lesson, Gina!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Feeling safe ... it's CRITICAL!

For 34 years I taught middle school and high school age youth in public and private schools. I LOVED that job.  But it was tough to watch adolescents struggle to survive emotionally in the venue of a public school amid this fast paced American culture.  I learned that if I was going to ask kids to believe in themselves, to stretch and take risks, to work hard to a high standard,  the classroom had to ALWAYS feel safe.  Never could a student fear a smirk, or rolling eyes or a put-down from another. I could not ask these students to take risks if they thought there was even the slightest chance that someone might mock them. EVERYONE had to be valued, ALL the time.

 Every September with new classes of students, we would spend the first weeks talking about what it would take for each of us to make this work.  For those first few weeks, I had to be highly vigilant in monitoring respectful, courageous behavior, reinforcing it, talking about it when we slipped up.  Once that was the clear and non-negotiable norm, we could put the achievement bar way up high.  The safety we felt translated into high achievement.

Now I am retired.  I am a grandmother.  I am thinking in new ways.  I am also concerned in new ways.  

Where do our children and youth find models of integrity and courage to follow?  Where do they find the guts to step out of the bystander role when they witness unkindness or injustice? When will our media and our literature shine a light on kids who do this .... and adults who model and teach this?

My desire to see these values reflected in books and our society has led me to write for kids and start this blog for educators, parents and anyone else who might happen upon it.  It's risky for me.  But I'm  trying to believe that no one is rolling their eyes or smirking at my efforts.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Posture of Pride

I love it when a child feels proud.  When their self-love is so full and big it shows in the way they walk and stand and look at you!  I want to bottle it and give it to them when they are a pre-teen or teenager....when the culture has somehow done a whammy on them and their posture has often changed from “LOOK AT ME!” to “Don’t you dare look at me.”

I wonder what it would take for our 10-18 year olds to be able to throw their heads up and back and swing their arms and say “Look at me” and truly believe that no matter their size, or race, the clothes they wear, who they love, or the talents they possess …… that they are just as wonderful, worthy, and lovable as they were when they were two and three and four.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hooray for Dan and a Two-Post Day!

I  love being privileged enough to witness someone share their story especially when I get glimpses of their courage and integrity.
A cool experience at the SCBWI conference in Seattle this past April stays with me still today.  SCBWI stands for Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – it’s a wonderful international organization for published and wannabe published writers and illustrators.
One of the keynoters was Dan Santat, talented children’s book writer and commercial illustrator.  Visit him at dantat.com.  He shared his story of choosing art school over med school…..his long long hours and hard work to make it as an artist ….and get discovered…..his constant worry (while working three jobs and keeping crazy hours)  about making enough to provide for his family and have time for them while staying true to the work he loves ….. and how he has finally been getting to a place of balance and recognition in this crazy industry called kid lit.
Then he shared the last part of his story.  It was titled The Google Incident.  He received an ‘out of the blue’ contact from Google – which led to an interview – which led to Google’s  offer to be their Art Editor!  The package offered was incredibly generous. With each hesitation on his part, it became more generous and then more …..  and more.
What do they see us valuing?
We listened in silence as he wrapped up his remarks with a picture of his ‘Support Group’ – his wife and two adorable sons –  and then his decision to pass up the Google offer to do what he loves (ART) and have time for his beloved 'Support Group'.  He was in tears.  Many of us were as well.
I stood along with the other five hundred in the audience, sniffed, and applauded him.  I applaud him and thank him again today for that gift.  I wish the young people in my life —in all our lives – could have heard him… could have felt the emotion around values-driven decision making. Hooray for you, Dan! 


Five and under = FREE!

 " Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you."         Robert Fulghum

Being one of five children in a family on a tight budget, I grew up wearing my sister’s hand-me-downs and waiting my turn for the bike we shared. I learned about want vs need, taking care of what you have, sharing and being thankful.
I also had the opportunity to learn about cost saving of another variety. Always small for my age, at six, seven and even eight years old, I easily passed for five. Family vacations found us in ticket lines at fairs and national parks. I clearly remember the signs advertising Five and Under = Free! As our family of seven arrived at the ticket window, I also remember Dad saying to the person in the ticket booth, “Two adults and three children.” My younger brother was the only one under five, but I knew better than to say anything.
This didn’t seem all that wrong to me when I was young. That is, until I married a man to whom honesty is ALWAYS what you live by. If the waitress forgets to add the dessert to our bill, if the clerk undercharges us, he ALWAYS rights that mistake. And I hate to admit that I still struggle to tell a store clerk she’s undercharged me imagining how nice it would be to have that extra savings.
My Dad was a wonderful man and our family holds a very deep and dear place for me, but it makes me think about what we teach our children each day – both subtly and intentionally.