Monday, April 17, 2023

Professional educator

 I was a professional educator for 34 years. I was an amateur educator for many years before that as I cared for countless children in my own family and elsewhere. I wanted to be a teacher from my very first days as a student at the local Natural History Museum preschool, and I am not unhappy that I chose teaching as my career. Yet, looking back and knowing what I know now, I would have made a few different choices during my teaching career. 

Understand your job expectations and meet those expectations with strength

I came into teaching wanting to change every aspect of education. As a young girl, I watched how outdated, dehumanizing education trends greatly harmed people in my life and hurt me too. While my educational experiences were mostly positive, I did experience some negative events, and for my brother, the way education was executed was mostly negative and harmful. I knew there was great room for change in teaching and learning, and I wanted to promote that change right away. 

That wasn't a positive way to start my career. While it's great to have big dreams for your career path, it's best to do the job you're expected to do well first. I wish I had given more attention to the job expectations I had rather than trying to change the entire school right away. 

Don't trust too quickly

Growing up in a mostly supportive atmosphere, I was a very trusting individual. I shared too readily with colleagues and administrators when I should have spent more time observing, listening, and getting to know the work environment. I never imagined that some would not have your best interests in mind. It's best not to trust too quickly, and take on a more reserved attitude as you start your career. Gain a good understanding of the environment you're in as this will help you to navigate that environment with success.

Develop your skill and knowledge

Take a strategic approach to developing your skill and knowledge. While doing the job you're assigned well, also develop your skills and credentials through reputable programs. Rather than taking countless courses in all kinds of education-related disciplines, I suggest building an expertise in a specific area such as math education, counseling, reading, or leadership. 

Leading up is perhaps a too-great challenge

I tried to make change from the position of educator, and while I believe there should be more teacher leaders in schools, the reality is that administrators have the greatest ability to make good change. Therefore if you're a visionary educator, I recommend that you do a great job in the classroom for a few years, and then get your credentials to become an administrator who can more easily make the kinds of changes that improve schools. 

You can't be all things to all people

Schools are complex places with lots of people and goals. You can't be all things to all people, so instead, nurture your relationships with close colleagues, and while you should be respectful and friendly to everyone in the community, you can't be close to all of them--there's simply too many people in the teaching/learning community to be close to everyone. 

Establish a wonderful personal life

Try to keep your professional life and personal life separate. When your personal life seeps into your professional life, you lose the chance to have a reprieve from the tough work of teaching and learning. Create a good schedule for yourself that includes good time for work and good time for personal connections, interests, and good living. 

Your boss is not your friend

I trusted administrators to be my friend and learned at last that no matter how wonderful your boss is, he or she is not your friend. Only share with your administrator that which is professional and related to the work environment. Keep your personal life separate unless it's a situation where your personal situation will have an impact on your work such as illness or a big life change. I suggest that all teachers have outside counseling to help them navigate the many issues that will arise during their professional life--it's best to share those issues with an outside consultant than administrators or most colleagues. 

Partner with students and families

Recognize that parents know their children well, and that every child and family has a story to tell. Typically when parents and students are upset, they need to tell their story. Listen carefully and seek ways to work together as a team to help the child have as much success as possible. Never hesitate to say to a parent or child, "I am here to help you learn and be successful in any way that I can. Let's team together to make this a successful year." 

Keep a daily log

It's good to keep a daily log of events that chart the success, challenges, and room for growth. This daily log will help you to complete evaluations, pinpoint problems, communicate issues, and work on positive change. Often in schools, one of the greatest challenges for classroom teachers is that the help that is supposed to be there doesn't arrive. Specialists are often not available when they are supposed to be there--keeping a chart of when people come and when they don't come will be helpful in this regard. A daily log will also help you to identify trends in your work and trends with your students too. 

Join the union and read the union literature

I joined the union right away, but was late to read the literature and know what the union offered with regard to professional learning and development. Union membership protects your rights to speak up and do the job well. Too often teachers are compromised in the work environment when it comes to serving their students well, and union membership protects those rights. Union leadership in every school system will differ--some will be right there for you and others may work more for the administration. It's good to get to know your union, but again, not trust too quickly. 

Teaching is much like parenting. The profession continually challenges you in countless ways. Taking a reserved and professional attitude and action towards your career will serve you well in the long run. I wish someone had told me this when I started my career. Onward. 

Friday, February 03, 2023

Will this home be our forever house?

 My husband and I lived in a small third floor apartment when we had our first child. It was a cozy place at the end of a street next to a historic school campus. When we learned that the small apartment had lead paint and the baby began to get more active, I knew I had to move--I didn't want to risk our child's health. 

With a mere $5,000 in the bank, I began the house hunt. I read a book about how to buy a house, and applied what I learned to the search. We found an angel-realtor who not only was interested in doing her job, but was also interested in giving us a good start in life. She showed us sixty houses in child-friendly neighborhoods near my job. I also drove around nearby neighborhoods looking for houses for sale. That's when I spotted a white split level house about one mile from my workplace. The house was evidently empty, and one tip I learned while reading the house buying book was that it's good to buy a house where the people have already moved out since that possibly signaled an eager seller who might sell the house for less. 

We inquired about the house and were told it was out of our price range, but we asked to tour the house anyways. When we toured the house we liked the fact that it had plenty of space, was close to my work, and didn't need a lot of work. We weren't as keen on the house style or town at the time, but it was clearly a lot of house for the price so we made an offer. The realtors scoffed at what they thought  was a too-low offer, but we persisted, and the house owners eventually accepted the offer mostly because they were eager to move and clearly had made enough money so that a few thousand dollar difference wasn't a big deal to them. 

With $5,000 down and two jobs, we were approved for a mortgage, but had to pay the extra mortgage insurance. I remember our first day in the house--we simply sat in the middle of the empty living room amazed that we now owned a house. My family moved us in. I thought we'd live in this house for a few years before moving on, but now about 32 years later, I'm beginning to think this will be our forever house. In fact, while this house offered us some good value when our children were young, it's actually an even better home for an older couple as the town has great services and the home is near lots of needed places such as grocery stores, health care facilities, and recreation. Plus we have terrific neighbors--it turns out that our neighborhood is the kind of place where people stay for a long time and where people are ready and willing to help each other out. That's awesome. 

Rather than move to a place by the ocean or mountains, from time to time we'll rent a home in those places for a vacation, but for now we'll enjoy our home, a place we've customized over time to the way we like to live. We've created a number of spaces that support our interests and enable us to welcome our friends and family members. Onward. 

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Enduring tough episodes of life

 When I pray, I start by praying for all those who are currently suffering. I remember episodes in life when I suffered, and truly, I felt the warmth and direction of those who were likely praying for people like me at that time. Simply listening to the world around me and experiencing the beauty of life helped me to find my way out of those episodes. Though I don't look forward to my next episode of suffering, I know that I can endure that given my past experiences with hardship, harm, and hate. 

How do you endure suffering? What do you do? How can you help others who are suffering?

Prayer and reflection

Simply taking the time to pray and reflect truly helps you to endure and succeed suffering. Going deep, being silent, breathing, and looking forward helps us to move away from suffering in a step-by-step fashion. There are many books and online information that can help you to find a good framework, words, or scenarios to aid your reflection and prayer. If you don't know where to start, you can consult these sources. It takes time to find the resources that speak to you and help you. Counselors, friends and relatives may help you to find the best resources. 


I'm a big fan of dreaming. The more you can dream about a better place, the more likely you will be when it comes to getting to that better place. Some "dream starters" I use include the following:

  • "If I could be or do anything right now, where would I be and/or what would I do?" That question helps me to identify what it is that is most troubling in my life. 
  • "Dream self" - I write a description of my dream self and/or life. That directs me to what it is that I really want.
  • "Dream path" - creating a path to the person I want to be or life I want helps me to make good choices and find the resources I need to get there. 
I also sometimes draw what I want. That helps me see the details. I also read stories and articles about people and places that I desire, and that helps to give me a path of how to get to where I want to be. 


In times of struggle, life can seem overwhelming. It is important to dramatically simplify your life at these times by ridding life of all the unnecessary or triggering components, leaving that which you must do/have and that which brings you peace. 

Seek counsel

When desperate or troubled, you have to seek counsel. Look for counselors or confidants that you can trust and who can direct you in positive ways. 

Know that this time will end

Have faith that you can move through the sadness to a better place. I have watched so many people struggle in life, and in every case, people were able to move to a better place with regard to the struggle. Often that better place took time and multiple, varied efforts, but in the end, they arrived there. Have faith that with good reflection, prayer, counsel, dreaming, and other right efforts, you will arrive at a better place. 

We will all face tough episodes in life. No one looks forward to those episodes, but we do learn a lot from them and those episodes help us to be more compassionate, empathetic, good people. Onward. 

Friday, November 05, 2021

Afterschool Programs: Ideal Opportunity to Develop Social Emotional Learning

This book that I co-authored offers
educators many SEL activities and 
valuable SEL information. 

 A director of an afterschool program reached out to me today to see if I would be interested in speaking to the afterschool program teachers about social emotional learning and behavior management. It has been a while since I presented on a teaching/learning topic, but I couldn't resist this opportunity to speak about a topic I am passionate about and a topic that directly relates to the positive development of children. 

I deeply believe that we have what it takes to help all children thrive today and into the future, and too often we don't take the time to seriously consider our efforts and potential in this regard. The way we mentor, engage and work with children directly affects how they feel about themselves and who they become. 

As I thought of the diverse teaching team which includes many new teachers, I began to think about what is most important when it comes to working with children. How do we empower and enrich children's lives in meaningful ways. 

Know and Appreciate Children

To be an effective educator at any level, you have to get to know and respect the children within your charge well. Beware of judging a child in any way, instead have an open mind to whom every child is, what they care about and whom they want to be. See yourself as a servant/mentor to the children--a person who will help them to achieve that which they desire, and a person who will lead them in positive life-enriching ways. 

Model the behaviors you want children to use

First, we have to think about how we want children to behave--what do we expect from them, and then we have to assess our own behavior to ensure that we are modeling those behaviors. That's not always easy to do, and as an educator some of those desired behaviors came easily to me and others were more difficult. For the most part, we hope children will act in the following ways:

  • Be courteous to one another by using respectful language, gestures and actions
  • Solve conflict with words not force. Take the first step and try to solve a conflict peacefully on your own, and if that doesn't work, take the second step and seek the help of a teacher. 
  • If you see something dangerous or destructive, seek a teacher's help right away--don't try to solve it yourself.
  • If you are troubled or worried, speak up right away--it is always best to get help rather than let worries and troubles hold you back. 
  • Become the person you are meant to be--discover your interests, pursue your passions, find a friend group that supports you and that you enjoy being with, develop your voice and look for models and  mentors who help you to be that person you are meant to be. 
  • Know your needs - if you're upset, try to figure out why. Are you hungry, uncomfortable, tired, bothered, discouraged. . . . . . .Let a teacher and/or friend help you to figure out what's going on. 
Foster activities and groups that help children learn about themselves in meaningful, enjoyable ways
  • The best way to learn is to engage in meaningful, enjoyable activities
  • Choice empowers children and builds confidence--whenever possible give children a choice about the activities they choose and the groups they work with
  • Infuse social-emotional learning into activities as a way to build a strong cultre and a caring community that develops self awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. 
Deal with behavior issues in calm, focused, positive ways
  • Begin every activity with a group meeting. Briefly set the ground rules, take questions and then begin the activity. 
  • If a problem is dangerous or destructive, intervene right away by peacefully (with words rather than force) separating the children involved and following these steps:
    • If someone is hurt, get help right away
    • Clearly review what happened separately with each person involved
    • Relay the incident to another staff member, preferably a supervisor - keep a record
    • Decide on next steps to ensure safety for all involved
  • Face problems by asking questions. For example if a child is acting in a way that is worrisome, hurtful, or problematic in any way, bring the child to a quiet space and ask these questions:
    • Are you okay?
    • Do you need a few minutes to calm down?
    • I noticed that you _____________, and that's problematic because ___________. Why did you do that?
    • How do you think we should handle this situation (Children almost always know the right answer to this question).
  • You are mandated reporters so if you ever see signs of abuse, by law you must report the situation. This will not happen often, but it may happen so it is important to know this. 
  • Continually assess the success of activities and revise as needed. These questions will help you to assess programming success:
    • Are the children happy?
    • Are the children learning something new--what evidence of this do you have?
    • Are the children working/learning/playing well together?
    • Is everyone getting a turn?
    • Does the activity foster social emotional learning? How do you know that?
    • Are children able to relay what they've learned and participated in with family members, and perhaps continue the activity/learning at home?
    • Do children have a say in how the activity is led, run, created?
    • Are their leadership opportunities for children?
    • Does the activity help children to know themselves better and discover their interests and passions?
    • Do the activities help children to develop greater self confidence?
When problems don't go away

Sometimes children will have a bad day, and sometimes children will display a series of behaviors that point to a bigger issue, the kind of issue that requires greater support from the program administrators, parents and others.
  • Keep a simple log of the issues children present
  • When an issue won't go away, seek the support of the program administrator
  • Use the protocol outlined in the program for dealing with significant issues
  • Put an action plan into place to positively support the child as they endure this situation.
Inclusivity and Respect

Don't allow any kind of language or action that demeans or excludes children or families for any reason. Keep an ear open and eye out for any kind of bigotry that makes a child feel uncomfortable or excluded because of their body size, skin shade, religion, economic class, culture, family style or more. Language and actions that exclude do not belong in any kind of child care setting. If a colleague or child errs by using this kind of language or action, speak up right away to help them do the right thing. If that persists, seek help from the program administrator. Typically prejudice of any kind is rooted in ignorance, and dispelling that ignorance leads to greater camaraderie and respect.

Holidays and Special Celebrations

Every youth program deals with holidays and special celebrations in different ways. I always preferred a child/family-centered, inclusive approach that helps children to feel proud of their personal/cultural/religious celebrations by having the chance to share those celebrations with one another. This can happen by letting children share a tradition, activity, story, and experiences that relate to their special holidays and celebrations. By allowing children to talk about and share these events, you build a more respectful, knowing, inclusive culture that includes many varied religious, cultural and personal traditions and celebrations. Typically, if you do include holidays in your programming, it is good to have similar holiday and non-holiday choices. For example, you could have Creature Day--a day when children have the choice to make all kinds of creative creatures during the holidays. Some will choose creatures that relate to the holidays and others will choose different kinds of creatures. 

Working with Families

Families know their children well, and when a family has a concern, entertain that concern with the utmost respect and a spirit of family-program collaboration and teamwork. When families and educators work together, the child has the greatest opportunity for success. Usually a family's concern can be easily met via collective home-school efforts to make all programming child-centered and sensitive. If a family-educator conflict arises that cannot be easily solved, then it is time to consult the program administrators.

In summary, before- and after-school programs are ideal environments for child engagement and the development of social emotional learning. Without the tight curriculum parameters of the school day, there is lots of room for creativity, collaboration and care. Utilizing child-friendly protocols and policies to lead these programs helps every child to engage and develop in positive ways. 

Monday, September 27, 2021

Reading today is not a simple affair

 When I read nonfiction books today, it's not a simple affair. I find myself reading with my laptop next to me. As I read, I find myself looking up places on a map, videos of the places/events/people listed, and articles about the events detailed. I do this because I want to fully imagine where the story takes place--I want to better walk in the author's shoes. This makes the reading a complex, but rewarding affair. Right now I'm entering the experience of Caroline Kautsire. I love this chance to walk in Caroline's shoes and look at the world through her experiences. Just at the start of the book, I am already moved by her family relationships, the descriptions of Malawi, the music she listened to as a child, the influence of American television, and her curious spirit. As with any story I learn from and enjoy, this story will change my life in some positive ways. Onward.