Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Berenstain Bears ROCK!

It was the first day of class - September something, nineteen ninety something.  Seventh grade core - reading, writing, social studies.  I had big dreams for all that these thirty boys and girls would accomplish that year.  I knew that for those dreams to be actualized I had to convince these 12 and 13 year olds that they needn't worry for even a minute that anyone in this classroom would ever roll their eyes from the back of the room or snicker from a side desk at their efforts.

I talked to them about the one thing I cared about the most - a respectful classroom -  and specifically, INTENT VS IMPACT.  I could see them try to stay with me.  I talked about put-downs and teasingI acknowledged that many of the TV sitcoms they laughed at or the movies they loved were full of those 'funny put-downs'.  But that we were not going to do that in this classroom.
              "You mean we can't even tell a joke?" one student asked.

I told them I was sure that they would never INTEND to hurt anyone with their words or actions or jokes, but that yes, at least until we all really understood and embraced this and knew each other a whole lot better, we would be VERY careful with our words and our actions because we could never be totally sure what the IMPACT of that joke or tease might be.

I could tell some were skeptical.

We moved on to reading.  I asked if anyone had read a good book over the summer.  Hands went up.
                    "Where the Red Fern Grows."
                    "Maniac Magee."
                    "Witch on Blackbird Pond."

Then I called on a smiling and confident girl near the back who had come in with a friend she now sat near. Just before she could respond, her friend called out, "She read the Berenstain Bears."  Most of the students erupted in laughter.  I don't know if I missed a class-wide teachable moment or not, but I chose to ignore his remark and let her give her answer.  We moved on to a class assignment and I went to my desk while they worked.  Soon I called both of them over to my desk and told them of my concern about his remark in light of our Intent vs Impact agreement.  She quickly defended him saying what a good friend he was and that his remark didn't bother her one bit.  And he said that he teases her all the time.  I assured them I guessed that was the case so I really was not concerned about the impact of that tease on her as much as I was thinking about its possible impact on other students in the classroom....perhaps a student who was new and didn't know anyone and was trying to find the courage to raise her hand to share the summer book she had read, OR perhaps there was a student in our class who had read a Berenstain Bears book because that was his or her reading level.

Every September after that whether teaching middle schoolers or high schoolers, I used that story to illustrate INTENT VS IMPACT.  And when we would get a new student in our midst partway through a year or a semester, I would introduce them and then ask the class to do a brief review of our classroom philosophy.  Inevitably, they would tell the Berenstain Bears story.

So as this new school year arrives, I am grateful for those two students who gave me that example, and I am grateful to Stan and Jan Berenstain for those quirky and fun-filled Berenstain Bears books and I am grateful for all the wonderful and gifted educators who are starting out a new year with their own dreams.

And I am especially grateful for every educator that takes a chunk of time during that first week or month of school to set a tone of respect and caring in his or her classroom.....

and then bird-dogs the heck out of it.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Gold Medal of Courage .....

Watching the Olympics gives me goosebumps, then lumps in my throat, then jaw-dropping doses of amazement. But most of all, I marvel at the COURAGE so many of these world athletes exhibit as they dig deep to fly over a pommel horse, congratulate the competitor who just beat them by less than a tiny slice of a second, or find a way to be gracious as their careers and hard work go sideways or even end.

In the high school Leadership classes I taught, we talked a great deal about courage.  Our class code asked each student leader (many of them elected by their peers) to dig deep to keep their word, include everyone, stick their neck out when they saw injustice or dishonesty, and try to bring their best self to each day.  We acknowledged the COURAGE it takes to stand up for what you believe to be right - especially in the face of potential ostracism from friends or classmates.   And then we tried HARD to practice it.

 The final assignment asked the students to pick a quote that spoke to them about the qualities we had studied and tried to emulate in our Leadership program.  It required a paper examining how the quote reflected the student's  understanding of leadership and an oral presentation to the class summarizing their thoughts.

"Robby" was in one of those classes.  He had been born with complications in the brain that impacted his speech, his gait and his cognitive ability.  Robby waited until the last day to give his oral presentation.

He had chosen Abraham Lincoln's quote about character:

            Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.

On the day of his oral presentation he arrived in class looking worried and shaky.  One of the girls in the class offered to write his quote on the board when he struggled with the chalk and the spelling.  Once the quote was on the board,  he turned to his classmates and haltingly spoke about POWER.  He spoke of TV shows and commercials where people used  POWER to tease others, drive a car real fast, or blow something up.  He spoke of school life where POWER meant being popular.  Finally he spoke to his group of classmates - many of them elected leaders - who had befriended him, who had high-fived him when they passed him in the hallways, who had thought up the idea of having him wear the school mascot costume at the basketball games and the POWER he felt in that incognito role of THOR.

When he finished, I could not speak - and still these years later, as I remember this, the tears come.  The room fell silent that day.  Then "CJ", a tall and powerfully popular senior, spoke.  "We have been talking about COURAGE all semester long.  Today we saw it!"

 I will never ever forget the lesson I learned that day from Robby about the incredible COURAGE it takes to be vulnerable!  Now, in retirement, without students to teach me about vulnerability and authenticity, I find Brene Brown's TED talks and blog inspire me. 

Were CJ's words Robby's gold medal that day?  I wonder. 
  I imagine Robby watching these Summer Games.  How I wish I could put him on the medal stand!  

Maybe we could hold our own summer games - the Olympics of Authenticity!  Go for the Gold.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


As my five year old grand-daughter and I walked through the field,  she got close enough to see the full extent of the rope swing hanging far off the ground in the tall trees.  She slowed and then stopped. 

"I have never been on a swing this high, Noni!"

  I suggested we go a bit closer so we could take a good look.  After I took a turn, she was game....
AGAIN .....
and AGAIN!
My husband is riding his bicycle from Seattle to Portland as I write this.  Last month he completed a bicycle ride over Logan Pass -  the Going-to-the-Sun highway -  in Glacier National Park. Adventure is on his mind.  And this is the time of year when for many many summers I took high schoolers into the woods to test themselves via Challenge Course events and watched amazing things happen when young people took risks.

So we have been talking about how to instill a sense of adventure in children.   How do we add risk to play?  How do we encourage kids to enjoy challenges vs shy away from them?  How do we help them learn about safety by experiencing risk?  How do we teach them that failure can bring wonderful things?

Several months ago I read Todd and Victoria Buchholz' article The Go-Nowhere Generation in The New York Times.  They point out the Stay-close-to-Home, Adventure-Avoidance attitudes in many teens and young adults today and wonder if it is yet another piece of the fall-out from our economic times.
Gever Tulley, founder of a summer program called The Tinkering School, suggests we let kids play with fire!  And he's not totally kidding.

Are we raising risk-averse kids?  I hope not.  But it does seem that our concerns about safety and litigation are getting in the way of instilling the "I-CAN-DO-IT!" attitude that we so desperately need and want our children and young people to possess.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hey, Sweet Kid, you got a hand-written LETTER in the MAIL!

"She's getting confirmed," he told me.  "Would you write her a letter?"

I don't see my niece nearly as often as I would like.  She lives many states away. But still, I love her to pieces. Of course, I would write to her.

It took too long to get the letter off - I wanted it to reflect that I'd read and thought over what she wrote about taking this step in her life.  But once it was complete, I mailed it to her - in an envelope with a stamp - then emailed the gist of it to my brother.  Divorce has them living apart.

He replied with his thanks and his thoughts and this ....
"She'll read it .... and remember it .... and treasure it in the years to come.  That means thousands more to her (and to me) than a card with a $10 check in it that says ....
'Congratulations on your confirmation'."

Then he challenged me to "wonder" about letter writing on my blog someday.

He and I both know, I think, why we value hand-written letters.  Our mother writes them often.  We have never received a birthday card that simply holds a check and, under the Hallmark greeting,  "Best Wishes, Love Mom".  She always writes about her life and asks specifically about yours, occasionally adding a joke.  She used to tuck notes inside my suitcase each time I left for college.  One time going so far as to stuff in a pair of warm boots I was leaving behind but she worried I'd need (and obviously insisted I bring). Inside one boot was a cheerful note that ended with her favorite line .... "Never say No to your Mama!"

 I am relishing my walks and talks with a friend who lost her mother this spring.  As she and her siblings sort through belongings in the family home, they are savoring the letters kept and stored that share anecdotes about their growing up days, that underscore the love between their parents and their families, that fill in holes, that bring solace.  And, it seems, it is these letters written on paper, sent in envelopes, that are more valuable than the antique furniture and the house full of collected treasures.

In this age of texting and emails, in this day of going paper-less, I wonder how we will capture the feel and touch and even smell of a hand-written letter.  And I wonder what our children and grandchildren are receiving or seeing modeled in the way of hand-written letters.  Child therapist, Brenna Hicks, leads a Child-Parent Relationship Training in which parents are assigned to write three letters to their children in three weeks. She touts the values of both encouraging your children to write letters and writing letters to them.

Yeah, yeah, letter writing takes time. But just think how totally focused you are on that person you are writing to while penning that letter.  Somehow, that love and energy must travel to them with the letter, don't you think?

Each year on their birthdays, I give my grandchildren a letter I have written about the past year of their lives - the fun memories, the sillies, the things they said, did and learned, my thoughts and feelings about them. They are not crazy about this gift now, but I am hopeful that one day they will look back and read the lot and enjoy them.  And, if it goes out with the wrapping, I have saved and backed-up an electronic copy - a very nice bennie of this day and age!

I wish I had written a letter to each of my children on their birthdays through the years. Retirement and grand-parenting bring new perspectives.... and a great deal more time.

I wonder about the day my children will sort through the belongings in our home.  Will they choose to download the contents of the discs and thumb-drives they find in the cupboards and drawers?  Will blogs be my generation's box of hand-written letters?  hmmmm.....

If all the mailbox is going to hold is junk mail, you might as well have fun fetching it!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Summertime ....  What will fill your days?  Swim lessons?  Music camp?  Bike rides?  Lemonade stands?   BOOKS?

Just in time for our summer reading pleasure is the Association for Library Service to Children's 2012 list of Notable Children's Books .   My experience from all those years in public schools and at my local library have convinced me these librarians know what they are talking about.  Seems there are plenty of fluffy-stuff-books for kids out there.  Our children deserve the best.  Who better than these wise folks at our libraries that spend their days surrounded by kid-lit and watching young people respond to literature to give us guidance?   Check out the list.  You might just find your favorite kid's new go-to book!

Why add books to your Summertime Things-To-Do list?
  • they make you think and wonder and smile (and sometimes cry)
  • they're free at the library
  • they're a great buy at garage sales
  • they can be enjoyed with others or by oneself
  • they teach you a bundle of new words
  • they don't break
  • they aren't made of plastic (at least most of them)
  • they make one's imagination grow BIG
  • they are perfect for a rainy day
  • they are a quiet activity (unless you act them out which would be tons of fun)
AND ......

  • they help you fall asleep
As you can see, this little guy loves things with wheels. He already has that wonderful winner from the ALSC list Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker .
His other love is DOGS.  Am headed out for A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka.  It's a wordless book and the description on the ALSC list intrigued me as did the NPR interview with Raschka.

Today I am wondering what books you will be enjoying with your kids and grandkids  this summer.   

Monday, June 11, 2012


I got up EARLY today to get a jump start on my writing.  Had lots to do and many ideas swirling in my head.  But the sun was out ... and in the Pacific Northwest, that golden orb has had but a few short sightings in the past two weeks.
I put my head down to the task anyway.

Soon the garden began calling me.  I wrote on.  Then it started shouting all sorts of things .... "Your favorite peony is choking on the weeds around its roots!" and "The smell of summer is incredible out here today!" I wrote on.  The sun climbed higher in the sky.  I opened a window.  BIG mistake! Now I could hear the birds and smell the English lilac.

 I started to get up from the chair.  Reaching down to push in the keyboard tray, this greeted me.

 I sat back down deciding summer has to wait when the Rainbow Scribes are close by whispering "Write ....Write .... Write!"

Today I am wondering how writers keep their butts in the chair when the weather is nice AND if Rainbow Scribes can pull weeds!

Thursday, May 31, 2012


OK -- I know I am in my 60's and I know that I did not grow up surrounded by the edge of electronics guiding my every step and purchase, but is there anything more satisfying than a child snuggled up with a good book?  And I mean the real paper kind with pages to turn, pictures to sink into, parts that pop-up, and places to scratch and sniff?

And I know I am in my 60's (and so have more time for this) , but for me what's even better than a child snuggled with a book,  is when that child is snuggled with an adult to share it with!  Can an electronic book ask the child, "What do you think is going to happen next"?  Can it giggle along with the child at the crazy characters and funny pictures?  Does it build the same level of confidence and creativity in that child as when they hear that adult they love pretend to be the character in the story?   I am not wondering about this today; I am flat out thinking there is just NO way e-books can compare to paper books when it comes to kid lit!

Don't get me wrong, many of my friends love their e-readers.  My 97 year old Mom can still enjoy reading because her e-reader makes the font large enough that her eyes don't tire ... and I love that.  But when it comes to kids and books, I say it's time we surround them with the paper kind,  snuggle with them and giggle, and lift the flaps, and scratch and sniff, and wonder together what will happen next.

I have baby showers and kid birthdays coming up ..... I am off to the book local independent one.

Friday, May 18, 2012


At a mother's day gathering last week, a friend told a story that I want to remember the next time I get really scared or start to head toward catastrophe mode.

Last January her relatives were aboard that ill-fated Italian cruise ship that ran aground and sank off the Tuscan coast.  When ship personnel made an announcement for passengers to return to or stay in their cabins, the dad instead hustled his daughters into life jackets and got them to the side of the ship where they each climbed down a very long rope ladder into a lifeboat below.  While descending, the six year old's loose tooth came out.  She held it in her mouth while she worked herself down the seventy feet of swaying rope ladder.

I love her response when the adults in her life learned of this and asked her about it ..... I wanted the tooth fairy to come and visit me!

For some of us it takes a good deal of effort to focus on the good and exciting things that surround us or are coming our way on an average day. But in the face of that much fear and chaos?

How did she keep her focus on something so delightful as a magical night-time visitor?  I wonder.
And I hope that Tooth Fairy was generous!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


The birthday celebration had all the happy trappings .... delicious food, a pretty cake, chocolate icing, gifts, loved ones, a word-learning toddler repeating "Happy .... Happy .... Happy .... Happy" in a sing-songy voice from his chocolate covered mouth and a five year old who had proudly placed each pink candle in her mom's cake before they were lit!

Then a birthday toast to the beautiful mother of these children.  Eyes glistened with emotion for a moment.  Then the quiet was broken by the ever observant five year old saying, "I didn't know a birthday was like this."

How do you explain that Happy has layers,  just like the birthday cake?

 I wonder.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Last Sunday another message blared boldly and colorfully from my five year old grand-daughter's T-shirt. Another reason I wanted to hug her .... and the person who created that shirt... and the person who gave her that shirt.

I wonder what our days would be like if we started them by asking ourselves, "What am I going to do today to make myself proud?"
Or ended them by asking ourselves, "What did I do to make myself feel proud today?"
I wonder if the answers would shine a stunningly bright light on what we value?

And I wonder too how it might impact our children and grandchildren if we asked them what makes them feel proud at dinner each night.

Perhaps there is a partial answer to that last wondering in my grand-daughter's response when I asked her what she had done that day that made her feel proud of herself......

"I have never answered this hard of a question before!"

Thursday, April 19, 2012


My good friend recently had her old windows replaced.  It was going to be a big job for the crew coming in to do the job. She was a bit worried about how it all would go.

At one point, she came into her kitchen to find one of the workers half inside and half outside the large window over her sink.  The casement was entirely removed and there were shavings strewn about.  The new window was set aside.
"Oh, you've got a problem," she said to him.
His response was direct and strong, "I don't see problems; I see solutions."

I love that response.  I wonder what it would take for more of us to reframe our thinking .... to be solution focused?  Aren't children innately that way?  Where does it go?  How do we get it back?  How do we help our children stay solution focused as they grow?
That's what I'm wondering about today.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

OK ---- I could give all sorts of excuses, but they all would be just that ---excuses.  There is NO good reason why I have not posted since November.  It is not as if there weren't plenty of opportunities to witness kids DOING what is RIGHT, or being COURAGEOUS. I am also sure many fabulous folks were out there teaching our kids about INTEGRITY.   But what kick-started me in the direction of this blog again was seeing my wonderful five year old grand-daughter wearing a T-shirt that said in big, fat pink letters "BE NICE"!

I want a shirt that says that!  I want to start a new blog called BE NICE dot COM!  I want it to get a million hits an hour.  I want people lined up to buy those shirts like they line up to buy tickets to The Hunger Games!

 OR ...... I would settle for none of that as long as our kids and grandkids could start seeing everyone around them simply being NICE.  What would it take?  I wonder.